Change at the top? How the PM’s woes impact on public affairs

Posted by: on Jan 19, 2022 | No Comments

Uncertainty around the long-term prospects for the Prime Minister undoubtedly makes for exciting politics but its impact on public affairs is more mixed.

We can all speculate about the prospects for Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. He may survive the outcome of Sue Gray’s investigation into the Downing Street parties / work events but there may be future revelations. Then, later in 2022, come important local elections. The pressures and potential stumbling blocks will continue.

This is all very interesting and exciting for us political geeks, but it is less good for policy development.

Of course, clients and teams will always want advice on what might happen and when, who the runners and riders in any potential leadership race may be etc. But it also means that the over-riding emphasis is on the political game itself.

Members of the Cabinet will start to think more about their potential leadership challenges rather than policy making. Decisions could easily get stuck on Ministers’ desks rather than being resolved. Why would any Minister want to ‘waste’ a good announcement when the media and public are concentrating elsewhere?

Those decisions that are made are the ones most likely to win favour with the potential leadership electorate – MPs and then members. Who would rule out Liz Truss suddenly triggering Article 16 of the Brexit protocol? Rishi Sunak may suddenly find a solution to the cost-of-living crisis, particularly when it comes to the energy crunch. Plans to end the current non-lockdown lockdown may find favour with Sajid Javid.

On the flip side, there is a danger that important and long-standing policy papers, such as the Levelling Up White Paper, could be delayed again. It may be the total priority of Michael Gove and his officials, but the sign-off process could be a total nightmare in the current political climate.

The Opposition too will be focused on the politics. Now that the ‘r’ word, resignation, has been uttered they have to do all they can to keep the pressure up. The double act of Starmer and Rayner seem to have found their feet in recent weeks and the Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, has been seen again on TV screens.

If, and it is still a big if, Johnson is replaced then the next question will be whether a new government or a new PM would stick to the themes and policies of the 2019 manifesto. That assumes there is a seamless transition between one leader and another. But a long and potentially drawn-out affair is possible if there are a number of candidates. There may even have to be an interim PM. Dominic Rabb as Deputy PM may be the obvious choice but potentially not universally popular in his own party, let alone the country. A period of disruption might need to be planned for.

It is critical that we keep our clients / in-house teams informed but planning is essential. Changes of personnel are opportunities to raise new issues or a time to maintain pressure to help keep existing commitments going.

None of this should mean that engagement or communications should stop but the targets, the form, and the pace may all need to be reflected upon. As a general approach, stay out of the politics but be ready to move quickly on policy.