General Election Countdown: The Public Affairs Checklist

With a year to go until the General Election, now is the time for those in public affairs to make sure that they are planning for the future, regardless of the outcome.

For the most part trying to pre-empt an election outcome is best left to pollsters and psephologists.  Whilst we know that the election will be held on 7th May 2015 there are a whole range of issues to be resolved which could impact on the eventual outcome.  According to the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour, the election has the “least predictable outcome for 70 years”.

Chief amongst the issues and variables are the economic figures, whether growth will continue and if Labour’s ‘cost of living’ campaign continues to have resonance.  There is also the matter of when and how the Coalition will come to an end. Will there be a messy divorce or a ‘conscious uncoupling’? Whilst the MPs of both parties may prefer the former so that they can establish some clear distance, Clegg and Cameron may personally prefer the latter.  Consideration also needs to be given to what will take place in Parliament. If there is not much legislation to be discussed then that could leave room for more active backbench MPs to start making trouble. For those leading public affairs, there should be less time spent worrying about the outcome, although that is important, and more time and resources dedicated to ensuring that a new Government knows and understands your issues.

You should do this by considering:

  1. New MPs – you need to know who are they and gain some insight into their views. News, for instance, of the open letter by a group of prospective Labour MPs about the re-nationalisation of the rail system helps identify individuals but also indicates what their thinking is. This is all about stakeholder mapping and thinking ahead. If you wait until after the General Election you could lose ground to others.
  2. Manifestos – the development of the manifestos varies between parties. Each has their own way of doing things and there are influential people in each party. Some of the manifesto development is highly formalised, other aspects more laissez-faire. You need to understand the processes and those who are really involved.
  3. Policy – effective engagement in the manifesto process is only as good as the policy suggestions you are making. A whole series of highly aspirational and costly policies are unlikely to see the light of day. Well-argued, detailed, costed and critically deliverable policies may find their way in. The part of the equation that is often ignored is how the policy would be implemented. Does it, for instance, need primary legislation? If so, how would this sit with the priorities of a new Government?  Thought also needs to be given to how political any engagement is. Would, for instance, inclusion of a policy in only one of the three main manifestos be helpful to you campaign?
  4. Party conferences – consideration should already have been given to what engagement is taking place at the party conferences. This too needs to have been timetabled in to the manifesto and policy processes. There is always a debate taking place about how useful the party conferences really are but it is a brave organisation that chooses to skip any of them before a General Election.
  5. Post election actions – it is never too early to think about the actions you will implement once the outcome of the election is known. These could range from the more fundamental writing to new MPs through to something more substantial aimed at exerting immediate pressure on the new administration. The critical element is ensuring that a new Government is held to account for the promises it makes, or fails to make, during an election. Anyone involved in public affairs should love elections, especially General Elections. They are full of twists and turns, egg throwing, speeches, and on-mic comments. But it is important not to lose sight of campaign objectives and this is best done through careful planning now!

Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist with BDB Pitmans advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS). Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging for BDB Pitmans he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, (former) UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) and a regular speaker and chair at conferences. He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for the Public Affairs News, PR Week, Public Affairs and the European Public Affairs awards. Stuart is a CIPR trainer leading the 'Practical Public Affairs' course.

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