Prepare for the longest general election campaign…ever!

The paucity of Bills in the Queen’s Speech will leave MPs with plenty of time to campaign hard in their constituencies. It also poses challenges for those seeking to engage with Government.

The Queen’s Speech contained a low number of Bills and was obviously a result of a intense negotiations between the two Coalition parties. There was a little something from each of them politically which will be essential as we approach the election.

It is claimed that some reforming Ministers had Bills ready to go but were told to leave them in their desk drawers. There was also legislation that had been promised or at least widely trailed as being ready for inclusion which did not see the light of day either.

Just as little legislation was ready when the Coalition came into office, this Coalition will end with a similar whimper in Parliament.

But that does open up some space as well as challenges for political engagement. In the first instance, Parliamentary time may be available for backbench and opposition business. Parliament will want to be seen to be busy, providing a space for ideas for debates, questions etc.

As the election approaches and we enter a climate of near constant political campaigns, parties will need to maintain this momentum and will need ideas to support and achieve this. Organisations need to have a mindset which recognises this. The engagement strategy needs to consider the longer timetable and have be able to maintain momentum. Politicians will be looking for platforms so do not be afraid to offer them one.

The balance comes in not being seen as too political or too close to one party over another. A lot of campaigns can start off with the best intentions to be cross-party but it is very difficult to maintain control if it is adopted by one particular party. Not impossible, but difficult.

There can often be a fixation with the party manifestos but it is more about getting the policy environment, language and debate right. If you can ‘set the scene’ then whether you have a policy idea in the manifesto or not becomes less relevant. Anyway, parties do not always implement their manifesto commitments.

A year-long election campaign may suit some journalists but they too will need to keep their coverage fresh. This is a further opportunity which needs to be planned for. So it is about all aspects of communications and engagement not just the strictly political. However, it is important to understand the political context and think beyond a simple list of Parliamentary bills. You need to use this to work out what it means for your engagement strategy.

A week is a long time in politics – a year could seem like a lifetime unless you plan properly.

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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