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The new political reality: strong government and intervention

There is no getting away from the unexpected political changes that have taken place and threaten to continue apace. Looking at the UK, US and across Europe, it appears that uncertainty prevails. But what is clear is that strong and decisive government is being called for and that means more intervention.

Commentators have been busy trying to draw parallels between Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Brexit and other disruptions to political ‘business as usual’. It is difficult as there are very few political matters that they have in common but there are clear overall themes emerging from all the disruption.

Not all the politicians want the disruption. Much of it is being inflicted by electorates – either across the population or by individual parties. So the politicians need to live the consequences of votes and work out how to act accordingly. It is clear that they do not have all the answers so need help in navigating the new waters.

But electorates, who do not want business as usual, are happy to take up ‘outsider’ positions and want their votes to count. This means government taking action on behalf of the people – not themselves or interests such as business.

Organisations therefore need to plan on the basis of potential political risk and do all they can to minimise that risk. That means good and continued engagement over a period of time.

So what could this lead organisations to expect of government and the way that it behaves?

  1. Fair shares – tax is a good example where governments expect individuals and particularly businesses to make a fair contribution and not take ‘undue’ action to avoid paying. The additional complication for governments is the continued rise in costs and demand for public services that need to be paid for somehow. In essence, there will be more demands by government for businesses, but other organisations as well, to fulfil a social as well as economic role. Governments will set expectations of behaviour.
  2. The role of regulation – undoubtedly some regulations will be removed, for the UK that is one of the consequences of Brexit, but there is a danger that they simply get replaced by new regulations that reflect the priorities of the government of the day. You can well imagine more requirements on tackling climate change. Theresa May has already talked about workers on boards so expect new regulations that impact of governance and ways of working, at the very least.
  3. Keep a constant vigil – unexpected things will continue to happen. Governments always react to events but there is a hyper sensitivity around politics at the moment. That can lead to more extreme announcements and for politicians to try to out-muscle each other. Look at how the current challenger to Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party is having to out left wing Corbyn or how Hilary has taken on board some of the issues raised by Bernie. So organisations need that public affairs information and presence to be able to take action.
  4. Public naming and shaming – politicians will use the power of the media, especially social media, to help them take action against organisations. Yes, regulations will be imposed but governments will also call more on the court of public opinion to try to get a more instant reaction. This might not be the stuff of mass movements but they will try to use people power as part of the political process.
  5. Reputations – all this means that organisations need to consider the critical importance of proactively managing their own reputations. Businesses will be the butt of government ire and attacks will increase – even the once untouchable Richard Branson is considered fair game by the Labour Party (if not the general public). So there are challenges for businesses and senior individuals as well. It could be suggested that the attack on Branson could have been more damaging if he not built such a glowing reputation over decades. As it was, his bike crash made a bigger scratch.

Government will act in a more muscular way. Electorates want to see action and politicians need to demonstrate that or they will not be elected. It is that simple. Unless organisations listen to that message then they will be unprepared for the political environment that is emerging.

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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.

  1. Tom, I agree with this. There is a lack of trust but combined with a perception that government and politicians should ‘do things’. Mostly, what they are told to do and / or what they promise to do…!

  2. I think the critical point missing here, but which is alluded to, is mistrust. The public mistrust their politicians, they mistrust businesses, they mistrust what the media is telling them. I think the claims of a “post-factual age” are overstated but this certainly presents challenges to PR/PA if we are to help rebuild this lost trust and not become (or indeed remain) part of the problem.

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