The political realities of 2020

The New Year brings home the new political realities facing everyone in public affairs. But what are these new realities and how should we deal with them?

The December General Election changed the public affairs environment completely. Gone are the days of small/non-existent majorities and coalitions. We now enter a period of strong and stable government supported by a big Parliamentary majority.

That in itself changes everything but it is only one of the consequences that we need to consider.

  • Big changes, quickly – the government will want to show that it means business from the outset. We have already seen the announcement of the Budget and a clear commitment to infrastructure, especially in the North. We are already looking forward to the National Infrastructure Strategy, the Williams review on rail and the outcome of the HS2 review. Infrastructure and the NHS will form the core of the Government’s agenda. Aside from any genuine commitment to a One Nation approach the reality is that these need to be the priorities if Johnson is to continue his electoral success at the next election.
  • The first year will set the whole tone for the rest of the Johnson Government – everything that happens in 2020 will be focused on the next General Election. Not least because ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure still takes time to progress and voters will need to feel the benefit of extra money going into the NHS as well.
  • No more knife-edges – we have all become used to votes in Parliament that could go one way or the other. Opposition to the Government could come equally from the Opposition party from within the Cabinet. That has all changed. What this Government wants to do, it has the numbers to do. Johnson has the political authority to move people, change departments and reward those who he wants to see rewarded. There will be less emphasis, if any at all, on balancing wings of the party or ideological position.  Whatever Boris says will happen.
  • Labour will be trying to establish its strategy – with the size of Johnson’s majority, Labour will be reckoning on being in opposition for at least 5 years. That means it needs to work out what sort of opposition it wants to be. That will consider both how it holds the Government to account but also how it can reconnect with its former ‘Red Wall’ voters. These decisions will, of course, be influenced by the election of its new leader. You can though imagine Rebecca Long-Bailey being more consistently oppositional whereas Keir Starmer could be more selective in his opposition and even support for sensible measures.
  • The future of the Union – there is much less certainty about how the relationship between England and Scotland will play out but the initial assumption has to be that there will continue to be a level of antagonism between the two governments. If we add in more potential devolution in England and a ‘leveling up’ which is being suggested in the promised White Paper, then the reality is one of great complexity.
  • A competitive space – with more legislation and more policy development taking place, this is more like public affairs as usual rather than the anaemic, Brexit-only position of recent years. But that brings with it a realisation that more organisations will want to engage with government and across Parliament. We will all face a much more competitive space for the time and attention of politicians, advisers and officials.

We are continuing to work with clients to advise them on how to work with the new political realities. There are challenges for all of us.

Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

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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