Johnson Government 2.0: The Relaunch Is Underway

With the social and economic lockdowns coming at a gradual end, the political lockdown is ending too. This leaves Boris Johnson’s government in need of a jump-start and it will need help it getting going again.

Whilst Wales appears to be adopting a more cautious approach, the rest of the UK is gradually re-opening, even if it is at a socially safe distance. For Johnson, now is the time to become the government that it hoped it would be following its big win back in December.  It had only a matter of weeks to move forward to deliver Brexit before the whole world ground to a halt.

In many ways it now has a clean slate and can, under the guise of the recovery from Covid-19, be more radical, challenging and not bound by traditional ideological positions. It is tempting to say that it is the ideal political canvas on which Dominic Cummings can draw his reforming agenda. Under these circumstances, it is clear why the PM was so keen to defend him during the recent ‘Barnard Castle-gate’.

This delivers public affairs opportunities but only if we are prepared to grab them. The Government are after ideas if they help them to deliver on their immediate priorities as well as those championed in their manifesto. The election may seem like a long time ago but this is the first opportunity there has been to think about the delivery of any of its ideas.

But for that public affairs advice to be effective, we also need to think in a number of ways:

Global: with Brexit definitely, finally, happening at the end of the year whatever the government does it needs to be outward looking and, ideally, bringing in some trade opportunities.

Deregulatory: the government will want to loosen constraints not impose them and that will be one of the themes of the July mini Budget / stimulus package. Cutting red tape and deregulation is certainly not a recent invention but there is a real chance that this government is prepared look more favourably on cuts than previous ones.

Positive: the criticism of a lot of public affairs engagement, to say nothing of the campaigning around Brexit, is that it is too negative. It becomes a way of moaning about government policy rather than coming up with solutions or ideas to improve the situation. To put it another way, it is not constructive enough. This government wants a more positive and constructive approach to be adopted.

Levelling-up: this is likely to re-emerge as the mantra of the government not least because it can encompass dealing forcefully with a number of gaps that exist in the country – north / south economically, social mobility and racially. If Boris does see himself as a Brexity Hezza, a One Nation mix of intervention, a free market and ambition then the big social issues facing the country need to be addressed.

Climate change: this may not be an immediate focus, post Covid, but will return as the COP26 meeting in Glasgow (1-12 November 2021) starts to approach. Many are arguing that is should also feature as part of the Covid economic recovery package – everything from the boost of retro-fitting homes through to the development of future tech. It is a theme that could vary in its profile but will remain part of the thinking of government.

Financially literate: we have yet to see quite which way the government is going to go on the balance between constraining spending (‘austerity’ in old terms) and tax increases to pay for the Covid-19 support. It does mean, however, that very few cheques will be written outside of some of the big infrastructure projects that have already been talked about. That does not mean that some funding won’t be available if the economy needs a boost post-lockdown but any ideas put to them need careful planning and explanation.

Timely: ideally ideas put to them can get results in the very short term. The government know that the next election will come around all too soon and it needs a track record of delivery to show by then.

So, Boris now has a chance to put in place the government he would have been planning back in December. It is up to those of us in public affairs to get the ideas to them.

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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