Beware Damaged Political Relationships

The Covid period has been challenging for engagement with Government. Many organisations have had to fight hard for support. As we enter a different phase there may be damaged political relationships that need to be repaired.

The ways in which support, particularly financial, was secured varied between sectors. Some appeared to be higher on the Government’s priority lists than others. Indeed some, such as live music venues have now gone for a very high profile approach in recent days. An open letter signed by the likes of Sir Paul McCartney said:

“Government has addressed two important British pastimes – football and pubs – and it’s now crucial that it focuses on a third, live music.”

This has led to extensive media coverage and has put the Government under very public pressure. Those involved obviously believed that such a high-profile statement was needed. But similar pressure has been suggested by others but did not have to come to fruition. In other cases, personal letters from very senior leaders have had to be sent to secure a deal.

In other cases, despite the existence of good existing relationships, there have had to be some pretty fundamental ‘educational’ conversations that have had to take place.

All this can damage political relationships. With Brexit coming up quickly there could be more difficult conversations to be had and these may have to be in public.

So how should you handle damaged relationships?

Spread your net: this should focus on developing contacts more widely across the relevant departments but also across departments as well. So the aim would be think more widely than may have otherwise have been the case. That should include ministers and officials. Departments are not always very good at speaking to each other and in the case of damaged relationships that may be no bad thing!

Think about your wider stakeholders: these audiences will appreciate understanding why you have made certain decisions. It could inform their own engagement but they may also be willing to help support your positions in future. They may also put a good word in for you.

Cross-party efforts: just because you are finding one set of political relationships difficult, there may be others available to you. These could be more influential or powerful at different times but will, without doubt, need to know about you and your issues.

Put steps in to continue engagement: these could be across Parliament working with backbench MPs and Peers, through All Party Groups and, of course, engaging constructively with Select Committees. Just because you may have alienated some former friends does not mean that you lose your specialist expertise and insight so look for ways to continue to demonstrate that (potentially though thought leadership as well).

Consider public support if something goes well: there is always the chance to rebuild bridges as well. So do not be too proud to engage in a of ingratiating. The odd well placed public comment for a good measure or something a little more constituency-based for individual MPs can help remind people of your worth.

The damage to relationships is not, most of the time, irreparable but it does need a plan of action to be put in place. It will not happen without effort. It is critical to have that plan of action in place.

Photo by chuttersnap 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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