Now that Dominic Cummings is spending more time driving to Barnard Castle, the PM has chosen to relaunch his Government. We can expect to see a series of policy announcements but how should public affairs react?
Despite Johnson’s Covid-19 isolation we have already seen announcements including plans for a Green Industrial Revolution and huge increase in defence spending to extend British influence. There is no doubt that we have entered a period of Government hyper-activity.
That provides a whole number of areas where pro-active engagement will be essential, not least on the more radical policy proposals. There will continue to be a number of those not least because it helps to grab the attention of the media and the public. With Brexit deal deadlines approaching and elections to look forward to next year, Johnson and his government are already under pressure to show they still have life. They could wait for the potential Covid-19 vaccine rollout but that is not without its own risks.
Not all of the announcements are new but some of the proposed policies are more radical than others. Some will also need a good deal of political capital to deliver. That is always easier to secure if organisations come in behind a government. In other words, it knows it is not wasting that capital. Radical ideas often require this type of ‘coalition’ if they are to progress.
Among the environmental policies was a potential national road charging scheme. We have seen this policy before and under different governments. So, the Government has to be clear about why it is choosing to consider a national road user charging scheme. Is it to deal with air quality and climate change or is it to raise revenue to fill the Covid black hole and declining revenue from fuel duty? This is critical because it will help to decide whether the public will support it or not.
The outcry from the public and some national newspapers against previous schemes was overwhelming. If the Government is committed to a national charging scheme then it will need to sell its benefits and be prepared for a long and hard political fight. If there is to be a fight then it has to know that has friends who are prepared to stand up for it.
So, what should those in public affairs be looking out for from this new model government?
What are the priorities? The relaunch and the raft of new policies will inevitably mean a reprioritisation. This should not be left to chance but instead seen an opportunity to help shape that new focus.
Who is in charge? Some of the decisions around reprioritisation will depend on whether decisions are devolved to ministers and departments or remain the sole preserve of No 10. In reality, departments have been constrained for some period of time by consecutive PMs so there will be a need to help support them. There is also talk of a Cabinet reshuffle which could mean further changes although whether that would include significant change at Secretary of State level is doubtful at this time. A bad set of election results in May 2020 could change that position and may encourage major change at Cabinet level.
A return to collective decision-making? If Cabinet government is really to return that could also mean departments working more closely together rather than being in competition. This has implications for how the benefits of a policy are explained and who you need to be briefing.
This is a period of change for the government and that change makes engagement essential. Cometh the time for public affairs activity…