Residence of the British Prime Minister, Downing Street, London.

Change At The Top? How The PM’s Woes Impact on Public Affairs

Uncertainty around the long-term prospects for the Prime Minister undoubtedly makes for exciting politics but its impact on public affairs is more mixed.

We can all speculate about the prospects for Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. He may survive the outcome of Sue Gray’s investigation into the Downing Street parties/work events but there may be future revelations. Then, later in 2022, come important local elections. The pressures and potential stumbling blocks will continue.

This is all very interesting and exciting for us political geeks, but it is less good for policy development.

Of course, clients and teams will always want advice on what might happen and when, the runners and riders in any potential leadership race etc. But it also means that the over-riding emphasis is on the political game itself.

Members of the Cabinet will start to think more about their potential leadership challenges than policy making. Decisions could easily get stuck on Ministers’ desks rather than being resolved. Why would any Minister want to ‘waste’ a good announcement when the media and public are concentrating elsewhere?

Those decisions that are made are the ones most likely to win favour with the potential leadership electorate – MPs and then members. Who would rule out Liz Truss suddenly trigger Article 16 of the Brexit protocol? Rishi Sunak may suddenly find a solution to the cost-of-living crisis particularly when it comes to the energy crunch. Plans to end the current non-lockdown lockdown may find favour with Sajid Javid.

On the flip side there is a danger that important and long-standing policy papers, such as the Levelling Up White Paper, could be delayed again. It may be the total priority of Michael Gove and his officials, but the sign-off process could be a total nightmare in the current political climate.

The Opposition will be little better. Now that the ‘r’ word, resignation, has been uttered they have to do all they can to keep the pressure up. The double act of Starmer and Rayner seem to have found their feet in recent weeks and the Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, has had been seen again on TV screens.

If, and it is still a big if, Johnson is replaced then the question will be whether is yet another new government and whether a new PM would stick to the themes and policies of the 2019 manifesto. That assumes there is seamless transition between one leader and another. But a long, potentially drawn-out affair is possible if there are a number of candidates. There may even have to be an interim PM. Dominic Rabb as Deputy PM may be the obvious choice but potentially not universally popular in his own party, let alone the country. A period of disruption could need to be planned for.

It is critical that we keep our clients / in-house teams informed but planning is essential. Changes of personnel are opportunities to raise new issues or times of pressure to keep existing commitments going.

None of this should mean that engagement or communications should stop but the targets, the form, and the pace may all need to be reflected upon. As a general approach, stay out of the politics but be ready to move quickly on policy.

 

Photo by Nick Kane via Unsplash

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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.

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