More positive public affairs strategies will be needed if the next election results in another Coalition.
No coalition in modern British political history has been as stable as the current one. No other one has lasted five years to an election without major defections, ruction, or one party pulling the rug from underneath the whole arrangement.
The Electoral Reform Society has produced a pamphlet on coalitions which identifies the elixir of success, ‘a common sense of purpose – clear aims and a united vision for what the parties want to achieve together.’ This Coalition Government has had that clear purpose: reducing the budget deficit. The current economic conditions suggest that again following the General Election on May 7th, any incoming government will have to work within severe constraints, whether they like it or not. This reality creates an imperative for the public affairs industry to build stronger, more positive, more flexible messaging.
Coalitions require policies that can reconcile competing ideologies within a single framework. Under this political pressure, ministers will constantly be hunting for ways to do things better with less money to avoid decisions that will increase inter-party tensions. That is where business comes in; industry has the opportunity to offer innovation to Government. Their story is more compelling if it shows ministers and departments how more can be achieved for less. That is fundamentally a positive message, one that resonates more when a government must innovate to succeed.
This reality demands a shift in the emphasis away from stressing the downside risks of regulations and toward the constructive case for partnership between Government and the variety of organisations representing their views to Government.
We are used to the patterns of negative campaigning, which have carried over into negative lobbying. This regulation means lost jobs, that regulation means lower growth – these narratives do not have the power they once did.
The most successful businesses are taking a different approach – offering novel ways to boost employment, build skills, increase the efficiency of public spending and provide the tools for more personalised public services. A positive strategy allows business the flexibility to work more successfully across the political spectrum and to position itself favourably to collaborate effectively with Coalition governments.
Any party can embrace a positive offer of doing things better at a lower cost. In an era in which the certainty of single-party majority government has been shaken, the public affairs industry is under pressure to help our clients shape narratives which are adaptable and durable amidst the violent tides of political fortune.