Knife-edge result brings new public affairs priorities

Public affairs expertise in Brussels and Scotland comes to the fore, along with digital campaigning

Today’s General Election result holds profound implications for all those working in public affairs. A slim Conservative majority hands increased power to the backbenches, shifting significant power from Whitehall to Westminster, and inflating the power of devolved parties with specific agendas.

The small Parliamentary majority means that backbench MPs will have greatly increased influence both over the executive and inside each of the parties. Parliament may not be quite as ‘hung, drawn and quartered’ as people expected, but a narrow Conservative majority means legislation is dependent upon the agreement of nearly every single backbencher, or finding areas where there is agreement with opposition parties.

Businesses or organisations seeking to influence Government policy need to factor in that there are now new avenues to communicate with Ministers, and a new political dynamic.  The implications are clear. Public Affairs agencies and in-house Government Relations Directors will want to refocus their priorities by placing much greater emphasis on engaging backbench MPs from an early stage in the new Parliament. There is great potential here to identify new champions for clients’ causes.

A knife-edge parliamentary majority splits the political make-up of influential committees that are critical to the legislative process. This will leave the Conservatives with a majority of just one MP in many important committees, making the scrutiny function all the more combative.  The addition of the SNP to key committees means that it is now essential that public affairs practitioners understand Scottish politics, and that agencies have solid understanding of the landscape in Scotland. The Scottish National Party’s 56 seats in Scotland makes them a major political force, offering a distinctive voice in the new Parliament. Developing relationships with the nationalists is a key opportunity for public affairs consultants and will benefit firms already positioned North of the border. As the best represented public affairs consultancy in Scotland, Weber Shandwick is uniquely placed to navigate and influence this new agenda.

A Conservative majority also places Europe firmly on the agenda. Businesses want certainty, and delivery of pro-enterprise policies, and have backed the Conservatives throughout the election campaign.  However, as the Conservatives split into pro and anti-EU camps ahead of the promised referendum, businesses will want assurances the campaign to stay in the EU can be won. The Europe question will dominate businesses’ public affairs agenda and require robust prediction, political intelligence and strategic advice.

The Conservative Government of 2015-2020, held on a knife-edge, will be filled with uncertainty. Uncertainty over Europe, uncertainty over Scotland and uncertainty over the scrutiny and progress of legislation. For public affairs consultants, the implications are great. Alongside the elevated role of backbenchers, public opinion will play an increasingly important role in leveraging political support, elevating the importance of digital campaigning in the Public Affairs mix.