Giles Kenningham: It's time for third parties to grab the Brexit agenda

Written by Giles Kenningham and Elliott Burton on 19 June 2017 in Opinion

An empowered Philip Hammond in the Treasury is good news for the business community.

We are in a new world. The political landscape has dramatically changed. And no one is all powerful. In the current state of political flux third parties can make the political weather.

What was notable during the election campaign was the absence of third parties shaping the conversation and contributing to the debate. Unlike previous campaigns, businesses and other groups kept their powder dry and we did not see major endorsements of the parties. In the 2015 General Election, we sought and valued endorsements from business groups and entrepreneurs, often in the form of signed letters to newspapers to grab the news cycle and own it for 24 hours. Surprisingly there seemed no appetite from either sides for a repeat showing this time round.

The result of the snap election and the even greater uncertainty it brings around Brexit however means the role of pressure groups in British politics has never been more important.

With a weakened Prime Minister and divisions over Europe surfacing afresh within the Conservative Party, now is the time for the voice of business and industry to drive the direction of Brexit negotiations.

Whether it’s the City and passporting rights, our world class universities and continuing collaboration on science and research, or the hospitality and agricultural industries' access to EU workers, the current febrile political climate actually presents an opportunity for industry groups, trade bodies and third parties to drive the agenda of Brexit both in the media and within government.

We can expect to see the Cabinet holding far more influence on decisions in this government than in the Theresa May government of old, with power that had been closely captured within a small group in Downing Street now seeping back to government departments. And an empowered Philip Hammond back at the Treasury, having widely been expected to get the chop, is good news for the business community. Hammond is alive to and sympathetic to the concerns of business over Brexit and will no doubt now feel emboldened to make sure those concerns are a leading priority within the government.

With a limited ability to reshuffle following the election result, the new continuity Cabinet should be good news for those lobbying departments.

The other arena where third party groups can wield great influence is within the media. Surveys, studies and reports on anything Breixt related is highly likely to attract media attention in the coming period and media coverage is a sure fire way of grabbing the attention of Ministers and Special Advisers.

In the long term, the government will be acutely aware of trying to build a broad coalition of support behind their European negotiations and third parties can use this to their advantage.

With no desire within the Conservative Party for a leadership election at this point, we can expect the Conservatives to in the short term rally around the Prime Minister for a period of stability. But there is no certainty on how long that period my last. The Conservative Party conference in October may be the first crunch point for the Prime Minister. With no time to lose, the time for business and industry to grab hold of the Brexit agenda is now.

 

 

Giles Kenningham was director of communications for the the Conservative Party’s 2015 campaign. Elliott Burton is a former government special adviser. They both work at the public affairs and communications consultancy Trafalgar Strategy.

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