John Lehal: How to engage with the new government?
Any organisation seeking to influence policy needs to be mindful of this Parliament's mood music
Let’s put away the Cabinet manual and familiarise ourselves with the Conservative manifesto” was my advice to clients on Friday.
While Cameron will keep one eye on maintaining Scotland’s place in the Union, and the other on his European negotiations, there is an intense domestic programme his team of 109 government appointees will be anxious to progress while the new administration’s political capital is at its highest, and the Opposition still in disarray.
Cameron’s honeymoon will be short-lived as his government unveils a host of tricky policy sells in the Queen’s Speech on 27 May: Right to buy, a British Bill of Rights to replace the ECHR, Communications data legislation, further measures for welfare reform and school performance, and 7 day-a-week GP access are all tough battles waiting to be fought.
So for businesses, charities, and pressure groups, how will they need to approach engaging the government and new parliament?
The EU renegotiation and referendum, and Scottish devolution/EVEL will dominate political discourse for the next two years. These issues will exercise the minds of the Cabinet, Ministers, MPs and commentators. Any organisation seeking to influence policy needs to be mindful of this mood music, and the implications for itself, and importantly to have a view – and by that not just a yes-no view on the EU referendum, but pragmatic ideas of areas Cameron should be negotiating on.
The Balance of Competencies review drove some of this work, but companies must have views on specific measures and powers that need to feature in the negotiations. Likewise, domestically, with a second Red Tape Challenge promised, organisations need compelling arguments on secondary legislation they would like to see get the chop.
We saw in the last parliament, that independent-minded rebellious backbench Conservative MPs were not hesitant in inflicting defeat on the Coalition, and it won’t be long before the likes of Peter Bone, Nadine Dorries, Phillip Davies and John Redwood start causing difficulties for Cameron again.
With a majority of 12, there will be less headline primary legislation, but the government could use secondary legislation, the next Finance Bill and other levers at its disposal to drive through its manifesto. The forthcoming Budget, CSR and Autumn Statement will be key as master strategist George Osborne implements public service reform, infrastructure investment, and pension reform via measures in that Finance Bill. Engagement by clients with the Treasury will be critical, as well as continued briefings with policy officials in other departments.
At ICG we will shortly be publishing our guide to the 182 new MPs. In analysing their backgrounds and interests, some general themes appear: the Conservatives have many high-fliers in safe seats, whereas the seats they took off the Lib Dems are held by very locally-rooted, non-career politicians. Labour’s new MPs have trade union backgrounds, with a number former council leaders. The last Parliament showed, however, that often one MP is all you need to advance an issue.
Who is your cause’s Simon Danczuk, Steve Rotheram, Debbie Abrahams, Mark Pritchard, Greg Mulholland or Rob Halfon? Early identification, briefing and recruitment of interested backbenchers could well establish your principal campaign advocates for the next five years.
In the election campaign, Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that she wouldn’t hesitate to intervene in domestic policy issues which impact on Scotland, even where the issue is devolved. Despite not holding the balance of power, her party’s 56 MPs will be itching to make a difference - looking for causes to advance, campaigns to fight, and like all MPs craving attention. An SNP MP will serve on every Select Committee, they will be on Bill Committees, they will have all parliamentary tools at their disposal, and feature more prominently at PMQs as the third largest party. While Conservative MPs will try to supress them, the PM has been explicit about listening to Scotland’s voice.
Some sectors will benefit from the election outcome: housebuilders, infrastructure companies, and utilities firms to name but three. For these industries, we may have the stability of a majority government, if of a somewhat precarious kind; the Conservative party’s obsession with Europe dominating; and backbenchers with muscle, will quickly breed instability. The financial markets have responded positively to the election outcome, this may be short-lived as challenges present themselves that need to be danced through.
In the words of Fred Astaire: “There may be trouble ahead…”