Gordon Brown's PM debut heralds a radical change for PA

Lucy Burns, head of public affairs at Fishburn Hedges, believes Gordon Brown's reign will spell big changes for lobbyists.

Well, the waiting’s finally over for Gordon Brown, and for the rest of us. But how will Brown the PM differ from Blair, and what does that mean for public affairs?

As the PM-in-waiting, Brown’s first act was to signal a shift in style and renounce the spin of the Blair years, aided by a famously visible autocue. Cynical eyebrows were raised, but Brown must play to his strengths, and sound bites are not his forte.

Brown recognises that to mark a decisive break with Blair – necessary if he is to refresh New Labour in office – he has to go much further. So the new PM has set out to restore trust, or at least be seen to be doing so.

The signals are that Brown will overhaul the way we are governed, and this will trigger changes in the way we do business with our politicians.

First, the machinery of government will be tweaked. Since 1997, Number 10 and the Treasury have domi­nated Whitehall, with Brown largely setting the domestic agenda through his beefed-up department.

Now, Brown looks set to reinforce the Cabinet Office, with Jeremy Heywood brought in as head of dom­estic policy to drive through his agenda. Expect the cabinet committees to assume greater importance too.

These moves make political sense, of course. They address the charge that New Labour under Blair became cavalier in power, and contrast with Cameron’s slick appeal.

But they also make a virtue of necessity. Brown’s approach to policy making is painstaking and evidence-based, with none of Blair’s instinctive, off-the-cuff ­decision making. Brown will still rely on a trusted inner circle of advisers, but that will not be enough.

There will be much talk too of strengthening Parliament’s role. Last week’s rep­ort, chaired by Brown’s campaign manager Jack Straw, contained clues about future changes, with proposals for modernised questions and a weekly 90-minute debate with the PM.

Brown will also look for some easy wins to underline a new integrity – witness the suggestion that he will act on Lord Stevens’ recent report on football transfers. Bear in mind too the Public Administration Committee’s inq­uiry into lobbying, which was ann­ounced last week.

But for all Brown’s success to date in signalling a change in approach, two big questions loom.

Can Brown succeed in renewing politics where past PMs have tried and failed? And is the rest of the world really ready for a return to substance?

 

 

Lucy Burns

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