Public Affiars: Soap Box

Not only is a coalition scenario familiar to many Lib Dem ministers, they believe in it too.

Nationally and locally, Lib Dems have had to bargain, negotiate and build alliances to achieve anything. So businesses must understand the dynamics of a coalition government - or see Lib Dems run rings around them.

Unlike the variable standard of end of era Labour ministers, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition has delivered the brightest crop of junior ministers for years. These ministers will now be subject to intensive lobbying. This will be familiar ground for some of the former lobbyists among them, such as Tom McNally, Nick Harvey, Jeremy Browne and Nick Clegg himself.

But the party is generally lukewarm to lobbyists and big businesses. So public affairs professionals should anticipate and prepare for a sceptical audience and, above all, do their homework on Lib Dem priorities, policies and personalities.

The Lib Dem conference is a different beast to those of other parties. It is the single most important policy-making foray. I anticipate a gap growing between those Lib Dems in government; Lib Dem MPs on the backbenches and the party at large, so expect real policy scraps. Lobbying is going to take far more work and be multi-layered, rather than a Westminster meeting with a friendly minister armed with a brief.

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