Public Affairs: Soap Box - Marc Woolfson, director, Westminster Advisers

The nature of coalition politics results in an inevitable focus on areas of disagreement between the government partners.

So it was no shock that research published by Westminster Advisers last week highlighted significant differences of opinion on the most contentious areas of the Government's health reform agenda.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that Liberal Democrat MPs are more closely aligned with Labour than the Conservatives on whether taxpayerfunded health services should be delivered by the private sector; and on longer-term topics such as whether patients should be able to privately top up their NHS care.

Such differences in opinion are noteworthy, but must not be overplayed.

After all, if each political party is a broad church encompassing a diverse spectrum of opinion, the Liberal Democrats are St Paul's Cathedral.

Pragmatic negotiations and compromises are the order of the day, with the party whips working overtime to keep their uppity backbenchers in line.

So while the Health Bill might encounter some challenges in committee stage, this should not be its undoing.

It is in this environment that the skill of public affairs professionals comes into play. Effective advocacy requires careful analysis to build coalitions of supporters, often forging alliances across party lines.

Public affairs campaigners will need to be better than ever at understanding and interpreting parliamentary opinion.

This is an increasingly complex environment. The sector has always been good at interpreting nuances, but the research demonstrates that this ability is more valuable than ever.

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