Public affairs needs to wake up to the multi-party system

Public affairs is in danger of being left behind as the party system changes.

Public affairs needs to wake up to the multi-party system, warns Stuart Thomson
Public affairs needs to wake up to the multi-party system, warns Stuart Thomson
The world in which two parties dominate could come crashing down in a matter of weeks and many are not prepared. 

The industry coped with the impact of the coalition Government.  

The Liberal Democrats were an important enough party before but this time around, the cosy world could be broken up.

There is the real chance of a multi-party government that will shake up public affairs just as much as it does party politics.

The case of Scotland is complicated.  

For those dealing with devolved issues or working in Holyrood, the SNP has always been one of the main parties.  

But come May, it could exert a role in Westminster and UK politics above and beyond anything we have seen before. 

Now add in UKIP, which for many is a complete unknown, as well as the Greens, and you have a truly multi-party situation.  

That is to say nothing of the Northern Irish parties and Plaid Cymru, none of which should be discounted in a Westminster setting.

The first coalition came together quickly and with little fuss.  

This time around negotiations could include three or four parties, take far longer and be bloodier.  

What's the public affairs advice during this period?  

The reality of a multi-party agreement is that issues will become more complicated to resolve.  

Government may not run smoothly and open disagreements could be commonplace.  

How should that be dealt with from a public affairs perspective?

Even if the Government ends up being single party, either majority or minority, the landscape will have changed forever.  

UKIP has set the political agenda and Labour will, it is almost certain, have been given a total kicking in its Scottish crown jewels.

Any hope that immigration and Europe will go away as key issues in the next Parliament is totally misplaced.  

They will continue to dominate.  

If the Conservatives are returned then there will be a referendum, so how much other work will be done by Government?

The civil service, the heart of any effective public affairs campaign, will be the one really struggling to cope. It might not be clear who its bosses really are.  

The civil service is also widely anticipated to be facing more cuts so its ability to cope in a difficult time will be challenged.  

Critically, it could be having to scenario plan for the options involved in a European referendum and how this impacts on policy, law, regulations etc.

No-one knows what the outcome of the election will be but the most important action is to have put a risk and mitigation strategy in place.

Public affairs needs to show that it can cope with multi-party politics and will not be left floundering when the past Lib-Lab-Con world is kicked apart by the electorate.

Stuart Thomson  is a public affairs consultant on government and infrastructure for Bircham Dyson Bell

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