Prepare for Brexit, a changing of the guard and the rise of the left

Brexit is affecting the whole industry, but nowhere is its impact more keenly felt than in public affairs, where the scene is set for more political uncertainty.

Prepare for Brexit, a changing of the guard and the rise of the left, writes James Acheson-Gray
Prepare for Brexit, a changing of the guard and the rise of the left, writes James Acheson-Gray

There’s been a Life on Mars quality to British politics recently: a Conservative Government having an industrial strategy; Labour espousing policies it last implemented in the Wilson-Callaghan era; and the UK facing a major change in its relationship with Europe, albeit in the opposite direction.

If that’s any guide to what 2018 holds, we can expect significant trades union intervention in policymaking, the Government falling in a motion of no confidence and a surprising choice of new Conservative leader.

All of which, now I’ve written them down, seem plausible. Labour’s rebirth, although handed to it on a plate by the Prime Minister’s disastrous decision to call an election with a simple binary choice and then run such a dire campaign, does reflect what seems like a clear shift in the public mood.

As a result, the political centre ground has moved leftward, and businesses and their advisers need to think about the social impact of their operations, as well as preparing to refight battles they probably thought they won long ago – for instance, over private ownership of utilities and transport.

It’s clear that the unions are once again important players in Labour policymaking and they may also – paradoxically – be more receptive to input from outside organisations, including corporates, than some members of Labour’s front bench. 

On the Conservative side of the House, there’s been talk of skipping a generation when the leadership becomes vacant, as it almost certainly will, if not in 2018 then soon after. But these things don’t work like that; trying to predict how the parliamentary Conservative Party will behave is no easy task.

That said, if at some point the Conservatives find themselves in opposition and possibly facing a rout at the next election, there will be a changing of the guard and some of the recent intakes will come to the fore. Identifying, understanding and getting to know the rising stars who may be at the controls when the party re-emerges is an important challenge. 

And then of course there’s Brexit. You sometimes hear people complaining they can’t get anyone to listen to them unless it’s about Brexit. To which I would say: "What else is there?"

Once the negotiations get on to the transition and the future relationship, the Government is going to really need help to fashion the outline of a newly focused UK economy.

The challenges for those lobbying will be to create genuinely helpful input, for which a nuanced appreciation of the overall shape of the Government’s thinking will be necessary, as will an understanding of where to direct their lobbying efforts. DExEU, DIT, Number 10, BEIS, Home Office? Which parliamentarians could be helpful? Which of the army of civil servants being recruited will it really be important to brief?

Politics is so volatile at the moment that it’s impossible to predict what will happen, but it’s important to be prepared for anything. So I will risk one prediction: scenario planning will be very much in vogue in 2018.
James Acheson-Gray is UK managing director of APCO Worldwide

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