Although many predicted this last year, 2019 will see a new Prime Minister. Despite winning the confidence vote in December, Theresa May – for what she sees as the national interest – will see out Brexit and then depart on her own terms and timing; battled and bruised, but still believing that she did the best job under terrible circumstances. History will judge her.
Behind her she leaves a deeply divided country and a political situation where Parliament, the Legislature, has taken back significant power from the Executive over Brexit. This is a major opportunity for PA advisers, because this re-found confidence and the Conservative Party’s slender majority create a window to influence policy and legislation.
Front-runners to become the next Conservative Party leader include Sajid Javid, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt. The new Prime Minister will introduce a fresh swathe of cabinet ministers, with several current Members seeking to step down. One person who will not be back is Boris Johnson, who is deeply unpopular among fellow MPs. The new PM will introduce a more robust, pro-business attitude, allowing greater access and engagement. Business and public affairs consultants will be leveraging these new opportunities to the max.
The election of a new Conservative Leader and PM will mark the start of the long 2022 General Election campaign.The Fixed Term Parliament Act will prevent an earlier election. Recognising that the country wants to hear more than Brexit, a new PM will wish to launch a whole new and fresh policy onslaught to win back voters ahead of the election. To do so successfully, they will have less than 36 months to win voters back from Labour.
Labour Party policy meantime will be developed and outlined, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell becoming increasingly proactive – and more left-wing. He is on record as having said that the 2017 Labour Manifesto was "tame". This will be the year when he comes out shouting with polices that he has been busy developing. Interpreting every Labour utterance and policy announcement for clients will be a key priority for public affairs advisers in 2019.
By September, the Party Conference season will be under increased scrutiny and have greater importance.The focus will be on the new Conservative PM and Cabinet. Business leaders and their advisers will be out in force to engage them.
The Labour Conference in Brighton will also see far more businesses and lobbyists in attendance and attempting to understand Labour and assess what implications it will have for their businesses. Everyone will be looking to May 2022.
Expect a bumper conference in Brighton – backed up by increased detail and scrutiny of Labour’s policies. This is a crucial year to attempt to develop clear red water.
The campaign lines for 2022 will start to be drawn. The battle starts here.
Nick Williams is head of issues and public affairs at Burson Cohn & Wolfe