The Independent Group - what are the consequences for public affairs practitioners?

The creation of The Independent Group within Parliament may signal a real change in political dynamic within the UK, or it may well be a temporary phenomenon.

Mark Glover: Can you afford to ignore the 'new' centre ground?
Mark Glover: Can you afford to ignore the 'new' centre ground?

It remains too early to judge its lasting impact, but whilst the The Independent Group is the new arrival on the scene there are a number of players in the centre of British politics who may find they have enough in common to stand in either an informal pact or behind a single coalition manifesto in the run up to the next General Election - whenever that might be.

In the centre ground of British politics at the moment there are a number of different players:

The Independent Group, which may continue to expand and has currently the Parliamentary presence and the oxygen of publicity from a staged announcement of defections from the previous two parties.

United for Change, the political vehicle funded by the head of LoveFilm Simon Franks, which certainly has financial resources, but not necessarily the political representation.

A pro-European centrist grouping around organisers Jonathan Powell and Phil Collins; and,

Renew UK, which was the first out of the blocks to create a new political party and has a fledgling activist base around the country; and the traditional holders of the centre ground, the Vince Cable-led Lib Dems.

By themselves, each may make a ripple in the political ocean, but if they can speak to each other and work together, some merging, some co-existing as separate entities but co-operating (as rumours suggest the Lib Dems and The Independent Group will do in Parliament) then the centre ground of British politics could again become significant after a few years of being ignored.

For public affairs practitioners, that may have a number of consequences. Let me list just three.

First, September and October may now require four, five or six conferences to be attended, depending on how close a General Election may be or however long one of the political grouping’s policy process may be. Depending on an issue of interest for a client there may well be many more political groupings to monitor and engage with in order to ensure that your client’s issues are now fully covered.

Second, factored into the advice that consultants may well be required to give their client, is which of a number of entities policy position may well be pre-eminent in Coalition negotiations. For example just looking as a shared manifesto between The Independent Group and the Lib Dems, whose position on taxation would be pre-eminent and actually make it into a manifesto, for example would Luciana Berger, Vince Cable and Anna Soubry all be able to agree on a common position on taxation?

Finally, what are the electoral prospects of a centre ground coalition/pact? Is previous case history of the SDP/Liberal Alliance, the Liberal Democrats, or UKIP the appropriate precedent and can the UK’s electoral system allow a third party to break through? With Brexit, clients face a lack of certainty and will need to be persuaded to invest on engaging with a third party or grouping, but if this grouping is offering the most business-friendly policies and is polling well – can they afford to be ignored?

Mark Glover is CEO Newington, part of SEC Global

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