Time for public affairs to step up to the Tory leadership challenge

It's finally upon us. After weeks, months and even years of endless speculation, the PM has announced her intention to resign and the official campaign for leader of the Conservative Party will begin on 10 June.

Time of the public affairs industry to move up a gear in response to the Tory leadership contest, says Simon Richards
Time of the public affairs industry to move up a gear in response to the Tory leadership contest, says Simon Richards

What should our response be as public affairs practitioners? It’s no secret that the Government’s domestic agenda has ground to a halt.

Little if any fresh legislation has been presented to Parliament over the last 18 months and Government officials have faced paralysis on implementing changes to existing legislation with the cloud of Brexit sitting heavily above them.

But I can’t help but feel that those lobbyists who anticipate a gear-change in the policy agenda-setting from No.10 may be jumping the gun a tad too early.

Let’s not kid ourselves; the leadership campaign will be about one issue and one issue alone.

Whilst contenders will look to build some clear water between them and their competitors, a fresh set of policies outside Brexit will be little more than a hygiene factor in the months ahead: the MP base is split, party membership fixated and then, once successful, there is essentially a hung parliament.

Indeed, in terms of the Parliamentary arithmetic, ‘nothing has changed’ with Mrs May’s departure.

Yet, the next few months do present opportunities for our industry and the clients we represent.

First, there’s the widened circle of influence now in front of us. Five or six candidates could win; that means a long list of people to be influencing.

When you couple that with the fact that the political advisers at CCHQ are sitting by their phones waiting for the call up, there’s a lot of advisers and influencers to engage with. (A side note: leadership campaigns highlight the benefit of keeping a broad networking circle - burnt bridges are costly to you and your clients at this stage).

Second, if clients are bold enough, there are far more opportunities for ‘newsjacking’.

Politicians will be in the news 24/7 (not in itself new, but the range of politicians will be) and what they say will be scrutinised and debated.

PR professionals who use this to their clients’ advantage, whether through traditional stakeholder routes or media/social media coverage have a unique opportunity to capitalise on the political agenda.

And finally, there is likely to be a new policy direction.

Whilst that may not amount to much right now, it is likely much of the work put in to drafting the current iteration of the General Election manifesto will be going up in smoke.

What to replace it with? Targeted approaches, tailored to the ambitions of the new team, submitted urgently.

The starting gun in getting our clients front and centre of political minds has well and truly been fired.

Even for those not as politically minded as many of us, the next few months promise multiple opportunities to get out the popcorn.

For fellow lobbyists, though, the next few months promise a refresh of sorts.

Finally, something may have changed.

Simon Richards is director, issues and public affairs at Burson Cohn & Wolfe

Thumbnail image ©Leon Neal/Getty Images

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