Britain woke to a political earthquake on 13 December beyond the wildest dreams of the Conservatives or most pollsters. The impact on the public affairs sector could hardly be more stark. Britain was offered 'doing Brexit' – the most fundamental rewiring of our economy since 1945; it chose Brexit.
The sheer scale of Boris Johnson's recalibration of our politics is akin to the post-war Labour landslide of 1945, the blue-collar-driven victory for Margaret Thatcher in 1979, and the epic 'New' Labour win of 1997. Johnson climbed his "red wall" and gave Labour its worst result since the mid-1930s. Jeremy Corbyn, who had polled as the most unpopular Labour leader ever, proved to be just that. Constituencies that have never – ever – had a Conservative MP added to the new parliamentary arithmetic and Britain has a new political geography.
During the three-and-a-half years of UK politics going round in circles – a time we may look back on as deeply frustrating for public affairs as no significant laws got passed (other than on Brexit) – while Whitehall and Westminster were gridlocked, many of us in lobbying fundamentally reinvented the business model to offer political risk analysis or deep insight on policies and the parties, which firms could trade on.
But now we have a government with a large majority and the ability to do stuff. A regime that can implement its agenda means there is now some real lobbying to do.
First up: Britain will exit the EU at the end of January. No ifs or buts now. The electorate in England and Wales combined to #GetBrexitDone either willingly or through sheer exhaustion with the previous parliament. But this is just the first chapter.
The Government has to deliver a smooth exit from the EU and a comprehensive trading arrangement. And the lobbying now starts in earnest to ensure we get that transition, and to influence the trade negotiation ahead. In fact, I used the election period to reach out to key officials to put the wheels in motion.
On top of that the UK parliament will need to create a truckload of legislation as we leave the EU. The political promise of 'our laws' made here will unleash a huge work programme.
The election also unleashed massive spending commitments dubbed 'One Nation' Conservatism. Those promises will need to be delivered to keep those seats ‘blue’ at the next general election. The investment in the NHS and wider public services will need to be seen to happen rapidly and be successful. Labour voters who lent their votes to the Conservatives on Brexit will want to see that done. Investors and business are going to be called upon to play their part.
And Britain's main opposition party – for the foreseeable future – will be the SNP, while Labour remains disabled by its massive defeat and the Lib Dems remain fringe players. Their cry for #indyref2 will become deafening and plunge the UK into another intense constitutional debate. Political risk analysis will be a highly sought-after public affairs product. This is set to be a huge growth year for public affairs. Bring it on.
Iain Anderson is executive chairman of Cicero/AMO
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