Preparing for government

A Conservative general election victory would end the Labour hegemony in public affairs

If 2008 taught us anything, it was ‘don’t att­empt political or economic predictions’. Twelve months ago Ken was mayor. The other Ken was a backbench MP. Peter was trade commissioner. Lehman Brothers was one of the world’s most revered banks. The popular prediction was a hung Parliament, whenever the election might fall. And Alistair Darling claimed that there would be economic growth in the third quarter of 2009…

Brown’s bounce has bombed and a few weeks into 2009 the Conservative lead has been restored. On the critical question, economic competence, they are inching ahead, and this will be a key issue in voters’ minds.

But important as the economy and public policy is, politics is also about a mood, a feeling, a zeitgeist. And the times are changing. So, having cautioned against predictions, I’m going to make one: the Conservatives will win the next general election.

And the consequences of this for our industry are of generational significance. When I joined the public affairs industry in the early 1990s, lobbying firms believed – wrongly, it turned out – that they knew who would win the 1992 general election, and were hiring junior Labour staffers on huge salaries.

From then until last year, there has been a Labour hegemony in public aff­airs, because the prism of public policymaking was a progressive Left one. Now the fulcrum has shifted and being a CCHQ staffer or a shadow cabinet adv­iser is no longer something to be embarrassed about.

As the runners and riders jockeying to position themselves for the future leadership of the Labour Party spend less time in their ministries and more time in colleagues’ constituencies, Whitehall is slowing down. Senior mandarins are preparing for a new administration, formed by a party that has been languishing in the political wilderness for the longest period of its 177-year history.

And the incoming administration may be the best prepared ever. The behind-the-scenes work of Oliver Letwin, who heads a formidable policy team, and Francis Maude, who is ensuring the party is ready to hit the ground running, is testimony to the party’s commitment to delivering change.

But it is more than a yearning for electoral victory. There is a strong desire to challenge the Left on the primacy of ideas and in particular its approach to macroeconomic management. An inc­oming Conservative government stands ready to tackle the public debt mountain it will inherit and the monetary and fiscal issues it will face.

But it cannot – and will not – be working in isolation. It will be a decade of change and co-operation across jurisdictions and continents. In Scotland, the SNP is finding that with power comes responsibility. And Obama, after a flawless campaign, has found the same.

His desire to renew relations with ‘old’ Europe is welcomed in Brussels, where there will be a new president by the end of 2009, alongside a new parliament and commission. The most effective EU public affairs professionals will be quick to engage with those tipped to be appointed to the new college of commissioners as well as those MEPs who take up their new mandate in June.

As the global economy begins its painful path toward reconstruction over the coming years, good public policy advice will be more cherished than ever. From Edinburgh to London, and Washington DC to Brussels, those who can best interpret the profound consequences of these changes will, like the economy itself, ultimately prosper.

Views in brief
Name one little-known MP who you believe will become influential. Why?
Nick Hurd, shadow minister for charities. He has done some policy work that has been relatively below-the-line. His profile will rise after the election.

Special adviser to watch? Why?

Theo Bertram, currently in Number 10. He has worked for Blair and Brown, but his low profile belies his importance to, and growing influence on, Brown.

Your yacht is moored off Corfu but Mandelson, Osborne, Rothschild and Deripaska aren’t available. Who is on your fantasy guest list?
Robert Peston, Damian Green and their respective government moles.

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