• Author:Ben Jones
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Public affairs panic

For those of us in the ‘trying to influence the government and politics’ business, last week’s election result is being seen as a call to action. Up and down the country, public affairs, government relations, strategic communications and offices of Chairs and Chief Executives teams are going into overdrive to respond to the changing political landscape in Westminster and their own changing stakeholder universe.

MPs who were on their radar have moved on – or are sliding up or down the political greasy poll. Ministers are shuffling (although not that much this time!) and priorities and agendas are being reassessed by the hour. This new government (once finally formed), with its reduced mandate, precarious position in parliament and fumbles to find a Queen’s Speech that will be able to navigate the House, is facing a period of great uncertainty. So too are the thousands of organisations in the private, public and third sectors, who seek the ear of government to influence its agenda – political and legislative – to help them succeed. Their world has been shaken too by last week’s electoral earthquake.

This sort of momentousus change in government and politics presents significant opportunities and threats to organisations and the tendency at this time is to reach for the lever marked “action”, but that is not always the smartest move. There is no doubt that the political kaleidoscope has been shaken and the pieces are now in flux, but perhaps it is better to wait for them to settle again before launching into action mode.

I have seen this so many times throughout my career and am hearing it now; we must move quickly; we must write to new MPs and Ministers; we must try to influence the contents of the Queen’s Speech; we must get our messages out and our voice heard; we must understand the new players and agendas; we need a briefing on all the incoming MPs and Ministers; we need to update our stakeholder maps and so it goes on and on. These are all natural instincts but they miss the wood for the trees.

Now is the time for cool heads and clear strategies, not the time for rushing into a political world that is itself not yet back to earth after last week. This is the perfect time to assess the new landscape, work with your advisors inside and outside your organisation to think through the emerging agenda for the government and other parties. This is the time to think about how to frame or reframe your core arguments on your core issues for when the time is right. A time to ensure you are understanding your audiences and how you can align your goals and agendas with theirs. A reality check: that time is not now.

Trying to influence MPs, Ministers and agendas, especially the Queen’s Speech, at this moment is a fool’s errand. No-one is listening and won’t be listening for some time. There frankly isn’t enough bandwidth at the moment in government or elsewhere to focus on anything other than the hand to mouth survival of the government and the hand to hand combat that is happening in the Tory Party and between the Tory Party and others. You get one shot at making that important first impression with key senior stakeholders when the landscape changes – don’t blow it at a time when that impression will be lost in the noise. Be patient. Be thoughtful. Be measured.

Sometimes the most effective communications work is done when you say nothing at all – thanks Ronan Keating! The long game will be won on your agenda not by swift action but by developing smart strategy. Now isn’t the time for knee reactions and panic; it’s the time for clear thinking and planning. There will be plenty of action man hares now running towards Westminster “to engage”, but it will be the tortoise with the strategy that comes out on top.


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