MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Prepare for possible changes in Westminster

Polls point to a possible hung Parliament in the Election. How can businesses protect their interests?

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Has Wednesday's Budget made it more or less likely that Labour will avoid defeat in the expected May General Election? Only time will tell. But current polling suggests that the vote will mark a watershed in UK politics - either a change of administration, for only the second time in the last 30 years, or a return to the 1970s with a hung Parliament.  

As Whitehall braces itself for a potential change of administration, what should businesses with lobbying interests be doing to prepare? MT asked Fishburn Hedges director Rory Scanlan for his top tips on how to handle a potential period of transition. 

1. Stay focused on the campaign
During the campaign, politicians will be focused on partisan advantage and will not be receptive to attention-grabbing demands, unless the issues are genuinely top of their agenda. Use this time to track the campaigns, while remembering that raw politics will influence any announcements. Talk to your civil service contacts sparingly if you can provide insights on effective implementation.

2. Pay attention to the Parliamentary arithmetic

The majority of an incoming Government will dictate both the Government’s strategy and tactics.  A small majority would see a Government of either colour vulnerable to backbench pressure, and it will struggle to pursue more radical reform. If there is a hung parliament, prepare for further change as it is likely that there will be another election before the end of the year. 

3. Make friends before you need them
Get to know politicians on the way up. Relationships built early after the election will serve you well over the course of a whole Parliament and beyond, either as individuals rise up the Ministerial ladder, or as they bed down on the backbenches.

4. Make first impressions count
Be sure to target the new intake with care, even if there is a pre-existing relationship. New MPs will be inundated with requests to meet, even more so in 2010 given the change in composition of Parliament. Be in touch only if your issues are high on the agenda, if the MP has an interest in your particular field or if there’s a genuine local link.

5. Don’t forget the new faces on the red benches
If the Conservatives win, Cameron will refresh the Conservative team in the Lords by appointing leading figures from politics, business, culture and the media, to ensure that he can get his legislation passed. Expect to see experienced retiring Conservative MPs fast-tracked to the red benches and back into Ministerial office. 

6. Manage the immediate, but play the long game
Effective influencing needs both to inform and assist an incoming Government, and to prepare and interpret early moves. All Governments take time to bed in and get to grips with the art of governing. Don’t ‘over-read’ the early months of an incoming administration, or base your organisational strategy around them.

7. Work out where the true levers of power are
Most Governments look pretty similar in terms of departmental structures, but the real seats of power vary. For example, in 2009, Peter Mandelson’s influence through BIS cannot be over-stated. Understanding the new centres of power will be crucial as you seek to engage with any new Government and make sense of emerging policy and its likely impact on your organisation.

8. Don’t just concentrate on the big picture
Politics and personalities may grab the headlines, but lesser-reported reforms can make a big difference for business. For example if elected, the Conservatives plan to publish all central government and quango spending over £25,000, including the details of contracts, break clauses and penalty measures.    

9. Navigate the new spheres of influence
One of the biggest shifts in the environment for influencing will be among advisers and opinion formers. New players have emerged in the think-tank world, and will continue to do so. All have their uses - whether for networking, informing policy or intelligence. But before investing resources, make sure their agenda can be tailored to your organisation’s needs.

10. Remember that context is king
Even the best handled transition can’t buck external trends. Any new administration will want to get off to as smooth a start as possible, but the deficit and wider economic backdrop means there’s very limited room for manoeuvre. Those organisations that understand this context, and demonstrate how they can help the new Government deliver more efficiently and help generate economic growth, will wield the most influence.

Rory Scanlan is a director at Fishburn Hedges, one of Europe’s leading communication agencies.

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