195: Make Your Own Agenda
If the party conferences told us nothing else then it was clear that all the parties are looking for new ideas, especially domestic ones. Brexit may dominate but no-one wants to let it.
For the Conservative Government, in particular, they will need to demonstrate achievements outside of Brexit before the next general election in 2022. That would, at least in some small way, make Mrs May’s calling of an early election this time a little more palatable. That potential certainty around the timing of the next election provides a clear indication that any Brexit transition period will not be extended much beyond two years. The Conservatives need to deliver of Brexit and then move beyond it in time for 2022.
There are also the battles currently taking place over what will and will not make it into the forthcoming Budget. There is a lot of pressure on Philip Hammond not just to show that he has an economic approach that can flex around the Brexit deal but can also respond to issues such as public sector pay on which the government does not appear to have a definitive line.
The party conferences also showed to some that Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are, in his words, the ‘political mainstream’. The key Conservative announcements were based around energy price caps and local authority house building both arguably Labour-inspired. Labour, on the other hand, could spend more time with their generally popular manifesto policies and refine them further.
Labour’s discussions will not, however, be all plain sailing. Even for those in favour of nationalisation, for instance, there are different varieties. There is a ‘state bureaucracy’ version in which everything the state once owned comes back into government and departments meaning more people employed by the state. But there is also a ‘state control’ version under which an arm’s length state company runs services and this could even involve some private sector provision. It appears that even the trade unions disagree over which path to take.
What does all this mean for public affairs?
It demonstrates that there is a policy space opening up in both parties, especially on the domestic front. This brings with it the real opportunity to engage and influence. It also means that whilst there will be legislative issues to consider, for instance the promised draft legislation on price caps, engagement with the parties themselves and their policy advisers will be essential. Indeed, with a generally thin legislative agenda, there is more time for Parliamentarians to explore issues though questions, debates and through Select Committees and All Party Groups. Such an approach will involve advisers, policy teams, the Parliamentary research units as well as the offices of individual MPs. Now Parliament is really back, post-election and post party conferences, new MPs may be available to meet and Select Committees are meeting to decide their agendas so there is more space to explore policy ideas.
But the piece around progressing a clear policy agenda with recognised milestones becomes particularly important in the current climate. That makes the likes of George Freeman MP probably one of the most important people around in Government at the moment. He has responsibility for chairing the PM’s policy board which needs to come up with new and relevant ideas. Fresh ideas and momentum are essential for both parties but, post-conferences, seems of particular need for the Conservatives.
So you need to establish your own clear policy agenda rather than waiting for it to be set by the parties. Grab the political opportunity!
12 October 2017