201: What the reshuffle means (and does not mean) for public affairs
The Prime Minister’s efforts to refresh her team has met with a mixed reaction but aside from the day-to-day politics, what does it mean for public affairs?
The reshuffle was initially focused on refreshing the Conservative Party itself and helping it recover from the perceived weaknesses of the General Election campaign. So CCHQ has been bolstered by a range of rising stars and experienced former Ministers.
There can be an instant reaction that everyone is important in such circumstances but with 13 current party vice chairs not all will be as important as others. Some may be destined for greatness in the future so are in the roles to gain experience; others are there for a specific job; but others may be trying to figure out what their role really is. Such appointments do not mean instantly rushing out letters welcoming them to their positions. Keep an eye on those rising stars though!
The lack of turnover in the Cabinet did come as a surprise to most especially given the apparent media briefings. What this means though is that they will all, by and large, remain in place for the rest of Mrs May’s time as Prime Minister.
That could open up opportunities for these Ministers to try and develop new ideas and policies. They can feel a little freer from the constraints that they may otherwise have felt. In other words, unless they do something really silly, they are safe in their jobs. The chances are that this will be Mrs May’s last reshuffle unless events and or sleaze intervene.
If they are open to ideas then officials will be charged with working up the ideas. They will need help in this. Think tanks may seek to fill this void but the onus will also be on you to work up the ideas, possibly in collaboration with them. If you catch the attention of a Minister then you need to be able to deliver a worked-up idea as well. Do not simply rely on others.
There are also now a bunch of enthusiastic junior Ministers biting at the heels of the senior masters. This, of course, comes with both opportunities and risks. The ideas being considered could be constructive and helpful or deeply destructive. So engagement really is of critical importance.
The flip side is that No 10 has diminished in authority. The poor way in which the reshuffle was initially handled and how some Secretaries of State were able to convince the Prime Minister not to move them, shows were the power really resides at the moment.
The irony is that few outside of political nerds and public affairs professionals (these two are not mutually exclusive) will see what has gone on with this reshuffle. Mrs May is trying to build the party of the future and the main beneficiary will not be her, but the party’s next leader.
So the friends developed now, especially amongst the junior ministers, will see your organisation developing its network for the future as well. Efforts now, are important for your future engagement.
It is also important to maintain a watch on the wider fallout that happens following a reshuffle. This can include new PPSs and changes to select committee memberships. It is not all about the big appointments.
Post reshuffle can be peak public affairs opportunity but also requires some careful navigating as everyone jumps into action at the same time. Making sure you get the tactics right from the outset takes some analysis might also need some outside help.
Don’t rush the engagement and think about your offer, both now and in the future.
10 January 2018