Rumoured to have been halted twice, yesterday saw the UK’s three main political party leaders David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband make changes to their ministerial teams. Although, the Prime Minister David Cameron is thought to have favoured an early summer reshuffle, this movement of personnel took place the day before parliament returned from party conference season recess. Of course, when the Government is reshuffled, more often than not, so is the Opposition.
The politics of a reshuffle are always over-hyped and often over-analysed but the impact upon businesses is usually overlooked. The impact will be most acutely felt in the Public Health and Transport briefs owing to big changes and for Sport, with the loss of Hugh Robertson, who had been in the role since 2005 – first in Opposition and then in Government.
Many of those attending Conference would agree that both the Government and the Opposition needed to revive their teams. Cameron needed to inject some fresh thinking and begin to prepare some of the 2010 parliamentary intake for cabinet positions, while Miliband required an effective front bench to fight the next election. The result of the reshuffles is that the rejuvenated teams are now more polarised and offer a clearer choice for voters and businesses, but I think they’re timing could have been a little better.
Now party conference season has developed into the core annual fund raising operation for each party it is short sighted to waste businesses’ time and money attending and engaging with ministers only to change the line-up days later. Businesses and indeed the public affairs industry regularly ask if attending conference is cost efficient and the timing of this reshuffle will not help those arguing to attend.
Senior politicians and some public affairs industry figures may say that that the impact of the reshuffle won’t disrupt policy making as very little change took place around the cabinet table, but I would argue that this actually poses the biggest problem for business. It’s not often that businesses are able to engage with Secretaries of State. Real meaningful every day political engagement tends to takes place lower down the ministerial ladder and that is where the bulk of the reshuffle took place.
In one sense many industry public affairs consultants will be frustrated; months of planning conference diaries, those painful meetings held in the bustling hotel lobby may have been for nothing but we have to think beyond this.
Firstly, on both sides of the House of Commons, this is likely to be the last reshuffle, save any individual sackings for untoward behaviour, before May 2015. 18 months out from a general election is the time most key messaging takes root with the public, so it is crucial to have ministers in place who can effectively deliver the core narrative. The lesson for businesses is these guys ain’t going anywhere until 2015. Basically, they can act on the representations made to them.
Secondly, fresh thinking, a willingness to meet, greet and please has been injected. Organisations have keen ears to bend which is always helpful when trying to make your opinion heard.
However, while the fresh thinking may open doors and a new minister be a welcome reprieve from a former minister who couldn’t quite get on board or agree with an organisation’s point of view, be wary of the same old trap. Companies can fall into the trap of being too quick to write a welcome letter. Yes, it serves a purpose, but this is an opportunity to break through the crowd and tell a story in more creative way.
Why get lost and stuck in a Department’s correspondence unit when you can communicate in so many ways such as offering fact finding days, supplying easy to read infographics or tweeting a quick congratulations. The 2010 parliamentary intake think and operate in a different way, it’s time to get savvy and break the mold.