Panic At The Disco

One of the most common words being heard at the 2017 Conservative Party Conference is “panic”. The old fear they are losing the young, the Brexiteers fear they are losing the moral high ground and the moderates fear they are losing the plot. This climate of “oh what on earth are we going to do?!” has serious implications for policymaking and those seeking to influence it.

With Theresa May’s narrative constantly being overridden by rumours of leadership plots she is failing thus far to regain the perceived authority that she needs to confidently negotiate Brexit and sell it to those back home. If her enfeeblement leads to more stalled and unproductive talks, and ultimately a tanked Article 50 outcome, that will have disastrous impacts on the economy and consequently on any party’s ability to govern effectively thereafter.

The notion that the Conservatives are facing an existential crisis is also going to give fuel to those who want to radically change the ideological course of the party. We have already witnessed the earliest flickers of Moggmania, and yet we also know that leading Remainers within the Party want to ‘take back control’ themselves. Then there is Boris who is both an unknown quantity when it comes to large swathes of key policy issues but is at the same time a defined and well-established character that could easily produce the ramparts for his own ‘-ism’ about as quickly (and perhaps as transparently) as he decided to back the Leave campaign last year.

Two bitterly divided parties in what is still largely a two-party system is a recipe for stalemate and further polarisation. Sound policy agendas will suffer.

Lobbying organisations have for the past 15 months been facing up to the challenge of securing Government focus on any subject which does not immediately contribute to the Cabinet’s ability to successfully negotiate Brexit or at least help distract away from allegations that they are bungling it altogether. This challenge is now compounded by intense organisational self-doubt. What follows may involve the development of a split-personality government: one side of which meekly consolidates the least objectionable form of Brexit outside of the Customs Union and the Single Market, while other parts pursue their own pet initiatives in the vain hope of being able to transcend their association with a lame-duck Prime Minister (see Gove on harsher sentencing on animal cruelty, for example).

For lobbyists the answer is partly to continue engaging both the ‘moveable’ and the ‘fixed’ establishments with differing strategies. The ‘moveable’ – i.e. the politicians in charge of a given policy at a given moment – should ideally be targeted with messaging that emphasises a proposition’s legacy value and helps a proposition to avoid being labelled as Brexit-outcome-contingent. The ‘fixed’ – i.e. the Civil Service, the think tanks and the more safe-seated Parliamentarians – should be engaged at a deeper level of detail and technical nuance with a view to developing relationships wherein the policymaker and the influencer work closely and iteratively together over an indefinite timespan.

Whatever happens next, calm and level-headedness will be rare commodities and should therefore be treasured, and practised, by all those who seek to inform Westminster’s agenda.

*Panic! At The Disco is an ‘emo pop rock’ band from Las Vegas that became very popular around 2005-6. If you’re a Conservative Party member – don’t worry, you weren’t expected to get the reference.

If your organisation is in panic mode or would simply like to know more about influencing Government then call 020 7368 3100 or email info@portcullispublicaffairs.com to speak to one of our expert advisers and arrange a free initial consultation.