Four ways charity campaigners can work with a slim majority in Parliament

A few quick reflections on what a slim parliamentary majority means for charity campaigners and their influencing strategies.

Working with a small or non-existent majority obviously brings its challenges and it’s clear that progress in terms of campaigning becomes slower and more intense. As parliamentary majorities narrow it simply gets harder to get business done.

However, senior campaigners in the sector have told me this morning how they were able to make substantial inroads during the Major years by ensuring they covered all the bases. For example, disability campaigners were able to push for the Disability Discrimination Act by ‘capturing’ the minister first before working to spread support across the governing party, opposition and Lords. So learning from this, here are my three ways that charity campaigners can work with a slim majority in Parliament:

Make the most of parliamentary opportunities

With both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats likely to enter a period of introspection as they seek to elect a new leader, and the Conservative party operating on a slim majority, there’s an opportunity to push legislation that has strong cross-party support. The parliamentary managers across all parties may be glad to take up time on legislation that doesn’t require testing the frail balance of power in the Commons.

Use the backbenches

It simply won’t be enough to secure the commitment of relevant spokespeople – it will be important to remember that MPs are individuals and while they are members of a political party and are elected on a particular ticket, they will have their own views on the issues of the day. A small majority means that MPs with strong views on particular issues will be able leverage greater influence than before as the government will need to engage and accommodate their views in order to keep their majority intact.

Walk the partisan tightrope

In order to do this, campaigners will need to be more aware of avoiding partisanship than ever before. Working intensively with all parties will likely become the norm, and those who had previously concentrated on one or two parties will be required to engage across the board.

Influencing and campaigning post-election

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Find out more about Evolve 2015

So – for campaigners who are prepared to put in the legwork with all parties, there are opportunities in a slim majority government. The tricky bit comes in navigating the governing party’s unwritten or hidden internal ‘coalitions’ rather than the clear and easy to follow explicit coalition that comes when two parties share power.

Don’t jettison your relationships

A number of high profile MPs have either retired from the Commons or lost their seats in the 2015 election shake up. It’s not inconceivable that many of these will turn up in the Lords or in public life in another way (perhaps in think tanks or even as charity chief executives!) so don’t forget to maintain the relationships you have so carefully built over the last five years.

Update 19th May

Now that we’ve had time to digest the implications of the new government and following a number of discussions in other forums (notably the rather marvellous eCampaigning Forum) and an event hosted by the Institute for Government I wanted to add the following useful points:

Work the committees

While Cameron’s majority is slim, with just over a 12 seat margin, this only matters when all of the opposition parties act in concert to vote against the government. Notably, the Conservative party has a 99 seat majority over the next largest party, the Labour party, so we can expect the government to win most votes.

It’s likely that the implications of a small majority will be felt most keenly in committee, where one rebel can have a huge impact and where smaller parties will have representation. More than ever before, campaigners will want to spend plenty of time working with the bill committee if they want to make amendments to legislation.

Think about what government can do, without parliament

It’s also worth remembering there is much that a government can do using the powers of the executive. With a small – or absent – majority, there are clear attractions to going to Parliament less. In a recent blog post, Peter Riddell from the Institute for Government said:

“the statutory foundations for the government’s major NHS, schools and welfare reform programmes were all laid down under the coalition, and the crucial task for the new government is to ensure effective implementation and management of these reforms.”

Glyn Thomas, from More Onion, rightly highlighted how the government may seek to use secondary legislation to make amendments to existing legislation by executive order rather than pass a whole new bill. Campaigners will want to make sure that secondary legislation is properly scrutinised as motions can often be passed with little fanfare or consideration.

Re-frame the arguments

Many campaigners are used to pitching their arguments in a certain way – often around fairness for example. Now more than ever, we need to understand the motivations of the new government and be conscious of the connotations of the language and arguments we use. Again Glyn Thomas hits the nail on the head saying campaigners should:

“Look at what motivates the Conservatives. We can re-frame our campaign asks and aims to appeal to them, while ensuring they meet the aims and objectives we want from our campaigns. It’s not easy, but it can be done.”

In particular, he highlighted that many campaigns use European law or European targets as a basis for their arguments:

“The current government will not be swayed by these arguments – the referendum on the EU will be used as an argument for not trying to meet these in the short term. Different arguments need to be found instead.”

Let me know whether you agree or what else you would add to this list?


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Chloe Stables, External Relations Manager, reflects on the latest political developments affecting the voluntary and community sector.

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