Making an impact at Westminster in 2015

The main character is the same, the plot seems familiar but this is in fact a very different book – the 2015 election has clearly created a very different political dynamic and many charities will be assessing the need to adjust their influencing strategies accordingly.

Over the past few weeks, NCVO has held a trio of events looking at different aspects of the new political environment and this blog rounds up some of key insights.

Back to ’92?

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Many political commentators have noted how it feels like we are stepping back in time; a political agenda dominated by Europe coupled with a Conservative administration with small majority.

However, this may be overly simplistic and while the Tories have an absolute majority of 12, this is still 99 seats over the next largest party. With both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party distracted by leadership contests and with a large proportion of ministers remaining in post, we may have a more stable government than previously thought and Cameron may make the most of his opportunity to push through key changes early in the parliament.

Similar – but more urgent – priorities

This is certainly true of the devolution agenda – the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill was tabled in parliament only 20 days after the election. While this was certainly a priority pre-election, there is now a real sense of urgency in the reforms, following Osborne’s now familiar election refrain around the ‘northern powerhouse.’

While not everyone will have the resources available to Cancer Research UK for example, who have just advertised for a local influencing officer based in Manchester, charities will need to map out quickly how devolution will affect them and where necessary adapt the resources they have

Pay attention to the detail

Joe Randall from the Institute for Government was keen to point out that devolution comes in many forms – and we need to be clear about implications. How a transfer of power takes place is as important as the powers that are given – whether local government is a subordinate delivery agent with little control or an autonomous decision making body makes a real difference to how well charities can influence at a local level.

It’s the economy, stupid

Much like the early 90s, the government finances are looking pretty gloomy too – with Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal studies predicting that spending by the end of this parliament as a proportion of income will be as low as in 1999. Speaking at a breakfast event for NCVO members, he also highlighted how achieving the anticipated £12 billion worth of cuts to the welfare budget will not be easy at all – in fact, very painful. Particularly when we consider these cuts will sit alongside £30 billion reductions to departmental budgets.

For many charities, this means an uphill struggle to make the case for investment. Paul noted that ‘any case for early intervention made to the Treasury will need to be very specific, well evidenced and very persuasive to get attention‘ and indicated the Treasury (particularly in the upcoming budget) is likely to be more focussed on the thorny issue of productivity.

Pragmatism versus principle

One of the consistent themes we have heard from campaigners is how strategic we need to be in order to make an impact. The classic campaigners’ tome (The Art of War by Sun Tsu) tells us how we cannot fight on all fronts and that to besiege walled cities is the worst possible form of attack – this was reinforced by Jonathan Ellis of the British Red Cross who told campaigners that it is more important than ever to take conscious decisions about where we stand up on a point of principle and where we work to improve the situation by pragmatic policy making.

Read the runes…

A quick glance at Cameron’s top team should tell you all you need to know about the balance of power in government. We heard from Tom Gash at the Institute for Government that the cabinet is littered with former Osborne allies and protégés – either those who have worked closely with the chancellor at the Treasury or on the election campaign. These include Sajid Javid, Amber Rudd, Greg Clark, Greg Hands, Matt Hancock, Robert Halfon and Jo Johnson.

Mr Cameron also swiftly made Mr Osborne his first secretary of state — effectively his deputy — formalising the chancellor’s primacy in the ministerial ranks and his status as the prime minister’s preferred successor.

But don’t put all your eggs in one basket

While Osborne is the leading contender for the crown, Emily Robinson from Alcohol Concern suggested that charities will need to line up contacts in the inner circles of all Cameron’s potential successors, alongside relevant ministers, to make sure any influence they had was not scuppered by a change of personnel. ’I feel like you need someone in the Theresa May camp, the George Osborne camp and the Boris Johnson camp, as well as the ministers themselves, in order to see things through,’ she said.

Given the delicate balance of power and the role of smaller parties in Westminster, it’s true to say the same goes at a party level, as Karl Wilding, director of public policy at NCVO reminded delegates, ’Talk to government but ignore other parties at your peril.’

 

If you’re interested in how to make an impact at Westminster, you can sign up to our new one day course here: Influencing Parliament.

You can also hear from the Institute for Government, the Cabinet Office and NCVO about the new political environment and what it means for charities and volunteers at our next election event in Leeds on 14 July.

 

NCVO recently held a series of events looking at the new political environment including hearing from:

  • Tom Gash and Joe Randall from the Institute for Government on the trends that are shaping the post-election environment;
  • Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal Studies on the economic outlook;
  • and  Emily Robinson (Deputy CEO of Alcohol Concern) and Jonathan Ellis (Head of Advocacy at the British Red Cross) on how they have made an impact on the political agenda and the lessons that campaigners can learn from their experiences.

 

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

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