Campaigning in the post referendum environment

The dizzying pace of political change since the EU referendum means that the ground has shifted substantially for campaigners.

A legislative log jam

Influencing public policy probably just got a whole lot harder. We can say with some certainty that Brexit means that the public finances will take a substantial hit and the likely log jam of parliamentary business could mean that parliament could be pre-occupied with Brexit related business for a number of years.

Phillip Kirkpatrick of Bates Wells Braithwaite put an estimate of 5-10 years to legally untangle the UK from EU law and regulation. Much will depend on the approach taken – will parliament be forced to transpose in bulk existing EU laws and protections (and unravel them one by one) or will they let the whole lot fall and build them back up?

The first option may not be politically palatable but probably makes more sense from a practical perspective, allowing parliament to pass a small number of omnibus bills before starting on the nitty gritty.

This is an important distinction for campaigners – are we seeking to hold onto something that largely already exists or preparing for a proactive campaign to put in place something entirely new (that may or may not look similar to the laws we already have).

Either way it’s likely that campaigners will have fewer opportunities to drive forward social change at the same time that their campaigns will be more needed than ever. Overwhelmingly our focus will be on holding onto to gains we thought we had already secured.

Number 10 under Theresa May – the sector’s secret weapon?

Much of the media commentary has depicted the incoming Prime Minister, Theresa May, as less ‘clubbable’ than her predecessor, David Cameron, and the Notting Hill set that he was part of. They also highlight her as risk averse, reliant on a tight knit team of advisers and unwilling to delegate.

However while Number 10 might be harder to access I suspect once through the door, campaigns with hard evidence and politically savvy policy proposals will be given a fair hearing. They will undoubtedly want to demonstrate that Brexit is not all consuming and will be looking for smaller, perhaps fiscally neutral, pieces of legislation that can be held up to show that the legislative wheels are still turning.

I may be reading too much into the runes but a few small signals from Team Theresa make me think this might be someone the sector can work with; it turns out she gives quite a bit to charity, her decision to visit a local charity shop while out on the campaign trail, her previous chairmanship of the Conservative disability group, and her long standing personal interest in issues such as violence against women.

More importantly during the opening stages of the leadership campaign, Mrs May signalled her intention to drive forward ‘serious social reform’ and make life easier for working class families and her speech on challenging board room practices suggested that a fairly serious land grab of the political centre ground may be on the cards.

Business as usual?

This doesn’t however mean that we should be thinking that this is business as usual and one of the key lessons from the referendum campaign is that the public are less inclined to listen to the views of ‘experts’. At NCVO, we’ve been chewing this over for some time – how can we support volunteers, trustees, staff and beneficiaries to take a lead in communicating our messages and campaigns? We don’t have all the answers but post referendum this seems more urgent than ever.

Keeping an ear to the ground

More than ever, campaigners will need to keep a close ear to the ground. Love them or loathe them, this year’s party conferences will be the first real opportunity to see first-hand the new alliances that are emerging post referendum. With new leaders in place it will enable campaigners to start to analyse the emerging policy agenda (and if attending is out of the question, campaigners can follow closely through published speeches, news reports and social media).

Swapping and updating intelligence across the sector will also be useful – NCVO’s Campaigning Conference in September will focus on what Brexit may mean for charity campaigning and you may also want to consider joining our free public affairs network so that you can stay up to date on any useful training or resources.


NCVO Campaigning Conference – 6 September 2016

Workshops include ‘Brexit: Everything you need to know about what it means for charity campaigning’ and ‘Inspiring volunteers to be advocates for your campaign’.

Find out more about the conference


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

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