The election result looks like a foregone conclusion. The Conservatives are nearly twenty points ahead in the polls. Theresa May has a clear policy agenda for her new Government. And while the Conservatives may no longer be quite the ally of the business community that they once were, for most their offer still beats Labour’s alternative.
As a result, businesses would be forgiven for thinking that there is little to do to get ready for the new administration. However, there are five reasons why businesses – and charities, campaign groups and trade associations – need to start preparing now:
1. May has a distinctive breed of Conservatism – and it’s different to her predecessors’. Based solely on their campaign, you could be forgiven for forgetting the Conservative party has already had seven years in power. Cameron and Osborne’s achievements are conspicuous by their absence, and instead, May has systematically reworked the party’s agenda. Her philosophy is more community-focused than metropolitan, emphasises the power of government intervention in both the economy and society, and ultimately believes the Conservative party can and should have a broader appeal than the caricatures of old. She questions the ability of unfettered markets to serve consumers’ interests, and her starting point for businesses is often ‘how well do they treat their employees, their consumers and their communities?’.
2. We have a sense of the policy agenda. After a rather dry start to the Conservatives’ campaign, the publication of the manifesto means we now know their policy priorities. These are telling – the energy bills price cap, greater employment rights, tougher rules on private sector pensions, reforms to social care funding – and speak of May’s desire to rework the Conservative party’s centre of gravity. This is coupled with her position on Brexit, which has been broadly clear since the Lancaster House speech in January. Many of May’s policies will impact a number of organisations, and the election campaign provides a window for business to start sketching out arguments and evidence.
3. May has shown a willingness to listen to the business community. There were few headlines in the manifesto to obviously court the business vote, and May’s team are often criticised for failing to understand the strains on the business community. However, there are signs she has begun to acknowledge that policies need to be workable as well as intellectually appealing. The corporate governance policy in the Conservative manifesto is still distinctly ‘May’, but offers greater flexibility for businesses in how it is implemented than the initial approach in the autumn. This offers hope that policies can be influenced through effective engagement, with a particular focus on evidence-based arguments and a willingness to help the Prime Minister achieve her goals.
4. Successful lobbying in the next Parliament will focus on No 10. An increased majority will win May the respect and loyalty of her Parliamentary party. In addition, new intake MPs have been carefully selected by Conservative HQ, reducing the number of likely rebels. A less rebellious Parliament – coupled with a comfortable majority even at the lower end of predictions – means that any legislation introduced to Parliament is incredibly likely to reach the Statute Book. In turn, this limits the impact of classic Parliamentary lobbying to block Bills or add amendments. Anyone hoping to shape the legislative agenda will need to make their arguments at a much earlier stage.
5. Everyone else is doing it – so you need to stand out. We have already seen numerous trade associations, businesses and campaign groups make the case for what they need from Brexit. The tempo will only increase as some of the policy building blocks are put into place, for example on immigration and customs. In an environment where almost everyone is calling for special treatment, you need an argument that resonates with the right people. And away from Brexit, organisations from all sectors and regions will be looking to explain their value to the UK and how they can help the Prime Minister deliver her agenda. It will be more important than ever to have a credible and engaging case.
Measurement and evaluation