The day after the General Election can be very intense for public affairs practitioners.
Both professional pride and the demands of our organisations or clients, require us to interpret the significance of the results, what the impact will be, and what they need to do to respond effectively.
But sometimes when we rush to make a judgement we can miss something – a factor which, when considered fully, could add depth and sophistication to our analysis, particularly with the benefit of a little more sleep.
I therefore thought it might be helpful to set out how long you really have. What exactly is the window between the result being announced, and the new government and/or parliament being ready to engage with you on matters of domestic significance (see end of article for comments regarding EU/Brexit)?
The following timetable is based on a clear majority but if there is a hung parliament be prepared to add five days to all the dates marked with an *
*Friday 9 June: in the event of a clear majority the leader of the largest party will be summoned to Buckingham Palace and asked to form a government.
*Friday 9 June: the new Prime Minister is likely to announce key Cabinet positions including Chancellor, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary, and probably the minister in charge of Brexit negotiations.
*Monday 12 June: remaining Cabinet positions announced (Cameron took 4 days to complete the cabinet reshuffle in 2015)
*Tuesday 13 June: Secretaries of State should have been welcomed by their Permanent Secretaries, been given a desk, computer, and passes (Bob Neill found it took 24 hours before he was even allowed into the building in 2010!). The private office must then work hard to help their ministers establish their portfolio and interests, arrange policy briefings and introductory meetings to departmental heads and key stakeholders, and provide guidance to the rest of the department on the Minister’s preferences. The ‘induction’ process is far from formalised and varies from department to department – it can take many weeks before the minister has even begun to know the department and the brief and much depends on their and the private office’s diligence. (The Institute for Government has an amazing bank of interviews with ministers commenting on their experiences)
Tuesday 13 June: Parliament is expected to return for the election of the Speaker and MPs will begin to be sworn in. Whilst those MPs that have been re-elected can return to their offices, there will simply be hot desking arrangements for new MPs and the provision of lockers, and little else for the first few weeks. Office allocation is still in the hands of the Whips (a fiercely protected form of patronage) and allocation is a slow process – first there are negotiations between the parties, and then decisions to be made as to who gets the best accommodation. It’s a slow and sometimes frustrating process, particularly for new MPs used to a more business-like employer. This is not just a logistical issue – it impacts the productivity of MPs and depending on the degree of churn could significantly impact parliamentary engagement. Kate Green MP told the Administration Committee that “not having an office for the first several weeks left [her] totally disoriented, unable to focus on getting to grips with the job, and very stressed”.
New MPs must also hire suitable researchers, secretaries and other staff. There is a Personnel Advisory Service to help with this, but often MPs are reliant on their colleagues for recommendations. Sometimes this leads to the inheritance of amazingly talented and experienced staff, other times the annoying realisation that they’ve been passed a dud.
*Wednesday 14 June: final list of ministerial appointments published by No.10. The appointment of departmental ministerial teams usually takes a little longer as Secretaries of State are consulted on who they would like to work with. They don’t necessarily have discretion but their views are usually taken into account. In addition, the Chief Whip will seek to advise the Prime Minister on suitable candidates, as well as ensure that no-one is left off the list who really should be included (as in Tony Blair’s day).
Monday 19 June: Queen’s Speech announces government’s programme and Brexit talks commence. The Queen’s Speech is broad brush and tends to cover no more than a handful of pages. The majority of the content will have been set by the manifesto of the governing party and there will be little possibility of influencing its drafting – better to focus on how to influence the drafting of the individual pieces of legislation.
End June: most Special Advisers will have been appointed, with Guido Fawkes usually doing an excellent job of providing a comprehensive list.
w/c 10 July: Likely date for nominations for chairs of the select committees including the chair of the Committee for Exiting the European Union. The Standing Orders of the House of Commons set out a process that is likely to take at least six weeks to complete: party leaders have two weeks from the Queen’s Speech to agree which parties will chair which committees, and then 14 days are required before the ballot, when MPs vote on nominations. Results are likely to be announced following a ballot the w/c 17 July.
mid-July 2017: Select Committee membership announced. Once the Committee Chairs are appointed, the individual parties will hold their own internal elections to decide who will represent the party on each committee, the House then votes on the final list. In 2015 it was almost two months (8 July) before the Select Committees were fully functional. They’ll then need to take some time to decide their agenda for the parliamentary session, and are unlikely to do much before Parliament returns after the party conference recess in October.
w/c 23 July: Parliament likely to rise for the long Summer Recess.
So there you have it – unless the issue you are focussing on is a matter of utmost national importance, it’s likely you have at least until July to get your strategy and messaging right, and start to engage with Government and the House of Commons.
And the rule of thumb for this period? More haste, less speed. Use the time well but don’t try to do what needs doing well too quickly.
If your organisation or sector does have a stake in the Brexit negotiations, you can also usefully engage with the civil servants who are now under pressure to publish a host of consultations needed to inform the Brexit Bills.
For more on that process and to see how all this tallies with Brexit negotiations – here’s a link to my previous analysis. (I’m delighted to say that some of my date predictions, as for the Queen’s Speech, were spot on!)