Friday, 9 December 2011

Cameron’s premiership defined

Last night the Prime Minister decided enough was enough and vetoed a change to the Lisbon treaty. Britain will now stay outside of any new treaty agreement reached. (Initially alongside Hungary, Sweden and Czech Republic. A briefly held together European gang of four which quickly became one). The 26 other EU states will now to seek their own fiscal agreement involving deep integration around public spending and tax. 

While the finer details are yet to emerge there can be no doubt that this is the defining moment of David Cameron’s premiership. His coalition partners and the Labour party will be deeply unhappy. But how will it resonate with the public? And what exactly has the PM vetoed? At the moment it seems the PM has put Britain firmly outside the tent to borrow an analogy from Lyndon Johnson. 

How this decision reverberates will be crucial to the health of the Coalition. Our Polyglot DPM will be facing some difficult questions from the integrationists in his party over the coming days, weeks and years. He has already said he regrets the lack of a consensus deal and added, “as a lifelong pro-European, I will continue to argue within Government." 

The Labour Party’s initial reaction is to suggest that Cameron has put party before country and that this development is a sign of weakness not strength. They suggest that if the PM had decided to accept new Treaty changes the chances of getting it through Parliament would be almost impossible given the size of the recent Europe rebellion he faced. Ed Miliband claims he would have negotiated a better deal for Britain. At the moment it’s hard to see how without signing up to a new treaty. 

This remains a fluid situation and it is not easy to tell if the PM did the right thing but he has certainly taken a gamble. It will be difficult for the PM to claim "Game, set and match to Britain" for some time. What is clear is that the right wing of the Conservative party will be emboldened and the case for further withdrawal will be pressed hard. It would appear the biggest winners of this treaty rejection are the Euro-sceptics.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Autumn Statement 2011

The politics and economics of today’s Autumn Statement

A defining moment

Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement delivered today will prove to be a defining moment for the Coalition Government. Set against the backdrop of the continuing Eurozone crisis, the OECD warning that the UK is likely to slip back into recession, the Office of Budget Responsibility lowering its growth forecasts, borrowing set to rise and looming public sector strikes.

The Chancellor said the Government would “do whatever it takes” to protect Britain from the “debt storm”. As expected Mr Osborne identified growth as the number one priority for Government and announced a swathe of measures aimed at creating the right conditions to allow businesses to grow and said the Government would provide “leadership for tough times”.

The Chancellor decided to target tax credits and public sector pay today rather than the welfare system to fund new initiatives such as infrastructure spending. This is a political quandary for the government, whilst they can claim this a fairer method of saving money it is likely to give further credence to Labour’s “squeezed middle” mantra.

The war of words between the public sector trade unions and the Government looks set to continue for the foreseeable future and makes reaching an agreement on pensions even more difficult.

Cutting the deficit

Mr Osborne told the Commons that the Government is still on track to cut the deficit within the lifetime of this Parliament. Despite being helped by a reduction in debt repayment charges of £22bn to do this he will extend the public spending cuts beyond 2014-15, when they are scheduled to end.

The Office of Budget Responsibility says Growth this year will be 0.9%, next year it will fall to 0.7%. For 2013, 2014, 2015 the economy will grow by: 2.1%, 2.7%, 3% respectively.

National Infrastructure Plan

The Chancellor announced the publication of an infrastructure plan with £5bn worth of additional spending. Key announcements below:

· 500 new infrastructure projects will be funded over the next decade.

· 35 new road and rail schemes will be given the go-ahead today.

· a new urban broadband fund that will create up to ten ‘super-connected cities’ across the UK, with   superfast broadband, including Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff and London.

To drive forward the Government’s infrastructure programme, the Prime Minister has asked the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to chair a new Cabinet Committee on infrastructure. The Government will update on further progress delivering the priority programmes and projects before the end of 2012.

Key policies


The Government will publish its Innovation and Research Strategy shortly to set out how it will support innovation in the UK.

The Government will invest an additional £75 million in supporting technology-based SMEs to develop, demonstrate and commercialise new products and services.

The Government will introduce an ‘above the line’ tax credit in 2013 to encourage research and development (R&D) activity by larger companies.

The Government will consult on the detail at Budget 2012 and will ensure that SME R&D incentives are not reduced as a result of this change. This builds on measures from the 2011 Budget to increase the generosity and accessibility of R&D tax credits for SMEs.

Following a consultation over the summer 2011, the Government will publish on 6 December 2011 further details of the Patent Box and of its reform of the Controlled Foreign Company rules and R&D tax credits.

The Government will launch a new Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) from April 2012, offering 50 per cent income tax relief on investments, and will offer a capital gains tax exemption on gains realised in 2012–13 and then invested through SEIS in the same year.


The Government will invest £600 million to fund an estimated 100 additional Free Schools by the end of this Parliament. This will include new specialist maths Free Schools for 16-18 year olds.

The Government will invest an additional £600 million from 2012-13 to support those local authorities with the greatest demographic pressures.


The Government will increase the Regional Growth Fund for England by £1 billion, plus Barnett consequentials for the devolve administrations, and extend it into 2014-15 to provide ongoing support to grow the private sector in areas currently dependent on the public sector.

The Government announced 100 per cent capital allowances will be made available in the Black Country, Humber, Liverpool, North Eastern, Sheffield and Tees Valley Enterprise Zones.

Digital infrastructure

The Government announced a £20 million Rural Community Broadband Fund to help ensure more rural homes and businesses receive superfast broadband. If it is successful the Government will consider extending it.

The Statement headlines
  • These are the key points from today’s Autumn Statement: 
  • Working age benefits will be uprated in line with the Consumer Price Index's September level of 5.2%. 
  • The permanent bank levy will rise by 0.088%, which will ensure the Treasury raises the £2.5bn it needs. 
  • Public sector pay will rise by 1%, rather than 2%. 
  • A National Loan Guarantee Scheme worth £20bn for small and medium-sized business will be introduced over the next two years. 
  • Employment regulations will change to help businesses, including a change to TUPE regulations and cutting health and safety rules. 
  • Pension age to rise to 67 by 2028. 
  • The planned January fuel duty hike has been cancelled. The fuel duty rise for August will be limited to 3p. 
  • Free nursery places will be extended and an extra £1.2bn will be spent on new school places and 100 new free schools. 
  • Unemployed young people will be offered a Youth Contract. 
  • Business rate holiday for small firms will be extended until 2013. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Olympic security – time to up the communications game

With the Olympics only months away, those faced with ensuring the games pass without incident are now faced with the enormity of a task which seemed so far off when London was awarded the games six years ago.
The Olympic Park
Inevitably costs have ballooned as the games have loomed closer. Two years ago the public purse was expecting to cough up around £280m to cover security costs; last year that had risen to £475m which is the current estimate of costs of police security outside of the venues (against a £600m ”cost envelope”).  A further £282m has been allocated to pay for security arrangements inside the venues. Earlier this year, the company with the contract to handle internal security said it would need to double the number of civilian security staff needed to screen visitors and train volunteers from ten to twenty thousand!

So by the time the games have finished it is likely that the total security costs for the 2012 Olympics will be around a cool £1bn. If these figures appear eye watering then it is worth remembering that no one will argue for security of this kind to be trimmed. Even the most ardent opponent of overbearing “elf and safety” rules will simply shrug and look for easier targets to criticise. And it’s not just us. Athens was awarded their games prior to 9/11. That fateful day in New York led to security costs for the 2004 games increasing from an estimated $122m to an actual outlay of $1.8bn – more than ten times the initial assumption.

Olympic security doesn’t just evolve around Stratford. It is estimated some 350,000 foreign visitors will attend the games each day. This will place unprecedented pressure on the UK Borders Agency, airlines and airport operators and the public transport infrastructure.

The communications challenge

So in an era of fiscal restraint and accountability how should the private security industry, airport operators’ and others communicate what they are doing with this public money? Certainly it is worth those security businesses explaining how they are ensuring the games can pass off peacefully and how value for money is being achieved.

Evidently politicians, media and the public are different audiences. With politicians it is possible to establish a clear narrative and a hierarchy of messaging on the most important facts. Ministers and others will want to be assured that the risk of an attack on the games – and other “lesser” acts of criminality such as illegal immigration – are minimal. Equally the politicians will want to know that taxpayer’s money is being spent efficiently (even if not parsimoniously).  Communicating direct with Members of Parliament and other political stakeholders on this should now be a priority.

Reassuring the public that everything is going to be ok is a different matter. The security industry is reliant upon the media to act as an intermediary to communicate key messages. Planning and timing is extremely important. It would be counterproductive to discuss security issues too far ahead of the games as this might suggest there is a reason to be concerned. Instead it is important to start to introduce the media to the issues so that at the right time those key messages on security are relayed loud and clear.

Finally there is the power of advertising.  Hundreds of millions of pounds will be spent on Olympics related advertising. Brands will use the Olympics formally as an official sponsor or in other creative ways to identify their product or service with the games. The security sector should consider itself very much part of that commercial process and use advertising to show how efficient it is at what it does.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The new shadow team in full

Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party
Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP
Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, Party Chair and Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP

Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Rt Hon Douglas Alexender MP
Rt Hon John Spellar MP
Emma Reynolds MP
Ian Lucas MP
Kerry McCarthy MP
Lord (David) Triesman
Rt Hon Ed Balls MP
Rachel Reeves MP
Chris Leslie MP
Owen Smith MP
Cathy Jamieson MP
Lord (John) Eatwell
Rt Hon Lord (Bryan) Davies
Lord (Neil) Davidson
Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP
Wayne David MP
Andy Slaughter MP
Rob Flello MP
Jenny Chapman MP
Lord (Willy) Bach
Home Office
Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP
(also Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities)
Chris Bryant MP
Rt Hon David Hanson MP
Diana Johnson MP
Gloria de Piero MP
Stella Creasy MP
Rt Hon Lord (Philip) Hunt
Lord (Richard) Rosser
Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP
Kevan Jones MP
Russell Brown MP
Alison Seabeck MP
Gemma Doyle MP
Lord (Richard) Rosser
Business, Innovation & Skills
Chuka Umunna MP
Iain Wright MP
Shabana Mahmood MP
Gordon Marsden MP
Chi Onwurah MP
Toby Perkins MP
Ian Murray MP
Lord (Wilf) Stevenson
Lord (Tony) Young
Work & Pensions
Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP
Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP
Ian Austin MP
Anne McGuire MP
Gregg McClymont MP
Lord (Bill) McKenzie
Energy and Climate Change
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP
Tom Greatrex MP
Luciana Berger MP
Rt Hon Baroness (Angela) Smith
Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP
Liz Kendall MP
Diane Abbott MP
Andrew Gwynne MP
Jamie Reed MP
Baroness (Glenys) Thornton
Lord (Jeremy) Beecham
Stephen Twigg MP
Kevin Brennan MP
Sharon Hodgson MP
Karen Buck MP
Catherine McKinnell MP
Baroness (Bev) Hughes
Baroness (Maggie) Jones
Communities and Local Government
Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP
Jack Dromey MP
Helen Jones MP
Roberta Blackman-Woods MP
Chris Williamson MP
Lord (Bill) McKenzie
Lord (Sir Jeremy) Beecham
Maria Eagle MP
Jim Fitzpatrick MP
Lilian Greenwood MP
John Woodcock MP
Rt Hon Lord (Bryan) Davies
Lord (Richard) Rosser
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Mary Creagh MP
Huw Irranca-Davies MP
Gavin Shuker MP
Fiona O'Donnell MP
Baroness (Joyce) Quin
Lord (Jim) Knight
International Development
Rt Hon Ivan Lewis MP
Tony Cunningham MP
Rushanara Ali MP
Baroness (Glenys) Kinnock
Minister for London and the Olympics
Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP
Cabinet Office
Jon Trickett MP
Gareth Thomas MP
Michael Dugher MP
Lord (Stewart) Wood
Rt Hon Lord (Philip) Hunt of Kings Heath
Rt Hon Baroness (Jan) Royall
Equalities Office
Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP
(also Shadow Home Secretary)
Kate Green MP
Rt Hon Baroness (Jan) Royall
Baroness (Glenys) Thornton
Culture, Olympics, Media & Sport
Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP
Clive Efford MP
Helen Goodman MP
Dan Jarvis MP
Baroness (Maggie) Jones
Baroness (Angela) Billingham
Lord (Wilf) Stevenson
Law Officers
Emily Thornberry MP
Lord (Neil) Davidson (Adv. Gen. Scotland)
Leader of the House of Commons
Angela Eagle MP
Angela Smith MP
Leader of the House of Lords
Rt Hon Baroness (Jan) Royall
Rt Hon Lord (Philip) Hunt (Deputy Leader)
Northern Ireland
Vernon Coaker MP
Stephen Pound MP
Rt Hon Baroness (Angela) Smith
Margaret Curran MP
William Bain MP
Lord (Neil) Davidson
Lord (Des) Browne
Rt Hon Peter Hain MP
Nia Griffith MP
Rt Hon Lord (Bryan) Davies
House of Commons
Chief Whip

Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP
Alan Campbell MP
Mark Tami MP (Pairing Whip)
Lyn Brown MP
David Hamilton MP
Phil Wilson MP
Mark Hendrick MP
Graham Jones MP
Chris Ruane MP
Susan Elan-Jones MP
Jon Ashworth MP
Tom Blenkinsop MP
Yvonne Fovargue MP
Nic Dakin MP
House of Lords
Chief Whip

Rt Hon Lord (Steve) Bassam of Brighton
Deputy Chief Whips
Lord (Denis) Tunnicliffe
Baroness (Christine) Crawley
Baroness (Maggie) Jones
Baroness (Anita) Gale
Lord (Richard) Rosser
Lord (John) Grantchester
Baroness (Margaret) Wheeler
Baroness (Dianne) Hayter
Lord (Roy) Kennedy
Lord (Ray) Collins
Lord (Roger) Liddle
Lord (Wilf) Stevenson
Lord (Tommy) McAvoy

Friday, 7 October 2011

Full Shadow Cabinet

Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party
Ed Miliband MP

Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, Party Chair and Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Harriet Harman MP

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
Ed Balls MP

Shadow Foreign Secretary
Douglas Alexander MP

Shadow Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities
Yvette Cooper MP

Shadow Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
Sadiq Khan MP

Shadow Chief Whip
Rosie Winterton MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Health
Andy Burnham MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Education
Stephen Twigg MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills
Chuka Umunna MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
Jim Murphy MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Hilary Benn MP

Shadow Leader of the House of Commons
Angela Eagle MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
Caroline Flint MP

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Rachel Reeves MP

Shadow Minister for London and the Olympics
Tessa Jowell MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
Maria Eagle MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Policy Review Co-ordinator
Liam Byrne MP

Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
Ivan Lewis MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Mary Creagh MP

Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office
Jon Trickett MP

Labour Party Deputy Chair and Campaign Coordinator
Tom Watson MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Vernon Coaker MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland
Margaret Curran MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Wales and Chair of the National Policy Forum
Peter Hain MP

Shadow Leader of the House of Lords
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Lords Chief Whip
Lord Bassam of Brighton

Also attending Shadow Cabinet:

Shadow Minister for Care and Older People
Liz Kendall MP

Shadow Minister without Portfolio (Cabinet Office)
Michael Dugher MP

Shadow Attorney General
Emily Thornberry MP

Shadow Minister without Portfolio (Cabinet Office)
Lord Stewart Wood

Adieu conference

So the exhibition stands are back in their cases and the hotels are again charging sensible room rates. The party conference season is now over and will be memorable for being largely unmemorable. Even now it is hard to recall what Nick Clegg said three weeks ago.

In essence the Lib Dems were beastly to their coalition partners; Labour was beastly to itself (no change there) and the Tories beastly to err, a Bolivian's cat. Yes all very forgettable but then again why should a conference season three years away from an election be anything other? Neither government nor opposition used their conferences to set out detailed policy ideas. Instead they alighted on themes - which had a degree of similarity. Ed Miliband's speech, widely criticised at the time, proved to be a slow burner as much of his assessment of what constitutes good and bad in society was reflected in David Cameron's peroration.

The Prime Minister's speech is always the highlight of the conference season. This year's was a low key effort. The speech itself seemed to be a patchwork of concepts poorly stitched together and with no real underlying theme. The headlines "stop moaning" "fight in the dog" and "people are fed up of unaccountable greed" barely link. Its understated delivery - Cameron has been far more compelling - gave the impression that this speech was an unwelcome intervention on the diary of a busy Prime Minister. That and the comic dispute about the role of domestic pets in immigration cases only fuelled the theory that the PM has still yet to establish a properly functioning No10.

Another stand out issue arising from the conference season and particularly the Conservative conference was the presence of a plethora of lobbyists, if indeed a collective of lobbyists can be called a plethora. Seemingly Ministers had to run from venue to venue with their heads down to avoid being assailed by an interest group of one kind or another. Fringe meeting food - the staple diet of the conference goer - was apparently denied to the hungry local party representatives as the corporate raiders grabbed the cocktail sausages by the handful.

A lobbyist in this context means anyone who attends conference on behalf of an organisation they work for, are an advocate of or are consultants to. But it is difficult to know what is wrong with that that. Should a cancer charity be denied the right to make its case at the party conferences? The question should really be - is your organisation spending its money and time sensibly by having a presence at the party conferences? In these straightened times it is often difficult to make the case that it is worth spending such a lot of money for so little impact. PSA will only advise clients to attend the party conferences if their particular circumstances truly merit the investment needed. The conference organisers love the presence of lobbyists though. It generates much needed revenue and anything that keeps party activists away from fringe meeting microphones can only be a good thing.

So we bid adieu (or good riddance might be more appropriate) to the 2011 conference season. Perhaps we need to get back to big seaside set piece events with big Prime Ministers giving big speeches. The conference season has become far too metropolitan and slick. Besides they now do a mean Panini in Blackpool!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Red Ed needs the speech of his life to survive today

IT IS RARE that a party leader of just twelve months standing is faced with making a speech that is considered to be make-or-break for his future prospects. But that is exactly the position facing Ed Miliband as he delivers his Labour conference speech in Liverpool today.

A strong summer performance on phone hacking cannot mask a string of polls where he consistently trails David Cameron by 10 to 20 per cent in respect of perceived leadership capabilities. That the Labour Party is marginally ahead in most polls of voting intentions suggests its slender lead exists despite Miliband, not because of him.
The root of Miliband’s difficulties is of course the £156bn UK government borrowing in 2009/10. Even if the public were in the mood to forgive and forget such a large deficit (which they are not), Miliband and his shadow chancellor Ed Balls have struggled to articulate how they would tackle the current financial crisis if they were in power. So while borrowing remains extremely high this year, a double dip recession is a strong possibility, and public spending cuts remain deeply unpopular, Miliband has been unable to capitalise on the coalition’s woes.
Miliband’s other major problem is, Miliband. So far as they are aware of him, significant numbers of respondents to opinion polls just do not warm to him and cannot envisage him in 10 Downing Street. Words like “nerdy” and “geeky” tend to emerge quite quickly. To many, he simply does not have the communication skills of David Cameron, the kind you need to be a Prime Minister.
So today in Liverpool Miliband will seek to build his reputation as competent, likeable and trustworthy. His pitch is to middle England – particularly voters in the south and the Midlands who have deserted Labour in droves. He understands that economic insecurity is a major concern for the British people, hence his repeated references to the “squeezed middle”.
A senior Labour figure said at the weekend “we don’t need to shout louder, but explain more. Explain what we got right and wrong before the crash, explain how we would get the economy growing and so deal with the deficit, and explain how we will deal with social justice with less money around”. No doubt this is true, but it is highly unlikely that Miliband will be able to tick all those boxes in one go. His speech today will not set out the manifesto that Labour intends to fight the next election upon, although there may be some eye-catching policies on energy and higher education. Overall, his task is to try to convince a sceptical public that he shares their worries and has credible ideas to do something about them.
If Miliband can do this, perhaps he can move to the foothills of the mountain he has to climb between now and May 2015. But he will have to make quick and steady progress if he is to prevent a pearl-handled revolver being passed his way.
Phillip Snape is the managing director of PSA Communications. 
This article first appeared in City Am 25.09.11

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Liberal Democrat Conference 2011

With the end of the Liberal Democrat conference fast approaching and before we all pack our bags and head to Liverpool we should reflect on what we have learned about the Coalition junior partners this week. 

This conference has by in large been a disciplined and convivial affair, with no significant upsets on the floor of the conference hall. 
Nick Clegg told delegates to hold their heads high, be proud of what they have achieved in government and don’t look back. Looking back would only remind the Lib Dems that their share of the vote has halved and not so long ago students were burning effigies of their dear leader. The clear message was: hold your nerve things will get better.

Compared with last year, when the conference language was all about unity and stable government in the national interest, this year there has been a war of words against their Tory partners which has dominated speeches all week. With Chris Huhne branding Tory right wingers as Britain’s "Tea Party tendency". Party President Tim Farron said the Coalition must end in “divorce”. And of course Vince Cable had to get involved, by claiming Tories were "descendants of those who sent children up chimneys".

On the policy announcement front, there have been announcements on the clamping down of executive pay, a new tax inspector team to target the rich and firm commitment to the 50p tax remaining in absence of another tax on the wealthy.

In keeping with the theme of the conference there will be no great surprises in Clegg’s closing speech, he will reiterate the Coalition’s commitment to reducing the deficit whilst claiming the Government is doing everything in its power to kick-start sluggish growth.

Overall, a rather dull conference with no particular highlights. The Tories couldn’t have scripted it better themselves.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Vickers smites mammon (sort of)

The much heralded report on banking regulation from Sir John Vickers has finally been delivered. It signals the biggest shake up of the City of London since the 1980s – but not just yet. Vickers recommends that banks should separate their retail and investment operations and have sufficient capital to be able to fund their frequent trips to the casino. Vickers acknowledges that the proposals are complex and far reaching so has come to the rescue of the Chancellor by giving him seven years to implement them. Everyone is apparently on board – the banks have barely murmured. Job done? Not quite.

The politics of this – past and present – are fascinating. In 2008 as the banks haemorrhaged, the British taxpayer was forced to ride to their rescue. On one particular day the public went about their business blissfully unaware that their local hole in the wall was just 24 hours away from running out of cash. Not unusual? Well in this case it was as the banks literally had no banknotes left to fill them up with. Billions were pumped in to keep the banks afloat on the basis that it would be unthinkable for one of them to go under. By 2010 the Treasury was empty and as it happened under Labour’s watch they paid the price at the election.

Some might argue that the most incredible outcome of all of this was Ed Balls issuing a mea culpa for his involvement in a government that presided over such a light touch regulatory regime. It does remind us however, that virtually all politicians (with the honourable exception of the recently beatified St Vincent of Twickenham) were trying to outdo each other in arguing for less regulation not more, something that has conveniently been banished from the memory of the Chancellor.

All of this has demonstrated in graphic detail just how few friends the banks have. One wonders what they and their associations have been doing for the last few years if they cannot get even the right wing of the Tory party to defend them. Even the usual anti-regulation rhetoric has been shoved to one side by a government keen to begin a process that will end with massive regulatory intervention on the banks.

There is a lot of water to flow under the bridge before 2019. Ed Miliband is talking about Vickers being the “first stage of reform” not the end. No doubt his advisors will be working on a number of cruel and unusual punishments to inflict on bankers in the hope that Labour can draw favour from the public.

The Chancellor has said that the proposals will require primary legislation. He will want this to be a post 2015 election legislative battle which gives all parties concerned plenty of time to sharpen their knives. The banks themselves now have adequate time to get into the meat of this argument and achieve, in the circumstances, the best outcomes in what will be a complex and technical area of policy development. If they are wise they will approach this gargantuan project with a little more humility than they have in the past.

Monday, 12 September 2011

PR Week Soap Box

In his usual uncompromising style Simon Jenkins suggested recently that lobbyists (a term he uses very loosely) are enjoying a fine old time under the coalition government. His argument is that the very nature of coalition politics makes it easier for special interest groups to play one part of the government off against another. To back his assertion he cites recent policy u-turns (forestry, NHS, housing) or continued concessions to big spending lobbies (high speed rail, Olympics, renewable energy) as examples of how organised groups can manipulate naive and risk averse coalition ministers.

I agree with this. A well constructed, strategically communicated argument has more chance of progressing under a two-party coalition than it would under a government with a thumping majority. If Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair did not want to listen, then there was little one could do to change that. The situation is very different now with two parties in government whose core philosophies are so diametrically opposed, it is easier to identify and tap into a vein of political support somewhere within the coalition.

However, a major constraint for lobby groups is the fact that the government has no money to fund new and interesting policy ideas. This was not a problem before 2010 when the Labour government seemingly put money into every idea it was presented with, no matter how barmy. Lobbyists now have to be far more creative - proposing policy solutions that do not have price tags attached to them.

Where I differ with Jenkins is his implication that all lobbying is somehow bad; Ministers should be their own masters - piloting the direction of policy, able to swat away the irritating special interest groups that are currently so effective at forcing a change of course. On the contrary I see "lobbying" - again in the widest sense - as a fundamental right in a democratic society. Indeed we would be all the poorer if Minister's ploughed on regardless of outside voices - Poll Tax anyone?

Philip Snape, MD, PSA Communications.

This article first appeared in PR week 02.09.11

August SRP update

The Government has published August progress updates for each department’s Structural Reform Plans