POLITICAL & COMMERCIAL INTELLIGENCE

We help companies affected by political change. To access our political and commercial intelligence service, email GUIDE’s Chief Executive on greig@theguideconsultancy.com


Clients paying for the Brexit hangover

When I worked in the intelligence community, we were warned that military planners often use briefings like a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination. Now, I am often struck by the number of organisations who are still working with political advisers who have been drowning their ideological sorrows since the referendum. Advisers who failed to see Brexit coming and who still seem to think it can be undone or pretended away might offer a shoulder to cry on, but astute political planners don’t need sympathy, they need cold hard insights and accurate predictions.

In the same way that we won business when the Conservatives took office because we understand Tory politics, we also got new work because we understand the Leave campaign – and how the Government can implement the result. The “Nissan deal”, for example, is likely to strengthen the Government’s negotiating hand by showing other EU countries it is willing to go a long way to keep businesses here. The EU now knows the UK won’t fold at the first signs of economic pressure and we are likely to get a better deal as a result.

Investment decisions are often complicated by political issues, but those companies that turn to inebriated advisers still mourning the Remain campaign are only making life harder for themselves. Clients need clear advice – and clearer heads – from their political consultants, because we all make the best choices when we are sober.

COMMENT: The case for "tax years"

Using a low-end estimate, our annual tax take per head is more than £8,000 every year. That sum is reached by excluding local taxes like Council Tax, ignoring the future tax burden of the public sector debt and dividing the rest of the money collected between every man woman and child in the UK. Using that £8,000 figure, public spending should not only be measured in pounds and pence, but also in “tax years” i.e. the amount of time it would take a normal person to earn that money.

This would help us appreciate what a slog it is to create tax revenues and ensure that they are only spent on things we really value. For example, a nurse’s annual starting salary is £21,692. Under this measure, this is about three “tax years”. An MP can be employed for twelve months at a cost of £74,000 – or about nine tax years. Further up the scale, it takes 9,375 tax years to build a £75m hospital, and a whopping 35,000 tax years to pay for the redundant airport on St Helena (to foot that bill, the artist responsible for the very first cave painting in human history would still need to be plugging away at their 9-5 today).

COMMENT: Brexit Select Committee should call EU leaders

As Chair of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee, Hilary Benn will rightly play a leading role in Parliament’s scrutiny of the ongoing Brexit negotiations. That role, of course, includes questioning Government Ministers. The national interest will be even better served if the Committee spends much of its time collecting evidence from leading figures on the other side of the Brexit negotiating table – officials and politicians from the EU institutions and other member states. There is plenty of precedent for this as Committees often take most of their evidence from external, not Ministerial, sources – indeed, only last week the Lords’ EU Committee interviewed senior politicians from Ireland. More importantly, a distinct focus on European witnesses would not only provide invaluable insights into what the EU wants from Brexit talks, but would also ensure the Committee does not come to be seen as a final and frustrated redoubt for those who seek to undo the referendum result. 

The GUIDE to the week, 21st October

Just over half of voters in Witney plumped for ‘remain’ in June, so the LibDem pickup there suggests Labour is surrendering one of its strongest cards with voters who don’t like the Government. Back in Westminster and Whitehall, here’s our take on the week.

Post-modern spin…

As Corbyn’s team thinks public opinion doesn’t matter and May’s team keeps its head down planning Brexit, we could be entering a “post-spin era” (when was the last time you noticed a Government “initiative” headlining on Today?). This might reflect an admirable acceptance that the 140-character-news-cycle means feeding the beast has been replaced by cleaning Augean stables, and that the Government really does just want to “get on with the job”. The goal would be laudable, but tempting to stray from.

…but nature abhors a vacuum…

If Government comms is to become more substantive, it must be, well, more substantive. Long-term policy goals and strategic positioning must be made interesting enough that the media wants to talk about them, or else public opinion will be shaped by critics. Last weekend’s edition of the Torygraph, for instance, gave headline billing to Conservative opposition to Heathrow (politically negative) and soldiers being sued (neutral at best), while the PM’s efforts to drum up international trade were buried on p17. That kind of coverage only emboldens disgruntled backbenchers.

…and loves personalities

The big names needed to deliver Government messages must be managed more effectively, too. There’s only so many times any self-respecting politician (and politicians don’t tend to be short on self-respect) will take headlines about being ‘slapped down’ before they resign, for example.

One last note before signing off, the PAC gave the Government a kick in the shins over shared services centres this week. It might not look like big news, but major public sector suppliers will be watching carefully to see how this develops – no-one wants to be the excuse for new Select Committee Chairs to pillory No.10….

COMMENT: Women are half held back – and they must not be

By Greig Baker, Chief Executive

I am a white, middle class, man born to loving parents living in the South East of England – so my personal experience of prejudice is pretty limited. But as the father of young daughters, the scales are starting to fall as I see the women my girls aspire to be getting held back every day.

Donald Trump calling his own daughter “a piece of ass” is shocking because it is so extreme. But the same offence was committed closer to home when a British journalist described Theresa May’s male co-chief of staff as “intellectual and ambitious” yet said her female co-chief of staff is “smart and sassy”. The problem can be found outside politics, too. It was eye-popping when a BBC commentator in Rio casually mused that Jason Kenny would be asking his four-time Olympic champion fiancé Laura Trott “what’s for tea?”, for example.

I do not believe the answer lies in more legislation or in Government trying to ban things. Instead, people in business and politics can volunteer practical steps to solve this horribly outdated problem.

In business, flexible working hours – and how they are filled – is key. The way new parents juggle work and childcare is becoming more varied, so the gender balance of staff available at different levels of management in a company is getting harder to predict. Instead of arbitrary quotas for the number of women and men in each role, companies should make equal numbers of hours available to men and women at every level of the business – and only adjust those numbers if it is proven that a balanced workforce cannot deliver the required hours through existing staff, promoting people ready to move up, or new hires. This means the best people available, male or female, would always have an opportunity to take the next step in their career.

In politics, there is room for more direct action. A representative democracy should be, well, representative. People who are active in a political party (including me) should pledge to spend more time encouraging women to become candidates, supporting them, and helping them to get elected. In my view, (and I know this is a lot to ask) men who are considering a run for political office should even go a step further and first look for an equally or more qualified woman who wants to stand for the same post – and lend their efforts to that campaign instead.

The youngest ever Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai, says “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back”. Small steps in business and politics could give our daughters the  opportunities they deserve – and end the bane of #HalfHeldBack.

 

POLITICS: EU-funded transport infrastructure in doubt

The Chancellor has been keen to reassure investors that HMT will replace lost EU funds post-Brexit. The DfT, however, has a much more qualified position. Parliamentary Under-Secretary Andrew Jones says replacing EU funding will be reviewed “in the round” and decisions on specific projects will be made in “the UK’s national interest”.

POLITICS: NEDs hint at new infrastructure policy

The Government has been filling gaps in its advisory staff ahead of a shift in policy to be announced around the Autumn Statement. Appointments have been made up to Non-Executive Director level in Departments like the DfT, in a bid to hire people with in-depth experience of privatisation, deregulation and PFI deals.

POLITICS: Local elections in 2017

Next year’s round of local elections will be telling. It will be UKIP’s first attempt to defend the gains made in its 2013 surge, as well as a vital chance for the LibDems to build on their local by-election successes. For the Government, Andy Street’s run in the West Midlands will also test the Conservatives’ ability to sell their industrial strategy in a region packed full of marginal parliamentary seats. In fact, this race will be so important to the Tories that thought is already being given to how policy making in Westminster now could help shape the result next year.

POLITICS: Conspiracy vs cock up

To say Government mistakes are more often due to cock up than conspiracy is to use a hackneyed phrase that normally holds true. However, Labour’s absence from the political field has encouraged early coordination between the Government’s opponents in the Lords and some senior Civil Servants. The new administration has an incentive to be provocative (being forced to go to the country for a mandate has some appeal) and some mandarins seem to have risen to the bait – flashing details of the grammar schools policy to Downing Street snappers was a strangely naïve thing for a senior Civil Servant to do, for instance.

POLITICS: Turkeys vote for Christmas

Talk of an early general election has been notably absent this week. The story was originally pushed by Labour spinners trying to provoke an outbreak of “discipline under duress” among their unhappy backbenchers. Sources from the Conservative Government have consistently and emphatically denied any plans for an early poll. The most realistic chance of that changing, ironically, would come about if the Opposition parties in the Commons and (more importantly) Lords manage to cripple the Government’s domestic agenda.


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