Let’s exercise our imagination for a second.
In an alternate universe, Theresa May is the champion of the consumer, defender of JAMs, and lynchpin of Conservative majority rule following a landslide victory in the 2017 General Election, where her “nothing has changed” campaign won advertising awards for its cut through, simplicity, and honesty. In this timeline, May’s agenda is in full swing: house building is on the up, tax avoidance is decreasing, and the UK is the fastest growing economy in the G7. Oh and, of course, Brexit hasn’t occurred (let’s skip over the fact Cameron and Osborne might still be around).
Sounds like utopia?
Back to reality and the Prime Minister's initiatives to defend consumers from broken markets are side-lined, the JAMs (Just About Managing families) are forgotten – along with her dream team of Nick and Fiona – and her majority rule is dependent on thirteen unruly Northern Irish DUP MPs who seem to be the only people in Parliament enjoying themselves…
As the news and parliamentary agendas constantly remind us, Brexit is all consuming. It is not simply an innocent bystander in the log jam that is Government policy. It is the roadblock, stretching from Trafalgar Square to the end of Victoria Street, from Holyrood to the Senedd and over the sea to Stormont. No elected official or civil servant can escape it.
May and her Cabinet are desperate for alternative news stories. Their agenda (I’ll let you know when I actually find out what it is) is being lost in the day-to-day in-fighting of what type of Brexit we might negotiate. Will it be hard, will it be soft? Will we be in the customs union, a customs union, or none at all. Never has the indefinite article carried more meaning.
But amidst all this non-debate, a serious issue is growing. Domestic policy is languishing. The NHS is still experiencing its worst ever winter crisis; the number of homeless has reached 275,000, with over 4,500 rough sleepers nationwide (a 175% rise since 2010); and the standard of social care has reached critical levels as Councils fail to balance the books after 8-years of austerity. One Council had their budget deemed “unlawful” by their auditors earlier this year.
Major infrastructure decisions such as on Crossrail 2, Heathrow, HS3 and the urgent repair work on the Houses of Parliament are kicked down the road (again). Emergency services reaction times have grown as pressure on their limited resources increases. Rural public transport routes continue to be disbanded, leaving elderly citizens cut off from vital links to their communities – exasperated even further by the recent ‘Beast of the East’ weather surge.
In Whitehall, over 600 civil servants are feverishly working within DexEU (Department for Exiting the European Union) and DIT (Department for International Trade) – although what the latter is actually doing at the moment is anyone’s guess (air miles are great if you can get them). This doesn’t even include the teams working within other Government Departments on how Brexit affects separate sectors: from farming, to air travel, to immigration, down to manufacturing standards.
600 people who could be, and IMHO would love to be, working on any number of the issues mentioned above, rather than dealing with the consequences of Brexit.
A WAY FORWARD
So how can the Government find the time to focus on other priorities? In short, only with great difficulty.
Last Friday’s keynote speech by the Prime Minister on (you guessed it) Brexit provided some breathing space and allowed the media team, led by Robbie Gibb, to control the news cycle for the first time in months. May’s homebuilding initiative launched smoothly, and the choreographed State Visit of Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia would have led headlines if it weren’t for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury.
But this is the problem, only a landmark Brexit speech by the Prime Minister herself can push Brexit off the news cycle long enough for one announcement to sneak in, then, like an angrier version of Boris, Brexit screeches back into the limelight.
The respite is just not long enough.
MPs want to help their constituents and focus on the issues they care about most. Our job as communications and public affairs professionals is to get that cut through. To ensure the issues are debated, challenged, and now more than ever, pushed forward. If you want help getting round the all consuming dementor that is Brexit to get your issue on the political agenda, we are here to help you conjure your patronus.