REFLECTING ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS

I recently had the privilege of speaking to students at the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds, who had invited me back to talk about my reflections on politics and lobbying since I graduated from there several years ago.

In preparing my speech, I realised there were three things that had really struck me over the last few years, the first of which was the difference between “policy” and “strategy”.

The example of “policy” I gave was free eye tests for pensioners (even though something like that, admittedly, might be done for very calculated political reasons).

However, I argued that an example of “strategy” was the Conservative Party stating, before the last General Election, that they would ring-fence NHS and overseas aid spending.

I made the distinction because those commitments (certainly until recent weeks) essentially outflanked Labour and bulletproofed the Conservatives against criticism from the Left that they were uncaring and “the same old Tories”.

It was a strategic decision to set the agenda, not simply a promise to do something if elected.

That phrase, “setting the agenda”, is the second thing that’s really struck me since I began working in public affairs – just how important is it for campaigning organisations, political parties and Governments to make the running through properly structured comms programmes, which secure positive headlines and position the principal players in a favourable light.

Which brings me on to my third reflection since graduating – the vast array of stakeholders who exist in politics.

All but invisible to me when I was a young undergraduate, but as soon as I began working in public affairs I realised there were hundreds of trade associations, campaigning charities, representative and professional bodies, who were all engaged in lobbying Government every day.

And as anyone involved in public affairs knows, Government relies on these stakeholders to help make better policy. How else can Ministers and officials be expected to get it right if they don’t hear from the people who are going to be impacted?

So that’s it in a nutshell – they’re the three things that have jumped out at me since graduating and working in public affairs.

That’s why I wanted to share them with my alma mater, and why I wanted to share them here.

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