OPINION: NOW IS THE TIME TO GO OLD SCHOOL WITH MP ENGAGEMENT
The general election may have been dubbed the social election, but research shows that old-fashioned techniques work best, Max McEwan asserts
Whether the overriding feeling from your company is one of concern or hopefulness about the next five years under Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party, now is the time to develop and invest in your public affairs strategy as the future remains incredibly uncertain.
Whether the general election result imbued your company with a sense of dread or hope for the future, there is no denying that the Conservative party has an historic opportunity to reform our country and economy over the next five years.
In the 1980s, similar majorities enabled the party to transform the economy. Now, unburdened by divisions around Europe for the time being, the question is where will Boris Johnson take us? And how can we ensure that the voices of business are heard all the way along journey?
Where Johnson is comfortably a globalist, interestingly, those constituencies that handed him a majority are focused closer to home. Many allies of the Prime Minister see Brexit as an opportunity to turn the UK into a buccaneering, bilateral trade partnership agreeing machine. Some talk of ‘Singapore on Thames’ as a shorthand for a future deregulated and globalised UK.
However, the voters in Bolsover and similar towns across the North of England – where the globalisation-induced trauma of 1980s economic transformation has been eased by the promise to “Get Brexit done” – are more concerned about the state of their local high street, having better paid and sustainable employment. Not to mention a successful future for their children that does not necessitate them moving to London.
As one cabinet member put it, the PM has to square the circle and deliver an “economic approach that makes globalisation work for every part of the UK”.
Johnson clearly understands that to pay for the transformation of the UK’s infrastructure and public services, as well as satisfy the voters of Bolsover, the economy needs to flourish. However, he has been known to shrug off the concerns of business in the past. As the Conservative Party’s vision for the future of the economy is in its embryonic stage, it has never been more important that the voices of business are heard, and (more importantly) believed.
But what is the best way for stakeholders to engage with an MP, and ensure that their message is going to get through?
We regularly speak to MPs about their preferences for engagement. One key insight from this research is that MPs across the house, including those from the governing party, express a clear preference for engagement from stakeholders through activities in parliament and face-to-face meetings. This finding is from research commissioned by Vuelio, the political and media software provider, and conducted by Savanta ComRes over the summer of 2019.
Interestingly, whilst three in five prefer engagement within parliament (60%) or face-to-face (56%), only a quarter (26%) of MPs say that social media is an important channel when engaging with stakeholders. That’s despite this being dubbed the social media election by the BBC. This indicates that a back to basics approach to engaging MPs, including personal contact, may be more effective than one that utilises social media.
Q1) Which, if any, of the following are the most important communication channels when engaging with stakeholders? By stakeholders we mean professionals that work in policy or the media. Base: All MPs (n=137)
Getting a space in an MP’s diary is difficult and making that space count takes preparation. We regularly speak to MPs about what makes for an impactful engagement. Two themes cut across sector and issue:
• Make it relevant – Doing research about the APPG or Committee an MP sits on, or what specific policy issues they are interested in can help you to have a memorable interaction with an MP. Similarly, grounding any conversation in an understanding of their constituency, including the use of constituency-based research, can help cut-through to MPs.
• Be honest – The quickest way to lose an MP is for them to feel what you are saying is not credible or is the company line. MPs appreciate honesty, even where it shows that mistakes have been made.
Max McEwan is a senior consultant at Savanta ComRes