THERE will be one giant elephant in the room at this weekend’s Conservative Party conference….to call or not to call an early General Election. In the fringes and in the bars of Birmingham, it will be a main topic of conversation. But in the conference hall itself, you will barely hear a peep.
Those close to new Prime Minister Theresa May intend to ensure that debate on the issue is stifled, insisting she will not go to the polls early in 2017. Her strong personal sense of duty and public declarations to serve through till 2020 mean, they argue, that she will not rip up the Fixed Term Parliament Act. She also remains confident that a Corbyn-led Opposition is as defeatable in four years time as it is now. And nothing witnessed over the last few days in Liverpool suggests otherwise.
But the political case for seeking a new mandate is mighty. As she is soon to discover, a Commons majority of 16 is threadbare when it comes to trying to railroad hugely unpopular and divisive grammar school plans through parliament; a Brexit plan (if we ever seen one) would merit a vote of support from the electorate; and the honeymoon period of double-digit poll leads is certain to dwindle as the winter nights close in.
Labour, while maintaining calls for an early election, is scared stiff of the damage Mrs May could inflict on their ranks. So the PM, while torn, is holding all the aces as she ponders whether to head for the ballot box.
The template which Mrs May needs to avoid is, of course, that laid down by Gordon Brown, who famously marched his men and women up the hill in September 2007 only to desert them at the top, leaving a bedraggled and confused army to make their own way home. The result was a Government that limped on for three years to humiliating defeat at the hands of David Cameron.
Mrs May’s dilemma is one regularly faced by businesses and organisations when planning major strategic decisions and announcements. So here’s a quick guide to the do’s and don’ts in the run-up to the big day.
1. Keep the message simple….communication lines must be absolutely clear. Gordon Brown disastrously allowed the speculation around an early Election to fester for weeks among his aides and the political classes. On the other hand,Theresa May is winning points for a simple no-nonsense mantra: “There will be no early General Election”. She should hold tight to the mantra.
2. Be prepared to change your mind….it needn’t be the end of the world. Voters and stakeholders are remarkably forgiving about sudden volte-faces. You just need to find a decent reason and make a strong case. Mrs May won’t be short of excuses to go to the electorate come early 2017.
3. War-game now….start planning for all eventualities. No doubt analysts and data-crunchers close to No 10 are war-gaming as I write. They will have laid down a track with two forks. Businesses should do the same when facing uncertainty. It’s amazing how many times Plan B starts to look better than Plan A.
4. Top Team must be united….with clearly defined roles. Mrs May must avoid dysfunctional relationships developing – which is going to be a big ask given she’s got Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox trampling over each other’s briefs. Another key lesson for business, make sure everyone knows their job and sticks to it.
5. Training, training, training….grill key leaders for media appearances. Politicians are usually adept at not slipping up in interviews. But far too many organisations assume senior personnel can handle themselves in front of the media or a shareholders’ meeting. Often, they can’t. Drilling key messages and being prepared for curve ball questions is essential.
As the PM faces the biggest call of her career, you can be sure she won’t leave anything to chance – and that should be a lesson for anyone in business.