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Political Risk Management – preparing for an election year

Most organisations will engage in politics from time to time, whether that’s by liaising with local politicians or decisionmakers, monitoring the national conversation on relevant policy debates, or intervening on issues that are important to stakeholders.

However during an election, organisations are vulnerable to being involuntarily dragged into a political campaign. Long before an election is called, candidates will be looking for case studies to anchor their messaging, and organisations can easily find themselves overwhelmed with enquiries from stakeholders, the media and political campaigns. 

Why is this election year different?

Unlike previous elections, which focused on Brexit and the UK’s place in Europe, the battlelines for the UK local elections and general election in 2024 will primarily be domestic issues – the cost-of-living crisis, public services, and the economy.

As with any election, parties will be developing manifestoes that showcase their solutions to the nation’s problems and pick apart their opposition’s strategies. While there will be policy areas where parties have very little room to distinguish themselves, there will be some areas that offer more opportunity to differentiate.

It is already clear that a key wedge issue between the two main parties is their different approaches to diversity, inclusion and freedom of expression. A number of schools and charities have already found themselves at the centre of ‘culture war’ debates or facing down accusations of ‘woke’ policies, and national media outlets have committed a lot of resource to chasing these news themes. 

What does this mean for schools?

Schools have already been identified as a battleground – the VAT debate has demonstrated how schools will likely be invoked as symbols of privilege during an election, with some parents able to afford independent school fees while many are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and children are living in poverty.   

EDI policies will also be scrutinised on a number of fronts – how schools are managing issues regarding accessibility and facilities when it comes to gender non-conforming students; how schools are approaching contentious issues in the curriculum; and whether diversity of opinion is respected in the workplace.

What does this mean for charities?

Charities will be under similar scrutiny. Many charities are having to deal with pressure to take stances on hotly contested issues, such as international conflicts or LGBTQ+ rights. A recent example would be the National Trust, which has been dragged into the ‘culture war’ debate because of their inclusion policies.

During an election, some people will feel very strongly about exercising their right to political expression, which can create internal, organisational pressures. For example, some charities have found their employees insist that their charity has a duty to campaign on certain issues (even if these are beyond the charitable objects); or assume that their employer’s resources can be used to advance personal political positions. This can be difficult territory for trustees, who have legal obligations to ensure their charity’s activities are aligned with their charitable objects.  

How can organisations minimise reputational risk ahead of an election?

There are a number of mitigation measures that organisations can implement in advance of heightened political sensitivity.  A good place to start is a comprehensive review of your organisation – this will include vetting policies in the public domain; auditing your website and social media for any red flags; and reviewing your crisis communications protocol.

You will also want to address any election-specific vulnerabilities. It is worth familiarising yourself with your local candidates’ stances, and ensuring you have lines prepared for any issues likely to attract campaign attention.  

Our political risk management services have been developed to support schools and charities in minimising their reputational risk during political campaigns. If you would like to find out more, contact our specialist team at [email protected] or call us on 020 7692 5675.   

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