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GE2017 shows us to keep expecting the unexpected

By Patrick Murray 13 June 2017

‘A week is a long time in politics’. So said former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. But who knows what he’d make of the last few years in British politics. We’re several days on from yet the latest shock the British voters have delivered to politicians, and many questions remain unanswered. Theresa May is back in Number 10 as leader of the country, but for how long? Will there be another election? What does it all mean for Brexit? And for charities, does this fluid situation open up new opportunities for influencing policy?

For the sector the campaign was a quiet one, with often more noise about campaigning restrictions than charities speaking up. This is something we’ll be exploring the effect of the Lobbying Act at an event in a few weeks time. Meanwhile charity minister and familiar face Rob Wilson lost his seat, and Number 10 advisor on charity sector policy Charlotte Lawson has announced her departure. Charities will need to be building new alliances and working out what the priorities of new ministers will be.

Interestingly it appears the publication of the Conservative manifesto—and subsequent row-back on social care—was a real turning point. It was a timely reminder to politicians that policy still matters to the British public. There’s an opportunity to capitalise on this. And it was clear too that the younger generations were ready to make their voices heard. This clear enthusiasm and desire for social change that charities can tap into.

As the dust settles, the picture will become clearer. But there are a couple of ways this can go. May can seek to hunker down, try to scrape through a narrow agenda with DUP support and compromises made to backbenchers. But this might not be enough.

The more interesting shift would be a more opened-up style of government, for example through more cross party talks on major challenges like Brexit and social care. It may not be the style of government adopted by May so far, but her options are limited and if she is bold there is an opportunity make real progress. Charities should stand ready to help, bringing evidence and expertise to the table to get the best results for the causes and beneficiaries they exist to serve. And in a hung parliament this certainly means building relationships with politicians of all parties.

And who knows, we could be back at the polls fairly soon if it all goes belly up. Though of course the much-derided Fixed Terms Parliament Act still causes problems for another election, not least now politicians have been given an unexpected bloody nose from increasingly unpredictable voters.

One lesson from the last couple of years is that charities should expect the unexpected, and as old certainties are overthrown new opportunities emerge. In the ensuing chaos charities need to step up and be bold, speaking out on issues that matter. No one else is going to do it for them.