Briefings » How to ensure your organisation is on the front foot – general election briefing

How to ensure your organisation is on the front foot – general election briefing

Making the most of the pre-election period

Commentary on the much-anticipated 2024 general election had begun even before the Prime Minster announced the polling date on 22 May. Since then, campaigning has begun in earnest from all parties and has resulted in a few surprises along the way.

For the NHS the ‘pre-election’ period can be an effective time to focus on planning for your organisation’s future stakeholder engagement and ensuring you can hit the ground running once a new government is formed.

Below we outline some key actions you can take now to ensure you are on the front foot.

Get to know your prospective candidates

At the time of writing, 131 MPs have announced that they will not be standing as candidates in the general election. The current list (which can be found here) includes a number of prominent MPs and former secretaries of state. Friday 7 June is the deadline for nomination papers for prospective candidates to be delivered, so this list may grow.

Alongside this, there are a number of new and redefined constituencies being fought in this general election as a result of the boundary review which reported in June 2023. In England there are 10 new Parliamentary constituencies and a number of constituencies whose boundaries have been altered. Full details of the changes and how they may impact on your local area can be found here.

This all means that there are likely to be a significant number of new MPs elected in July and taking time to understand who the prospective candidates are for your local area is a worthwhile exercise. Some of them may have already made themselves known given that the NHS is a key battleground issue across many constituencies. Once all candidates have been confirmed after the deadline for nominations on 7 June, some simple background research by your communications team will provide an understanding of each candidate’s background, areas of particular interest and anything they have commented on relating to local health issues.

It is also worth considering the impact the general election may have on the wider political landscape of your local area. Following the local elections in some areas on 2 May 2024 there may have been changes to the make-up of local authority cabinets and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committees. Combined with a potential change in the Parliamentary representative after 4 July, this could have an impact on which health issues are prioritised. A strengthened representation for one party at both local and national political levels may change how you approach your stakeholder engagement, and which issues you focus on.

Be aware of your ‘hot topics’

In any general election, healthcare, and the NHS in particular, tends to be a key area of focus for the main political parties. Even before the 2024 general election was called, an Ipsos poll with the London Evening Standard found that 63% of adults cited improving the health service as one of the top three or four issues a Labour Government should focus on, if elected. Notably, health was placed above the cost of living which was cited by only 44% of respondents.

Whilst this is a snapshot of the strength of feeling within the capital, it demonstrates the power health policy issues may have in the campaign throughout the UK. It is therefore wise to be aware of the ‘hot topics’ in your area that may attract the attention of candidates and may even become an area of focus for campaigning.

Whilst the NHS will not proactively make announcements on local health issues in the pre-election period unless absolutely necessary, this may not prevent issues being used by politicians for the purposes of campaigning. ‘Hot topics’ could include proposed relocation of services, treatment waiting times or access to services and examples of the impact these are having on local people, families and communities. Getting ahead of these issues and ensuring your communications team has a plan for how you would respond if asked to comment is important preparation.

Whilst you cannot get embroiled in any media or political commentary during the election campaign, it is worth keeping track of where local health issues are mentioned in case there is a need for the communications team to correct or clarify factual information.

Prep briefings on key issues now

With wall-to-wall media coverage and forensic campaign analysis, it can sometimes feel as though general election campaigns last a lifetime. Yet before we know it a new Government will be formed and with it many new MPs installed in their constituencies.

For MPs who are new to Westminster there will be a plethora of issues to get to grips with in their local area, and the NHS is likely to be near the top of their pile. It can be helpful to spend time now drafting briefings on issues that will be of high interest and can be shared after the election. MPs will welcome the opportunity to be appraised on the detail.

In addition, have a stakeholder action plan ready to be implemented after the election, with details of activity covering the first six months of the new Parliament including introductory meetings and invitations to visit key locations and spend time with frontline staff. Whether your new MPs are in Government or in opposition this will be time well spent and is key to any successful stakeholder engagement strategy. It is part of an approach that focuses on accountability, openness, transparency and candour, and on building relationships to help support and solve local issues.

Within this plan it may be helpful to be clear on the issues that you need to inform Parliamentary colleagues about and those you may need to garner their support on. If there are thorny or perennially difficult issues, don’t shy away from discussing them. Instead have a strategy in place now for how to navigate through them and ensure MPs are aware of the action you are taking to address them.

Brief your staff on pre-election guidance

Whilst the election period has the practical effect of pausing some activities and instilling caution about engagement with stakeholders, don’t assume that your staff understand the rules or know how the guidance relates to their role.

NHS England has produced a simple guide for NHS organisations on how they should approach communications activities in the run up to the election. It is advisable to share the guidance with your staff and encourage teams to ask your communications team for advice if they are uncertain. It is also worth revisiting your organisation’s social media policy to ensure it is clear on the do’s and don’ts around sharing commentary during the election period, even in a personal capacity.