The Politics of Resumption

Going back to work isn’t just a business decision, its political.

Woolf Thomson Jones

The word resumption has been around a long time, under the radar, unloved and unused. It has taken on new significance as we get things going again: sports, factories, offices, Parliament. Resumption – how and when we will resume economic and social activity – is big business and its political.

The further through lockdown we move, the more public and media attention has turned to how you ease these measures and let the ‘new normal’ begin. A poll by Montfort this week of over 4000 workers showed 70% said the UK would suffer long term damage without an imminent return to work and 45% of those not working as usual support an immediate return to work. Public attitudes are shifting and the Government is now plotting its way through the complexities of restarting the economy.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister is due to make a much anticipated announcement on when and how we will start leaving our homes and going to work. His Government, and EY, have already had a fraught few days standing up the ‘how’ of the plan, batting away Union criticism of the new working safety guidelines. The ‘roadmap’ and the new safety guidelines will define much of how businesses operate over the next few months and potentially years.

For businesses, this means understanding the ‘new normal’. It means navigating new guidelines, new relationships with workers, new ways of working and a new political landscape intensely focussed on the costs and benefits of resumption. The politics of resumption matter.

The resumption of economic activity is intrinsically linked to Government policy and political pressure and is fluid. Like never before, businesses and how they operate is tied to political decisions and open to political criticism. Business will have to navigate scrutiny from across the political spectrum – with or without Government support. Resumption and how it happens is political.

The Government has already had its battles about how and when the lockdown eases with Cabinet splits over economy vs health – the lockdown hawks and doves. The Conservative party itself has a very well defined group of MPs looking at the economic and social costs of the lockdown and driving the business restart agenda. There is a new alliance on this issue where businesses will find support.

The new Labour opposition team have done well to date, striking a conciliatory tone whilst gently probing policy but they too have to face competing aims and there will be clamours for the blame game to start. As Labour turn to the economy after some weeks of housekeeping, we will get to hear Sir Keir’s view of business. His balancing act in the campaign will have to be replicated if he is to appease already critical Unions and the hopeful masses of businesses looking for opposition support post-Corbyn.

Between them, the parties are looking for a way forward. There are entrenched views on either side. Business will need to navigate a fast-moving landscape to avoid the crossfire and ensure they can get back to work safely, productively and quickly.

Beyond the politicians, businesses will have to contend with the messaging itself. The political debate around coronavirus has long held the dangerously simple trade-off between health and wealth at its core. Though binary, it has characterised every policy turn by the Government, with the familiar refrain ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’.

The narrative is likely one of the most successful Government messaging campaigns in the last six months – all credit to Isaac Levido (Political Strategist and creator of the great slogans of the last year). To move forward, this will take some dismantling, starting this weekend. Businesses will have to help Government drive the narrative of restart and ensure their employees, investors and politicians understand how they can restart.

The landscape is complex. With business decisions increasingly seen through the lens of health or wealth, businesses need to be ready to stand by their decisions and engage on the value of their actions and their business to the UK. There is a nuance that can be communicated.

Just don’t forget: its political.

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