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2016: The Year in Review

19 December 2016

2016 was a year of drama which left the British political environment almost unrecognisable. While the implications of the events of the last 12 months will take some time to fully filter through, it seems clear that history books will mark this year as a watershed, inaugurating a new mood and a new intersection between legislative activity and the wider public consciousness.

Here DeHavilland takes a look back over the last 12 months of political thrills and spills to highlight some of the key analysis published at the time of each major event. What's more, we also note some of the innovations and improvements we've added to our service as we continue to bring you the very best in definitive political intelligence.

Every day reshuffling

No sooner had 2016 begun than Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn embarked on a dramatic but rather media-unfriendly reshuffle of his Shadow Cabinet. Plagued by rebellions among senior members of the Shadow team during the previous Autumn, including a very high-profile intervention on Syria from then-Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, the Islington North MP stopped short of shuffling Mr Benn out of the ranks, but sought to regain some control. This would not prove enough to prevent more trouble later in the year as external events spurred critics into open rebellion.

Journalists and commentators inevitably fixated on the duration of the process, because this is not how reshuffles are usually done in Westminster. There was no frantic scramble for names as the sackings came through, and those jilted by the changes spent the middle part of the week controlling the news cycle [...] As a result of this reshuffle, Mr Corbyn [...] has ostensibly created a more united Shadow Cabinet and underlined that, for all the dissent of so-called “moderate” Labour MPs, there is no clear challenger to him inside the PLP.

Negotiations, negotiations, negotiations

It's easy to forget that as 2016 dawned, the 23 June referendum date was not yet an inevitability. It was only on 20 February, after concluding a fast and frustrating bout of negotiations, that Prime Minister David Cameron chose to set the day for the vote that would be his undoing. He had sought to go to the public swiftly after securing a set of reforms that fell short of the demands of his implacable critics, eurosceptics whose demands for change appeared almost impossible to appease.

Ever confident in his own abilities, the Prime Minister will need to draw on every ounce of his experience in selling this package to a sceptical British public. 

What was more, the Prime Minister would also be called upon to win over a divided party as he commenced his referendum campaign. With both parties split on Brexit, keeping track of who was who in which camp became almost a full-time job.

These travails were helped along with the addition of even more social media coverage for DeHavilland clients. With the addition of Facebook content, our market-leading social media monitoring made it easier than ever to find out politicians' latest perspectives fast.

Budget Prestidigitation

Following a proliferation of showstopping financial announcements last year, the 2016 Budget will be struggling to retain some of the showmanship of Osborne’s recent efforts against a tide of EU Referendum distraction.

It was never Chancellor George Osborne's plan to deliver his final major financial statement in the Spring of 2016. Then viewed as a powerful leadership contender and Prime Minister in waiting, the man at Number 11 was up to his usual strategic trickery last March when he unveiled his latest collection of red box measures, including a warning against the risky path of Brexit. 

This was a strikingly open-source Budget, artistically exposing the process of its own compilation through an engagement with the media that at times verged on the playful. The run-up to the speech this March was characterised by a series of quasi-revelations that later turned out to be double-bluffs. Whether on pensions, fuel duty or the sugar tax drama, there was a sense that the Chancellor and his allies were permitting the watching world a glimpse into their process, theatrically walking them through the motions of lobbying here and there for a better overall effect.

Nowhere was this manipulation of the theatricality of the Budget more evident than when it came to that ever-present EU Referendum angst currently possessing Mr Osborne’s party and the wider political world. Stepping up to the Despatch Box with the full force of statistical authority behind him, the Chancellor solemnly intoned that the forecasts he was quoting from the OBR could of course only rest upon the assumption that the UK would vote to stay. As a lesson in how to artfully occupy the authoritative territory, this was exemplary. Brexit, in the words of the economic experts, could only hurt the interests of those “hardworking people” in whose name the Chancellor had pursued his last half-decade of reform. 

However, the best-laid plans of politicians oft go awry, and Mr Osborne's stern warnings of Brexit catastrophe were not enough to defeat the demand to leave. While he would find himself promising a further punishment Budget to deal with a Leave result, in the event his threats would come to aught.

Queen's Speech

Following on from the Budget came the opening of another legislative year, as the Government set out its intended programme in the May Queen's Speech. In a sign that the EU Referendum would come to eclipse the usual political reality, the speech was almost delayed until after the vote, but after trailing this altered schedule in the press, the Government ultimately opted to keep the speech in May.

Mr Cameron faces questions over his own position if he loses the EU Referendum, and at the very least, negotiating a Brexit could prospectively blow domestic reforms seriously off course. It could even demand the introduction of a raft of new prospective laws. To that end, this Queen’s Speech could be seen as “wait and see” list.

As on Budget Day, DeHavilland was on hand to bring clients all the new announcements in real time, with immediate analysis and details of the reaction from all key stakeholders.

The Brexit Big Bang

The biggest of political big bangs, the EU Referendum came down to the slimmest of majorities, and produced a devastating international reaction. Having produced a series of in-depth sector-by-sector assessments of the potential implications of a vote to leave in the run-up to the big day, alongside a newsletter featuring all the latest updates, DeHavilland was once more on hand to digest the result.

The process of Brexit will begin and end at home. Whilst the UK Government will need to take part in negotiations with the European Union through invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the UK Parliament will undoubtedly play an important role in scrutinising and voting on the agreements brought about by the process. There could be several complications along the way. Among these, there are concerns about the capacity of the Civil Service to handle such an administrative and legislative challenge.

Beyond the need for clear and rational advice on the next political steps, a radical reshaping of political reality demanded a change in the personnel at the top, and in the reshuffle that followed the appointment of Prime Minister Theresa May, DeHavilland was on hand with all the details of the latest roleholders.

Supporting our clients with live documents tracking the changes, we provided responsive updates to our definitive PeoplePoint database, ensuring key political stakeholders were never out of touch. What's more, this year, we refreshed PeoplePoint to bring you an improved look and feel, making it even easier to find, research and connect with policymakers. 

Uncertainty rules

Grappling with speculation about a major hole in the public finances as a result of Brexit, the slow burn of the EU departure process and fallout means Chancellor Philip Hammond will be required to tread a delicate course between appearing not to catastrophise and preparing the ground for whatever trouble may be ahead.

And so into a world of unknowns. While the Government was eager to impress upon anyone listening that "Brexit means Brexit", as 2016 drew to a close, the true significance of the objective remained foggy at best. As we reported in November, a major legal challenge captured the constitutional crisis provoked by the radical plebiscite, while the concessions secured in the process of careful negotiation showed how much there is to play for in the tortured negotiations that look set to follow.

In a world of political unknowns, the need for instant, actionable intelligence is clearer than ever. To help our clients navigate the complexities of Brexit, DeHavilland has launched a new Brexit information package, designed specifically to give customers the latest on the EU exit process, and how it affects their organisation.

What's on your agenda?

To discuss your public affairs priorities and find out how DeHavilland can help you take your work to the next level in 2017, contact us for a free trial today.

Anna Haswell, Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer
Anna Haswell
Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer

As Senior Political Analyst at DeHavilland, Anna Haswell leads on financial services policy, as well as covering media issues. In her capacity as Content Marketer, she is also responsible for DeHavilland's briefings and analysis output, working across teams to ensure relevant messages reach current and prospective clients alike. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and Goldsmiths, University of London.