It has been a torrid time for the UK Government in recent months. Three Prime Ministers later and the focus seemed to be on calming things – the public, the markets and the rest of the Conservative Party. But just days into his time in Number 10 Rishi Sunak seems to be besieged by scandal and criticism that has more than a whiff of crisis around it. So where were the problems and what can he do from this point?
Let’s look at the first issue which was the swift reappointment of Suella Braverman to Home Secretary despite her resigning for a breach of the ministerial code. This, according to the political experts, was a move to try to bring elements of the party together. But it was a move that was always going to cast a shadow over the words that he would build confidence in the Government. Since the appointment was made there have been a number of additional stories and allegations about the Home Secretary and the decision continues to be questioned.
Then there was a decision not to attend COP27 which appears to have been rolled back from but only when former Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he would be attending. The reasoning seemed sensible with Sunak wanting to keep a focus on the budgetary issues ahead of the statement in November. But this fails to see the wider implications of the PM role. He should not have to be at home going through the details and should be able to leave that to the Chancellor to do the work and keep him updated. The impression created is that the economics is all that matters which for an ex-Chancellor wanting to be PM is not the image you want.
The latest issue is in the media at the moment which is Sir Gavin Williamson’s appointment despite allegations of bullying circulating. The media state that Sunak was aware the day before Williamson was appointed as a cabinet minister. Complaints will be dealt with as an internal matter but the damage to Sunak has already happened.
What appears to link these different elements is a lack of wider consideration of the issues before making a decision, and then having a plan to deal with the consequences of that decision. It is something that I talk about in my new book Everyday Communication Strategies. Effective decision making is critical to managing issues and incidents and yet it is often overlooked. If there was a consideration of the aftermath of the decisions made it may not have taken into account, the cumulative impact of these decisions is damaging.
This is where the communication professional can add so much. They can help to reflect back the views that a situation, decision or action will create. They can help to plan the way forward to limit the reputational damage. They can provide counsel to those at the top of any organisation. The challenge for the new Prime Minister is that these stories are impacting on what people think of him. They are going against what he said he was bringing to the role and when actions and words don’t match it will impact on trust and confidence. Action is needed now to limit the impact and to show what he really wants to be known for.
*Everyday Communication Strategies was published on 3 November by Kogan Page. https://www.koganpage.com/product/everyday-communication-strategies-9781398606975