Most of our clients’ issues are settled in the political arena. While success in the media and the courts helps pave the way to success, it is ministers who ultimately decide the winners and losers.
How do we win over these politicians who are overwhelmed with requests? They have risen to their positions because they are charming cajolers. How do we persuade these persuaders? Our first insight is uncynical. Most politicians are keen on logical arguments. They want to do the right thing. They are the ones who pick up the consequences of bad decisions.
Decision makers appreciate our impeccably sourced briefings. And our succinctness.
Now the darker arts. Politicians want to be seen as men and women of action, reshaping history. What better than passing laws to ban some perceived problem or subsidise some superficially worthy cause?
“A state is better governed which has few laws,
and those laws strictly observed.”
This results in the governing machine churning out mountains of unnecessary regulation which choke the smooth running of industry and countryside. To halt this vice requires reshaping perceptions on where virtue rests . We pour sticky opprobrium onto our opponent’s push for bans, while making our client’s positive case for the status quo.
''The art of statesmanship is to foresee the inevitable
and to expedite its occurrence.''
Charles de Talleyrand
We build our own coalitions of the wise inside and outside Parliament. We get regulators and journalists to opine in our favour. We write articles for sympathetic celebrities. Together this shifts the calculus about which side will win. We gain momentum. And since politicians love being on the winning side, that makes victory steadily more likely.
Why is Abzed gaining increasing success in Westminster? We think we are cracking the code.
We have always been effective at working with the external influencers of MPs: landing our narrative in the media and exposing the other side’s failings through regulators.
Examples of this include:
- Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards: getting Parliament’s internal watchdog to rule against an All Party Parliamentary Group for breaking House of Commons rules
- The Charity Commission: forcing an opponent to amend false claims about its spending
- Police investigation: getting a chief constable to launch an investigation into a national charity.
What we are now becoming better at is finding the pressure points inside Parliament.
Some of this is procedural. We now have a more sophisticated understanding of how each type of primary and secondary legislation passes through Parliament. We are more skilled at using the choke points, on statutory instruments in the Commons and know how to turn the committee stage in the Lords into a graveyard of bills.
A key issue is how we direct the energies of our grassroots activists into Parliament.
MPs have to regularly reapply for their jobs. Elections are never far from their minds. We help them to visualise the votes on our side of the issue through co-signed letters and email campaigns from constituents.
The most potent political kryptonite for poor legislation? Constituency surgeries. It is here that MPs learn about the negative effect. Face-to-face from their voters.
We seek to get our case heard throughout the political process: rehearsing friendly witnesses for select committee hearings, drafting written evidence for consultations and initiating backbench debates. We help MPs probe the weaknesses in Government positions, through forensic parliamentary questions and letters to departments. We also develop relationships with senior backbenchers who have the influence to broker deals with ministers.
A source of lasting influence for our clients are All Party Parliamentary Groups. We set them up to enable the client to explain their case to MPs and peers. These groups give our clients substantial convening power: they enable them to invite their sector’s stakeholders to prestigious locations in Parliament including the House of Commons Terrace overlooking the Thames.
The European Union
Abzed’s first project was the successful 2013 campaign to stop the European Commission’s plan to ban every e-cigarette product on the market. Highlights included getting The Economist magazine to take our side: it published a favourable editorial and front-page headline a week before a critical vote in the European Parliament.
We also put direct pressure on DG SANTE - the Commission’s health department - by drafting a co-signed letter from 40 academics pointing out that the Commission lacked the science to back up its claims against e-cigarettes. Further pressure came from a scathing column in The Times ahead of internal EU negotiations in its ‘trilogue’ process.
When the EU directive was being transposed into UK law, we sought to block it in the House of Lords through a ‘prayer’ to annul the ‘negative instrument’ being used by the Government. We were also involved in lengthy discussions with the UK regulator over the interpretation of the regulations.
At the end of the process, e-cigarettes did not just survive in the UK but thrived. There are now 4.7 million adults using them to either quit smoking completely or reduce their cigarette intake.