Page last updated at 12:06 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Winners and losers from a surprise election result

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

David Cameron and his team may have made a point of not taking the general election for granted, but over the past couple of years it has sometimes felt as if they were the only ones.

David Cameron
David Cameron is no longer favourite to win an outright majority

The Conservatives were so far ahead in the polls for so long that many big organisations had begun to treat a Tory victory as a foregone conclusion.

As a result, much time and effort has gone into planning for a change of government later this year.

But with Mr Cameron's poll lead narrowing a new thought is starting to creep into the minds of the nation's corporate overlords. What if the Tories lose?

Many a Powerpoint presentation and strategy document will have to be hastily redrafted - and more than a few people might find themselves looking for a new job.

The most obvious loser will be the lobbying industry, which has recently been inundated with former politicians and advisers hoping to cash in on their Conservative contacts.

"Many public affairs consultancies will be left with an enormous amount of egg on their faces if Gordon Brown pulls victory from the jaws of defeat," says Ian Hall, editor of lobbying industry magazine Public Affairs News.

"So many of them have been rushing to hire even the most junior of former Conservative Campaign Headquarters staff."


It is all reminiscent of 1997 when Tony Blair was odds-on favourite to be the next prime minister, he says.

"It is my understanding that in the run up to the 1997 general election people who claimed to have excellent contacts with the Labour Party were in huge demand but some of these people turned out to be of mixed suitability for public affairs jobs.

They were really bored with Tory ministers in 1992 and I think they are bored now
Tory insider on civil servants

"A couple of years ago recruiters told our magazine that the industry had become a lot more sophisticated and learned lessons from the Labour recruitment rush more than a decade ago.

"However, I think there is a real sense of deja vu in the way agencies have sought to market their Conservative recruits to potential clients."

A Tory staff member, who did not want to be named, put it more bluntly, saying there had been a "feeding frenzy" at party HQ with "people who once passed David Cameron in the corridor" being signed up by lobbying firms desperate not to be left out of the loop.

'Champagne on ice'

Meanwhile, in Whitehall, the civil service has been in detailed handover talks with the Conservatives for months.

This is a courtesy routinely extended to opposition parties in the run up to an election but those taking part in the talks on the political side say the civil servants are showing far more enthusiasm this time, as there appears to be a real prospect of change.

One Conservative staffer, who has been at the heart of the Tory machine since the early 1990s, said this may simply be down to boredom with the current regime.

"A change is as good as a rest. They were really bored with Tory ministers in 1992 and I think they are bored now."

Some government departments had the "champagne on ice" in 1992, ready to celebrate a Labour victory, he claims, and there were some officials who found it hard to hide their disappointment when John Major retained power against the odds in that year's election.

Media organisations also appear to be planning for, or anticipating, a Tory victory.

Former Guardian editor Peter Preston recently noted the rise of Old Etonian political editors, including at The Sun which has switched from backing Labour to the Conservatives, the clear inference being that links with David Cameron's old school would do them no harm when a change of government came.

'Administrative creep'

The BBC, like other broadcasters, must remain impartial in its election coverage.

Director General Mark Thompson has denied claims by trade unions and some MPs that its recent decision to close two digital radio stations and slash spending on its websites was a direct response to political pressure and the desire to impress an incoming Conservative government.

The claim was partly based on the fact that the architect of the plans, BBC director of policy and strategy John Tate, is a former head of the Conservative policy unit and helped David Cameron draft the party's 2005 election manifesto.

His background echoes that of James Purnell, a former researcher to Tony Blair who was appointed head of corporate planning for the BBC at the age of 25 in the run-up to the 1997 election.

The BBC is not alone in the broadcasting world in employing former political insiders in key roles. It clearly helps to have an insight into how a new government might think.

Charities also need to have keen political antennae, with some, in the education sector for example, anticipating a boost from an incoming Tory government, which has said it wants to farm out services to voluntary organisations.

Financial markets

A regional manager for a large national charity, which already works with local authorities to provide services, said it had put a lot of effort into "Tory-proofing" its policies and preparing staff for the prospect of an incoming Conservative government, although in recent weeks the emphasis has switched back to "our current, constructive work".

The key, he says, is to be prepared for any eventuality: "It has doubled the workload of our policy team."

Some public bodies cannot afford the luxury of trying to second-guess an incoming Conservative government. They know that they will be closed down if Mr Cameron wins power.

The Tory leader has promised a bonfire of the quangos - and from talking to some of the organisations in his firing line, none of whom would be quoted, the party's frontbench is in no mood for backing down, no matter how much effort they put into appearing more lean and efficient.

Billions of pounds in infrastructure and IT investment hangs on the result of the election, with many of Labour's spending decisions likely to be reversed by the Conservatives, although it may prove impractical to cancel projects such as motorway upgrades and London's £16bn Crossrail project where work is already underway.

In parts of the economy that do not rely directly on state largesse, who forms the next government is likely to matter less than it has in the past - thanks to the globalised nature of Britain's financial markets.

Nevertheless, the next few weeks will be a nervous time for organisations and individuals across the country whose livelihoods depend on the result of the election.

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