This post, by Careers Consultant Steve Carter, is the fifth post in our mini-series summarising the Public Affairs and Community Engagement Panel Event on 11th March 2015. Other posts in the series can be viewed by clicking the ‘PACE Event’ tag at the bottom of this post.
The panel consisted of: a prospective MP for the Green Party, a political journalist, a public affairs consultant for a political consultancy and a campaign manager for a mainstream political party.
As these were political roles a passion for politics was a necessary condition for entry, with a need to identify with the values of the organisations they represented. Particularly so if this was related to a political party or campaign.
These, and indeed other roles in the political environment, don’t necessarily require the study of politics to get in. However, thorough research into the roles and organisations and the politics surrounding them is essential. So, for example, the prospective Green MP studied biology here at Leeds and the political journalist studied English. The only one to have studied politics was the political consultant (Politics and Parliamentary Studies here at Leeds)
Having explained the nature of their roles, the speakers went on to talk about the skills and qualities needed to make a success of their chosen role.
Initially this involved getting selected in the first place, so knowledge of the policies of the party you intend to represent is imperative, as is the need to identify with its values (in this case the Green Party).
Skills include the ability to communicate with a wide range of people both verbally and in writing; both on an individual level as well as the ability to address and engage large crowds. You must also be prepared to attend training for some specialised forms of communicating such as talking to the media and indeed be aware of the implications, good and bad, of social media. The role also requires good organisational and time management skills as you are likely to have to attend various meetings and rallies in the constituency and sometimes further afield at general elections
Many of the skills needed – such as communication, organising and planning – are very similar to those of the prospective MP. These enable a campaign manager to fulfil one of their main remits: Making sure that the MP/local party is where it is supposed to be and delivering the national party’s message (with a local twist where necessary).
Again media awareness is needed. Although the campaign manager is not the person doing the communicating, at least not to the public, they need to ensure that the desired message is getting out on behalf of the candidate and party. Thus the focus of their communication skills will be with media outlets and outside stakeholders and internally with other parts of the party machinery and venues where their candidate may be speaking or being part of an event.
Political/Public Affairs Consultant
This role could either be working in-house for a particular company or organisation, or for a political consultancy on behalf of a client.
For both the job will involves staying up to date with political events and legislation that is likely to affect their organisation if the former, or clients if the latter. You need to be able to absorb and synthesise large amounts of, sometimes conflicting, political arguments and reports and often equally large amounts of economic data into an understandable report for colleagues, managers or clients. Thus a good understanding of where the organisation is going if in-house, or commercial awareness if acting on behalf of a client, is needed.
Strong research and analytical skills to make sure that the information you communicate is relevant to the organisation or client you are working for are essential. Excellent communication skills, written and verbal, are also essential. Communications may be with colleagues, clients, or the political establishment (such as MPs and their party’s machinery, the civil service or the media) so media savvy and awareness are also important.
This role requires understanding what is going on in the political environment and how it might affect readers or consumers of the media outlet for which you are working.
As with the consultancy role, it means keeping up with political events and legislation, being able to absorb it then being able to write it up succinctly and in a suitable format and language for the target audience of your media outlet. If written communication skills seem obvious, so is the need for good verbal communication and people skills: Getting the information you need is likely to mean interviewing MPs, civil servants and members of the public who are involved in local or national campaigns, for example on a topical issue.
The role could also entail, depending on where you end up, being physically dangerous if following stories involving demonstrations or working in war zones etc.
Pros and Cons
Everyone on the panel said they enjoyed their roles as they had a genuine passion and interest in the political route they were following. All feel that having a genuine interest is absolutely essential to success in this sector.
For the campaign manager and prospective MP, having a belief in the values of your party and the potential to make an impact for the perceived good was also what made pursuing that role enjoyable and worthwhile.
For the political consultant getting a positive outcome for a client was what gave them job satisfaction as well as making an impact for the client concerned
For the political journalist getting that story and seeing it in print or being talked about on TV or radio meant that they had done a good job, especially if they had got to it first or, if a campaigning journalist , bringing an issue to the attention of the wider public
The main things they said potential candidates had to be aware of was the need to be able to put long hours to gain the results that gave them satisfaction as politics in its broadest sense is not a 9 to 5 job. Following political events, campaigns and Parliament can go on well into the night or the early hours of the morning
Thus resilience is needed, both physically due to the long hours and psychologicaly as setbacks are inevitable, especially for those standing for election and the campaign teams behind them if they are defeated. If the latter, they are also likely to be out of a job!
Resources & information
There are lots of relevant resources and sources of information in our Politics and International Studies Careers Resources download
MP or Campaign Manager: Evidence of your political commitment is most important; for example getting involved with local party activities, or working or volunteering directly for the local MP and party machinery. Some useful sites are:
- W4MP Jobs site has jobs and work experience for those wanting to work for an MP or political party as well as other broadly political roles
- UK Parliament has a list of current MPs if you wanted to contact an MP’s office directly. There are similar directories for Lords and MEPs
Political Journalism: The best thing to do is to try and get experience reporting on relevant issues; for example through LUU, local or national media outlets, or even starting your own blog. There are a number of resources about Political Journalism in our Careers Resources download