Multi-level marketing has been likened to a legal pyramid scheme – the backlash against it is growing

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Máire O Sullivan, Edge Hill University

There is a growing rumble of discontent against multi-level marketing (MLM) businesses. As well as a growing backlash from former MLM recruits, regulators are getting involved, too. Unfortunately, however, these businesses that have been likened to legal pyramid schemes are unlikely to disappear altogether.

Multi-level marketing is the model of selling products through a network of distributors. Distributors buy stock in the company’s product and then sell it on, keeping a cut of the profits. Money is not just made from selling, but also from recruiting new distributors – if someone signs up under you, you become their “upline” and receive commission from their earnings, too. If your recruits sign up anyone beneath them, you also take a cut of their profits, and so on.

The difference with illegal pyramid schemes is that there is a product. But critics say that many MLMs have a business model that focuses on recruiting “downline” and getting new distributors to buy the product, rather than on actual sales to consumers, making them akin to pyramid schemes.

A recent report in The Guardian newspaper revealed the “cultish grip” that some of these businesses have on many recruits. They offer people a life-changing financial opportunity, but many lose money – and their friends – when they sign up to MLMs. Only the few at the top of the pyramid profit.

The Guardian focused on beauty sales business, Younique. But you may have seen a number of brands on your social media feed, including Herbalife which sells weight-loss products, Arbonne which sells skincare and many others. In fact, these businesses increasingly rely on social media to grow, both selling their products and recruiting new distributors online.

Women are the main target. According to the US Direct Selling Association, the trade body for the sector, 73.5% of those involved in MLMs in 2018 were women. The European Direct Selling Association suggests 77% are women in the UK.

Young mums, in particular, are inundated with requests to “support the businesses of their friends”. They are promised an easy way to make money from home, while balancing childcare. Another appeal of MLMs is the community they offer to distributors. Recruits are given coaching on how to make their side hustle a success and get support from others in the network.

This often results in vulnerable people being targeted by the allure of making easy money, fitting work around your own schedule and entering a supportive community. But some of these companies have an alarmingly cult-like mentality, encouraging distributors to cut negative influences and naysayers from their lives.

Bearing in mind that only 1% of people turn a profit, those naysayers may have good reason to sound the alarm. And the constant drive for sales can alienate friends and family who don’t want to get involved in the MLM.

Anti-MLM activism

The number of people that have been burned by their experience as an MLM distributor has led to the rise of an anti-MLM movement. The anti-MLM group on internet forum Reddit has almost half a million members. It states that: “Multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes are a drain on our society. Its participants either build the pyramid taller, or get squashed by it.” The Facebook group “Sounds like MLM but ok” has more than 100,000 members and a podcast to discuss MLMs and what it describes as “their poor business structure, obnoxious marketing practices, and all around awful nature”.

Clothing MLM Lularoe is a particular target for online activists and has been the subject of a recent Vice documentary. Lularoe had an initial buy-in cost of a minimum US$5,000 – an enormous sum in the MLM industry. A litany of subsequent scandals has culminated in the Washington state attorney in the US filing a lawsuit against the company alleging it is a pyramid scheme – something Lularoe says is completely without merit.

Activists have many major MLMs firmly in their sights. The Netflix documentary Betting on Zero, for example, features the fight against Herbalife by LatinX community activists in the US. The Pink Truth assists “women in freeing themselves from abusive pyramid schemes and predatory multi-level marketing companies like Mary Kay [cosmetics]”. Activists often feel they have been personally victimised by the industry, either as former distributors or as targets of them.

End in sight?

With this renewed media attention and a burgeoning grassroots movement against MLMs, it is interesting to see that AdvoCare, a diet and nutritional supplement brand headquartered in Texas, decided last month to abandon its MLM model. The company stated that the Federal Trade Commission took issue with “how AdvoCare compensates its distributors”.

The FTC talks that led to this decision were confidential so it’s hard to know exactly why AdvoCare decided to terminate its 100,000 distributors. But its MLM model had experienced difficulties in the past few years with an ESPN investigation into its practices, a class action lawsuit by former salespeople claiming it was a pyramid scheme, and an Olympic swimmer alleging that their products were responsible for her testing positive for a banned substance.

Despite all of this, it is unlikely that we will see an end to MLMs any time soon. While specific MLM companies have risen and fallen, the model itself – which promises easy money and an alluring community – has withstood a number of court challenges over the years. But hopefully the anti-MLM movement will bring about change through consumer education and pressure, as well as supporting the many people who fail to reap the rewards that these businesses promise.


We asked for comment from the MLM companies referred to. Only Lularoe responded. They insisted they offered participants an opportunity for “responsible entrepreneurism” and “a journey towards new freedom in their life”, suggesting failures just hadn’t put in the “required effort”.

Máire O Sullivan, Lecturer in Marketing and Advertising, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is there hope for independent candidates in a snap election? A short history of MPs who go it alone

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

British politics is in a state of flux. In the space of less than a year we’ve seen at least two new parties formed – The Brexit Party and the Independent Group for Change (formerly Change UK). We have seen MPs leave parties to join others. Chuka Umunna, for example, left first the Labour Party then Change UK to end up in the Liberal Democrats, while various other MPs are sitting as independents in the House of Commons. And the most recent national election, the European election in May, showed that voters are increasingly willing to forsake the traditional two main parties.

As the number of groupings increases, perhaps parties are losing their hold. So does this open up opportunities for those who want to go it alone?

Former Labour MP Frank Field recently announced that he is to stand as an independent candidate in the next election, after quitting the Labour Party in 2018. The Birkenhead on Merseyside MP had clashed repeatedly with the Labour leadership over its handling of antisemitism in the party before resigning the whip and complained of a “culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation” in local parties.

Field, who has represented his constituency since 1979, has applied to register the Birkenhead Social Justice Party with the Electoral Commission to make his bid possible. The party is more of a vehicle for getting noticed on the ballot paper, however, rather than an attempt to start a new movement. To all intents and purposes, Field is striking out alone. Of course he’ll have helpers and supporters, but he is independent of party.

Modern British politics, particularly at Westminster level, is not that kind to independent candidates. The main parties have huge machines and most voters pick the party rather than the person when entering the ballot box. Even when a politician has a personal vote, it’s hard to beat the machine.

There are some examples of independents succeeding, though. One of the best known independent candidates must be the former broadcaster Martin Bell, who triumphed in Tatton in 1997. Bell stood as an anti-corruption candidate against incumbent Conservative Neil Hamilton, who had been part of a “cash for questions” scandal. Bell’s path to victory was smoothed by Liberal Democrat and Labour candidates, who stood down to give him a better chance. Both parties also provided support to Bell. He did. however, pledge to only serve one term, so we’ll never know if he could have won the seat again.

When MPs go independent, it’s generally because they are unhappy with their party. In 2005, Peter Law, a member of the Welsh Assembly, caused quite a shock when he quit the Labour Party to stand as an independent candidate for the Westminster seat of Blaenau Gwent. The seat had become available when the Labour incumbent announced his retirement but the Labour Party angered some local activists when it decided that his replacement would be chosen from an all-woman shortlist. Law was among the dissenters and caused quite a shock when he won the seat – supposedly one of the safest for Labour in Wales.

Another famous case is Labour MP Dick Taverne, who fought a by-election in 1973 as an independent in Lincoln after falling out with his local party over Europe. Taverne defended his seat successfully in the first of the two 1974 elections, but lost in the second.

History tells us that independent candidates find it difficult to win election and even harder to retain a seat. One of the few who has successfully stayed in place is Wyre Forest’s Richard Taylor, a retired doctor who stood on a single-issue campaign to save his local hospital. He won in 2001 and defended in 2005. On each occasion, the Liberal Democrats stood aside. He lost to the Conservatives in 2010.

Lessons for Field

Historically, successful independent campaigns in the UK have all involved a big issue, like the health service or sleaze, and a party row which effectively provides plenty of manpower and motivation or tacit support from potential opponents. They have also included some element of personal vote, although it is important not to overstate this. Bell’s triumph, for example, also included a good dose of anti-politics.

Field does have an issue, but frankly “social justice” is too broad and too open to being claimed by others. He has rowed with the Labour Party over antisemitism and over Europe (he campaigned for Brexit) but, again, these are too broad to make the difference for him as an independent candidate.

Field has certainly had a row with his former party, but will this deliver the person-power needed to mount a campaign? It is hard to see the Liberal Democrats standing down to help Field. The party has councillors on the Wirral and disagrees with Field on lots of issues – particularly Brexit. The Greens have been making progress locally too. Labour has just selected a new candidate and says it will contest the seat vigorously. Labour, after all, has since 2017 had a massive majority there. It is also hard to see the Conservatives walking away from this one – although the Brexit Party might step aside to give Field a better chance.

Field has a personal vote but, based on previous examples of independent campaigns, this is not enough for a victory. But politics is in flux today and maybe that big issue will come along.

As the election gets nearer, it will be intriguing to see if any others decide to strike out on their own. The risks are great, but the current talk about de-selection in both the Labour and Conservative parties may make some think more seriously about it. With most positions in the political marketplace clearly occupied at the moment though, any potential independent will need to keep his or her fingers crossed for that elusive local issue.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Remain Alliance – can it halt Brexit and beat Boris Johnson?

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Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

This week’s by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire will be the first formal test of the so-called Remain Alliance. The unusually short list of candidates in this contest is partly because parties such as the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, have stood down in favour of the Liberal Democrats. Campaign visits have also been made by those who originally formed Change UK, such as former Conservatives MPs Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen.

It is rare in British politics for parties to stand down in favour of their usual competitors. And while this isn’t the first occurrence, or the first initiative, the Brecon agreements could well lead to something more formal. A little earlier in the summer, former Change UK (now Independent Group for Change) leader Heidi Allen launched Unite to Remain. The idea is for Remain-supporting parties to work together to maximise the chance of electoral, and therefore policy, success. This would include the use of a common title or strapline to make the point.


Read more: How Boris Johnson can win a snap election – and what the others can do to stop him


There have been attempts to achieve a common purpose in the past. The 2017 general election, for example, saw the promotion of the so-called Progressive Alliance (of which more later). But what marks out the latest attempt is the move to register a name and logo (Remain Alliance) with the Electoral Commission. Current electoral law means that ballot papers can only include registered names and logos (or the word “Independent”).

Tribalism

To understand whether or not the current initiative can succeed, it is worth looking at cross-party cooperation, or the lack of it, in the past.

British politics is usually very tribal. This tribalism has meant that past efforts at cooperation have generally been motivated by negative factors, such as a desire to defeat a particular party (usually the Conservatives).

But the nature of the electoral system also means that tactics could trump tribalism. In a first-past-the-post system, which is used for UK parliamentary elections, a horse-race narrative often develops. It is in the interests of a challenger party to appear as the only participant with a chance to overtake the favourite and win.

This in turn means supporters of lower placed, unlikely-to-win parties are targeted to “lend” their votes to defeat a less-preferred option. This has given birth to idea that only certain parties are worth supporting.


Read more: How Boris Johnson draws on the past to rule in the present – with a little help from myth


Resistance, however, can come from the candidates and activists of those lower-placed parties. While the Green Party did stand down in favour of the Liberal Democrats in the 2016 Richmond Park by-election when the Lib-Dems successfully took the seat from Zac Goldsmith, for example, parts of the local Green Party felt very aggrieved and voiced their annoyance quite publicly. This in turn means that cooperative arrangements are often rare.

Who wins, and loses?

It can be very difficult to negotiate cooperation, particularly when one party will feel it is losing out. Anyone who thinks this is easy needs to look further into the SDP-Liberal Alliance.

The SDP was formed in 1981 and almost immediately began working with the existing Liberal Party. The idea was that one of either party would contest each parliamentary seat. This was generally achieved, but only after tortuous negotiations which rather ruined the image of cooperation and which are well described by participants such as the then MP, now Lord, Bill Rogers and the authors Ivor Crewe and Anthony King.

In fact, the Croydon North West by-election in 1981 was fought by the Liberal Bill Pitt – rather than by the leaders’ preferred option, Shirley Williams – because Pitt simply refused to budge. Pitt went on to win.

Of course, parties do not need to be working together explicitly for voters, or organisations, to urge tactical outcomes. While tribalism has a long history in UK politics, so too do attempts to persuade voters to make tactical decisions.

TV87, for example, referenced in an article in Political Behaviour, was a campaign set up to focus voters’ minds on the possibility of lending votes in the 1987 election. And it became common for publications and campaigns to produce lists of seats where incumbents were vulnerable to temporary tactics.

Anna Soubry: leader of Independent Group for Change. Shutterstock

The current initiative, which goes well beyond leaving decisions to voters alone, can perhaps best be judged against more recent projects. The 2017 general election saw the promotion of the so-called Progressive Alliance. The thinking was that Progressive parties (generally centre-left or left wing) could stand down for each other in seats where this might help defeat a Tory, or assist a vulnerable Progressive incumbent. The book All Together Now by Barry Langford lists 42 seats in which this happened, but it was not always successful and it was only really the Green party which played a full part.

So can the Remain Alliance work?

The Brecon and Radnorshire by-election result may provide part of an answer, although we need to remember that this has been a Lib-Dem seat in the past and the party has been campaigning there for some time (in other words, the cooperation between parties may not be the crucial factor here).


Read more: Brexit: wisdom of crowds proves effective predictor of Britain’s chaotic EU departure


Perhaps more telling will be any negotiations ahead of the forthcoming Sheffield Hallam by-election as well as what happens when more than one party has a justifiable claim to stand.

The big issue, however, must be Labour’s role and how one can define a Remain party. Labour played no active part in the 2017 Progressive Alliance, so what would the Remain Alliance do if Labour was the clear challenger to the Conservatives, or Brexit party, in a tight contest? Only time will tell, but the answer hangs on whether or not Jeremy Corbyn ever comes out as an unequivocal supporter of either Leave or Remain.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

European elections guide: what’s actually on the ballot paper?

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Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

Despite plans to go ahead with Brexit, the UK will now participate in elections to the European Parliament on May 23.

Voting in this election will take place across Europe between May 23 and May 26, with different countries holding votes on different days. The majority of member states vote on Sunday May 26.

Here is what you need to know about voting in the UK.

Voting in a region rather than a constituency

The way the country is carved up into voting areas is different to a general election. Rather than hundreds of constituencies, the UK is divided into 12 parts. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are represented as whole nations while England is divided up into nine regions.

European election voting areas. European Parliament

Different regions and nations get different numbers of seats. In England, for example, the North-West gets eight and the South-East gets ten. Scotland gets six. Wales gets four. Northern Ireland gets three.

What’s on the ballot paper

Since 1999, MEPs from the UK have been chosen using a closed list system (except in Northern Ireland). That means the ballot paper will show a list of parties in boxes. Within each party box there will be a list of candidates.

A 2014 ballot paper shows how candidates are listed. Shutterstock

In a region which gets three MEPs, parties will usually list three candidates, if ten, ten candidates. They can’t list more but would be allowed to list fewer. Independent candidates are also listed on the ballot paper separately.

But voters don’t pick and choose between individual MEP candidates. They get one vote and use it to choose one party, or one independent, marking the box with an X.

How the counting works

The way votes are counted in a European election is different to a general election too. A system called d’Hondt is used, which is meant to produce a broadly proportional allocation of seats.

The total number of votes for each party in each region are counted and then put in order. The party at the top gets seat number one. That is allocated to the candidate at the top of its list.

The winning party’s vote total is then halved and the whole list is looked at again. Whichever party is on top of this reordered list gets the next seat. That may well be the same party that won the first seat, if it has secured enough support, or it may be another party.

The party at the top of the second list (if it is a different party) then gets its vote total divided in half and the process is repeated. (If the same party has just won twice, the division is by three). This goes on until all the seats in the region are filled. Parties with less support may never reach the top and won’t win a seat. Chances vary depending on the size of the region.

How voting might work in a region electing four MEPs. Author provided

In Northern Ireland, the election is carried out by single transferable vote, a system in which voters do have more than one choice. Citizens are used to this as it is the method for local elections and the Northern Ireland Assembly. They show their preferences by voting 1,2,3 and so on. In an STV system there is no real chance of a “wasted vote”.

Moving down the list

So, why is there a list of candidates if you only get to vote for a party? It’s because when each party chooses its representatives, it puts them in priority order. The candidate at the top of the list is the one the party most wants to get elected.

Candidates on the lower rungs of the ladder have no realistic chance of being elected – I say this as someone who has previously been number nine of ten.

But if an MEP resigns or dies during their term in parliament, their place is filled by the next person down the list (rather than in a by-election). This has actually happened. When Diana Wallis, Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber resigned in 2012, she was replaced by Rebecca Taylor. For these purposes, defecting out of a party does not count as a vacancy.

How Brexit changes the game

Voters may feel the ballot papers for this election are longer than usual. That’s because they are. They feature several new parties, such as Change UK and the Brexit Party, as well as some other less familiar ones, such as The Yorkshire Party.

We are also seeing the rise of so-called “celebrity candidates” such as Boris Johnson’s sister Rachel Johnson for Change UK and former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe for the Brexit Party. But it’s worth remembering that these celebrity candidates are there to raise profile more than anything. Because the contest is between parties, no aspiring MEP can really call on a “personal vote”.

Of course the UK MEPs may not take their seats, or may take them only for a short period of time. Assuming the UK leaves the EU, some other countries are electing “shadow MEPs” who will effectively take up the empty seats in the parliament on the UK’s departure.

European elections in the UK are rarely about Europe. They are generally seen, by journalists, campaigners and public alike, as massive opinion polls. In fact I have seen some campaign leaflets in the past which fail to mention the parliament at all.

This time however, the elections are about Europe, although they are generally about decisions MEPs have no power to take. So a vote for the Brexit party, for example, won’t give its MEPs the power to speed up Brexit (the European Parliament can’t do this). However people vote though, will act as a signal to the UK government and House of Commons about what they think of the current state of play with Brexit.The Conversation

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

EU elections 2019: the story so far

In my third article about the Euro elections I’m focusing on the campaigns so far (here are parts one and two).

European elections are always tricky campaign-wise. The constituencies are in fact massive regions which makes it harder to mount an intensive campaign. They often come soon after other elections, which means activists are tired. And they tend to be a contest voters are not that interested in – what we politics academics call a second order election.

This time they are even harder because the last-minute decision to go to the polls means that selection and campaign planning was all a bit rushed.

So parties generally have fewer methods to use. I am going to look at what is being done and how it is working out.

1: The Freepost

In Parliamentary elections, the Royal Mail will deliver a leaflet free of charge for each candidate (in this case party list). This is a massive bonus in areas as big as Euro regions.

There are two types of ‘freepost’ delivery. They can be unaddressed, in which case one goes through every letterbox. Or they can be addressed, in which case a household might get a different one for each resident over a number of days.

The addresses come from the electoral roll, and contrary to some of the conspiracy theories on facebook (including by one award-winning journalist – tut, tut) this is perfectly legal and normal.

If you have a look at your freepost deliveries (they all say election communication on them somewhere) you can tell how organised the parties are and how much attention they are paying to the campaign. Unaddressed leaflets – basic level campaigning. Addressed leaflets – more organised and complicated. These parties are also likely to be targeting postal voters among others. No leaflets – no money or no energy.

2: The Media

There are rules about broadcast media being fair to parties. And, of course, there are Party Election Broadcasts.

But every party wants to find a way of making news.

Heidi Allen (of Change UK) challenged Nigel Farage (now of The Brexit Party) to a debate.

This was never likely to happen, but it was a useful story for Change when much of the talk around the elections is crowding them out.

If it had happened, it would also have been a high-risk strategy. Nick Clegg debated with Farage in 2014 after a similar challenge. And the result wasn’t entirely what he had hoped for.

3: The Ground War

It is fascinating to see the different approaches adopted by parties when it comes to the campaigning they can manage.  Of course, most parties do more than one thing, but these are the tendencies I have noticed to date, either from paying attention to my own region or from media coverage elsewhere.

The Brexit Party has gone for rallies and large public meetings. This was the previous Ukip tactic and clearly enables them to reach more likely supporters more quickly than walking around door-knocking.

Change UK has gone for handing out leaflets and talking to people at existing events, or places where people tend to congregate. Latest posts on activities show a focus on railway stations and local occasions. It remains to be seen how effective this is. In my experience commuters are not always keen to stop and talk about politics. It is however a useful tactic if numbers are small.

The Lib Dems have gone for leaflet delivery. This party has a network of activists well used to pounding the pavements with bits of paper. This has the advantage of achieving a lot of quick visibility and message repetition.

Labour have also been out on the doorsteps and using street stalls. It’ll be interesting to see how much leeway is given to local areas to ‘depart from the national script’.

As for Ukip and the Conservatives, I have seen nothing yet. The Conservatives are on record as saying they don’t want to spend money on these elections, so frankly I wouldn’t expect a ground operation to speak of.

4: Events, dear boy

It was Harold Macmillan who replied ‘events, dear boy’ when asked what would blow the Government off course. But in campaigns, events and how parties respond can make or break. And some events are carefully timed to have impact.

At the time of writing the Change UK lead candidate in Scotland has announced he will support the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems clearly were ready to publicise this and it’s worked well in supporting a Scottish manifesto launch earlier in the week.

The ‘defection’ doesn’t get David McDonald’s name off the ballot paper, but it does cause problems for Change. How the newer party responds will be worth looking at. (I am aiming to write about crisis communications in my next piece.)

And with just over a week to go there is scope for plenty more events, although it’s worth remembering that as most postal voters have by now had their ballot paper, part of polling day has already gone.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics

EU election manifestos: unread, but still important

As polling day in the European elections (23 May)  gets nearer, I am writing a series of articles about the messages and communications techniques involved.  Today I am focusing on that staple of elections – the party manifesto.

Despite the, sometimes lengthy, arguments about phrasing and content, virtually no one actually reads manifestos.

No one, that is, apart from political journalists and lobby groups.

They might not be widely read but these documents are one of the key communication opportunities in an election. Why? Because there is a need for a slogan and message, and you can also show which of your party’s many, many policies are the ones that matter.

You can also show how good you are at anticipating and avoiding problems. Think back to 2017 and you’ll realise the Tories failed this challenge.

The whole “what’s going in the manifesto”? issue can also yield plenty of stories.

Manifesto launches tend to involve a press conference or photo opportunity of some sort, plus a massive mailing to journalists and opinion-formers.

So, what do we know about those manifestos already published?

First up is the Lib Dems.

No one can argue that this isn’t direct. The cover title Bollocks to Brexit is unambiguous about where the party stands. There has been some criticism of the language, Lib Dems usually being seen as nice but a bit vague. But here, if there is to be any chance of cut-through, Vince Cable’s team can’t allow any fuzzy language.

Labour’s manifesto is a bit more traditional. The cover, with the line, Transforming Britain and Europe, for the many not the few is followed by the traditionally expected foreword by the party leader.

It looks a bit stale compared to some of the productions by its rivals. But given the row about what to put in the document, including a lengthy NEC meeting and speculation about a shadow cabinet strop, maybe unremarkable and workmanlike is what is needed.

There’s been some reluctance from some parties to take part in these elections.  After all, they weren’t supposed to happen. The Green Party however makes it clear that it is ready for the fight. “We are full of excitement to be standing in these European Elections” is the very first line in a manifesto titled Right Now. For the Future”.

The Brexit Party at the time of writing does not have a manifesto. In fact, it’s reported that it has no intention of publishing one before these elections. While not producing this document does mean a loss of the associated media coverage, no one can claim that this party’s aims are not crystal clear.

Less clear are the aims of the Conservative Party, but we are not likely to see a manifesto from Theresa May’s team either.

Members are clearly reluctant to fight these elections and senior officials are saying there will be no manifesto per se. It is hard to think of a message which could be agreed for these elections the party doesn’t want.

At the time of writing, I can’t find a Change UK manifesto. On the one hand this is surprising as, unlike most of the others, they haven’t had to spend time on local election campaigning.

But on the other hand, do they need a lengthy document? After all the messages so far can be conveyed without publishing and new parties like this don’t have a back catalogue of policies to promote.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics

Parties launch for unexpected elections

Later this month we have an unusual, and potentially defining, political event.

In previous years, the five yearly European Elections have been low-key. Most parties have run campaigns about anything but Europe. Many voters haven’t bothered to turn out. Electoral regions have been too big for any real sense of a constituency link. And the results, rather than coming on a Thursday night and Friday morning after polling day, have waited till counts on a Sunday when only the very keen were paying attention.

But this time we have an election which wasn’t supposed to happen, and not one, but two new high-profile parties joining others on the ballot paper.

In the run up to the elections I’ll be looking at some of the communications issues surrounding the contest.

In this article I’m focusing on campaign launches.

It’s probably significant that, at the time of writing, the two parties with potentially much to fear from these elections (Labour and the Conservatives) haven’t held their launches. But we have heard from, among others, Change UK, the Brexit Party, Ukip and the Liberal Democrats.

The style and content of those launches can tell us a lot about each party and its current state of health.

Time for Change (UK)?

Change UK, the party based on the breakaway of a group of MPs from the Labour and Conservative parties, is so new that its logo wasn’t registered in time to make it onto the ballot paper.

I suspect in an ideal world the party would have wanted a longer build up before actually contesting an election. But this late May event could not be ignored, given what the founders have already said about Europe and Brexit.

Change UK traveled to Bristol for an invited audience event which also highlighted some of the potential MEPs. Media coverage has pointed to ‘celebrity candidates’ such as former BBC man Gavin Esler and journalist (and Boris Johnson’s sister) Rachel Johnson.

Realistically what we have here are people famous in a particular media environment rather than more widely. But given the objective of getting coverage, and given that this was not a policy launch, it is easy to see why Change would want to point to particular recruits.

Change UK, in its previous Independent Group form, did manage significant positive media attention. But the challenge for a new party, once the initial excitement is over, is to find other ways of standing out.

For me, having seen far too many political launches, this one didn’t really tick the boxes.

What Change needs is something which clearly explains why they deserve support in an increasingly crowded political market. However, they made a wise choice in appointing the media friendly Heidi Allen as interim leader, which will help them look fresher for longer.

Lib Dems and the B-word

The Liberal Democrat event took place later in the same week. There are clear benefits to going first, but there are other benefits to avoiding news clashes, and the Lib Dems’ Friday launch meant less competition with other political stories.

What I found interesting here was the focus on women as speakers and a clear ‘Stop Brexit’ message. This message is also used by Change, by the Greens, and by some other parties, and one of the big questions of these elections is whether it will end up definitively attached to one more than others.

The Lib Dems, however, must be pleased that at last there is an election which is highly relevant to this particular message of theirs.

Back to Brexits

The Brexit Party, which sees Nigel Farage back in a leadership position, has a very clear message too in its name. It traveled to Coventry for a launch, early in the season, which saw some candidates announced, including Jacob Rees Mogg’s sister, and former Conservative candidate,  Annunziata.

The party slogan – ‘fighting back’ – and its clear arrow logo mean it is easy to brand any venue.

In media terms, Farage is usually box office so there was little need to add much to the launch.

What I found impressive was the series of mini launches which followed, with the announcement of star or significant candidates over several days.

While a high profile leader matters, organisers will know that other capable and high profile interviewees are needed to carry the media load. And in former Government  minister and more recently reality show participant, Anne Widdecombe, the Brexit party has certainly found one.

Ukip-ed

Of course, the last Euro election, 2014, was a massive success for Ukip.

That party has suffered since from splits, defections, rows and rapid changes of leader. It will be impossible for Ukip to repeat the previous success. The communications issue is how to position the team so that the Brexit party does not simply roll up all support.

Middlesbrough was the location for a launch event with the slogan ‘Tell them Again – Make Brexit Happen’.

The dilemma facing leader Gerard Batten is whether to talk about The Brexit Party or not.

He needs to distinguish Ukip, perhaps by pointing out differences, but he also doesn’t want to talk up Farage by raising perception of his significance.

He’s chosen, perhaps unavoidably, to criticize, with one statement telling us that the party is ‘a wholly owned subsidiary of one man’s ego’.

To be fair to Ukip, this launch also included plenty of material about policies and plans, but unsurprisingly it is the personal invective which breaks through.

Spoilt for Choice?

Voters can only choose one party in these elections, so  campaigners will need to find ways to stand out and be preferred. This is going to be tricky for those on the Stop Brexit side of things.

Launches and slogans matter, but they are only part of the package.

In future blogs I am going to look at other key comms issues, including those affecting the Conservatives and Labour as they attempt to position themselves on the grid. Is there even any room?

We will soon see.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics

Landlords will be forbidden from evicting tenants for no reason – but reform has only just begun

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No place like home. Shutterstock.

Tom Simcock, Edge Hill University and Kim McKee, University of Stirling

Change is coming. Soon, private tenants in England will have the security they need to call their rented house a home. The UK government has announced plans to abolish “no fault” Section 21 evictions in England, meaning that landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants without a legitimate reason.

Nearly one in five households in England live in the private rented sector. At present, no fault evictions cause significant insecurity for tenants, as well as negative impacts on mental health and well-being. So an end to Section 21 will have a real, positive impact on millions of households, preventing them from being uprooted at short notice. It could also help to prevent homelessness, since the biggest single cause is the ending of a tenancy in the private sector.

As waiting lists for social housing grow, the private rented sector is accommodating more vulnerable and low-income households, as well as growing numbers of families with children. Yet research shows that insecure tenancies aren’t the only challenge facing private tenants. Poor quality and unaffordable housing remain key concerns, right across the UK.

A state of disrepair

The latest government statistics show that one in four privately rented houses in England did not meet the government’s own standards for decent homes. This means that around 1.1m private renters are living in homes which contain dangerous hazards, are not in a reasonable state of repair, or lack suitable heating.

With Section 21 in place, tenants are vulnerable to “revenge evictions” if they complain about poor conditions in their homes. Citizens Advice found that tenants had a 46% chance of being served a Section 21 notice if they complained to the local council about their landlord.

Ending Section 21 should give tenants more confidence to speak out against dangers, without the threat of losing their home. But this will depend on whether councils have the funding needed to enforce standards and compel landlords to carry out repairs.

Historically, enforcement has been a postcode lottery and landlords are rarely prosecuted. In the context of austerity, where local councils have seen spending cuts of up to 40% since 2009/10, there’s little to indicate that more consistent enforcement will be possible.

Rent controls and reclamation

Tenants also face issues of affordability; particularly vulnerable, single parent families and low-income renters. This issue has worsened due to the housing benefit freeze, which has kept allowances at the same rate since 2016, while rents have continued to rise, meaning families are facing considerable hardships.




Read more:
Housing benefit freeze still driving tenants from their homes, despite Universal Credit reforms


Even with the reforms to Section 21, it would still be possible for landlords to take advantage of affordability issues, and unreasonably increase the rent to force tenants out of their home. Appropriate safeguards must be in place to stop this from happening.

Rent stabilisation measures – like those in place across much of Europe – are one solution. These measures, which can restrict when rent can be increased, or by how much, are even supported by nine out of ten landlords in England and Wales.

Berlin is well known for its rent controls. Shutterstock.

Reforms need to be introduced carefully, to minimise any unintended consequences. For example, landlords might become more risk averse, which could lead to greater discrimination against tenants who claim benefits. Or, they could decide to let their property on Airbnb instead.




Read more:
Airbnb and the short-term rental revolution – how English cities are suffering


So the government’s proposed reforms to the court process and Section 8 are vital, to give landlords confidence that they can reclaim possession of their property quickly, for legitimate reasons. This will help to ensure that good landlords have the support needed to continue letting out safe and secure homes.

Learning from Scotland

Clearly, ending Section 21 is only the first step on a long path of reforms needed to modernise the private rented sector. But English lawmakers can look to Scotland for a good example of how to tackle all the different challenges facing the private rented sector in a joined-up way.

There, all new private tenancies since December 2017 are “private residential tenancies”. They are open-ended, meaning the tenant can remain in the property as long as they wish, unless the landlord uses one of the 18 grounds for eviction, such as wishing to sell the property. When this happens, the amount of notice required varies depending on how long the tenant has lived there and the grounds for eviction used.

Rent increases are restricted to once a year, and can be referred to a “rent officer” to adjudicate. Local authorities can also apply to the Scottish government to limit rent increases in specific areas.

Private tenants can take complaints to the new housing tribunal for free, without needing a solicitor to represent them. It is designed to be less adversarial than the court process. Among its many powers, the tribunal can serve a Repairing Standard Enforcement Order on landlords, which specifies work the landlord must undertake to ensure the property meets the “repairing standard”.

Though these reforms are still in their infancy, and by no means perfect, they show how security of tenure is only one element of a modernised sector. Other parts of the UK would do well to learn from the different approaches, all while collecting evidence on what works, sharing experiences and supporting tenants and landlords to understand their new rights and responsibilities.

Ending the “no fault” ground for eviction is vital for tenants to be able to put down roots, feel settled and make their private rented property a home. But reform can’t stop there.The Conversation

Tom Simcock, Research Fellow, Edge Hill University and Kim McKee, Senior Lecturer, Social Policy and Housing, University of Stirling

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Theresa May’s failing hostile environment: immigration checks by landlords breach human rights

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The evidence is against her. Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock.

Tom Simcock, Edge Hill University

The “right-to-rent” scheme was a cornerstone of Theresa May’s hostile environment, which she put in place during her time as home secretary to curb illegal migration to the UK. Since 2016, the scheme has required landlords to check the status of their tenants by reviewing identification documents – a passport, for example. If landlords fail to comply, they can face fines of up to £3,000 or up to five years in prison.

This controversial policy has been criticised by campaigners, who are concerned that it could cause discrimination and prevent migrants, ethnic minorities and vulnerable people from finding a home in the private rental sector. Now, the UK’s high court has found that the scheme leads to discrimination against some of the UK’s most vulnerable citizens breaches human rights.

In his verdict, handed down on March 1, 2019, Justice Spencer also blocked the roll-out of the policy across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Of course, the government has the chance to appeal and this is probably not the end of court cases on this policy. But a growing body of research indicates that the policy is not only ineffective, but also could be harming UK citizens.

Mounting evidence

Research I conducted for the Residential Landlords Association in 2017 found that landlords’ concerns over prosecution due to this policy caused them to discriminate even against legal migrants, with 42% of landlords saying that they were less likely to let to someone who did not have a British passport.

One year on, in further research for the RLA, my colleagues and I found that this had increased to 44% of landlords. This shows that there is still pressure on landlords to discriminate, for fear of prosecution if they get something wrong.

These findings are consistent with those of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). In mystery shopper exercises, the council found that British Black Minority Ethnic (BME) citizens without a passport were more likely to receive negative responses from landlords than those who could provide a passport.

But, the council also found that there was no racial discrimination between non-BME citizens and British BME citizens who could provide a passport, when they applied for tenancies. The JCWI argued that this proved the discrimination was due to the right to rent policy, rather than any underlying racism.

The UK government itself had found that 25% of landlords were unwilling to let to those without a British passport. All of this evidence underpinned the arguments which helped to decide the high court case, where Justice Spencer ruled that the right to rent scheme breaches the Human Rights Act because it causes landlords to discriminate when they otherwise would not have.

An ineffective policy

The case not only found that the policy was causing discrimination, the judge also said that the government had failed to demonstrate that the policy was effective at encouraging undocumented migrants to leave.

In 2018, the policy came under criticism from the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. In his report, he criticised the Home Office for failing to evaluate and assess the impact of the scheme and concluded that the right to rent policy was failing “to demonstrate its worth”.

Major failures.
Willy Barton/Shutterstock.

In the government’s own impact assessment, it estimated that 830 civil penalty notices would be issued to landlords as a result of the right to rent policy each year.

But in our research for the RLA we found that, since 2016, there had been fewer than 700 reports to the Home Office by a landlord that their tenant did not have the right to rent, while the Home Office itself had only issued just over 400 civil penalty notices to landlords across England. So far, there have been no criminal prosecutions under the policy.




Read more:
‘Hostile environment’ in Britain hasn’t put off irregular immigrants – but it’s increased their suffering


Given that the scheme is estimated to cost £106m the low levels of enforcement by the Home Office raise serious questions about the scheme’s effectiveness.

Unintended consequences

The purpose of the policy was to create a “hostile environment” for those living in the UK without leave to remain, by preventing them from accessing the basic necessities for a normal life, such as a home. But government data shows that both voluntary and forced returns have fallen each year since 2015.

The evidence shows that this policy is causing discrimination and deep divisions in society, while actual enforcement by the government has been lacklustre. What’s more, the scheme is also likely to lead to further unintended consequences, which affect some of the most vulnerable people in society.

At the last census, 17% of the population were found not to have a passport. This means that some of the most vulnerable (such as those who are homeless) or those without documentation (such as the Windrush generation) who do actually have the right to rent, have been unfairly locked out of a home because of this policy.

The case has confirmed previous research findings that the hostile environment is causing deep divisions and discrimination across communities. If the UK is to reunite after Brexit and create a more inclusive society, the government must abandon this ineffective, discriminatory approach.The Conversation

Tom Simcock, Research Fellow, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Developing the Independent Group’s brand

They say a week is a long time in politics but frankly it feels at the moment as if a day is a long time.

February’s drama has included eight Labour MPs leave the party to become part of the Independent Group, followed by three Conservatives doing the same. The political world has been awash with speculation about more names and those with long memories have been looking back to 1981 and the breakaway that led to the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

So now we have a group (not yet a party) with a website, some social media and lots of coverage.

The SDP had a relatively lengthy period of high profile semi adulatory attention.  Time spans are shorter these days as communications have speeded up, and the Independent Group may find the honeymoon period is more like a mini break.

As they approach the danger period of scrutiny and uncertainty, what do they need to do?

1 Get a leader: The SDP had a collective leadership for a while – the so called Gang of Four.  And the Green Party currently has a joint leadership.  Normally though parties need an identified single leader.  It helps provide an obvious person for the media.  And it helps avoid the sort of split stories when a collective leadership accidentally contradicts each other.

Of course it is easy for me to say this, but choosing a leader is not that easy.  The first issue  is who should choose?  The MPs on their own?  A wider supporter base?   The second issue is the need to be seen not to lean in either  a Labour or a Conservative direction.  And remember, we are dealing with MPs from two different traditions.

2 Think about the name: While the Independent Group is useful in the short term for making a Parliamentary point, in the long term it risks being confused with people who are just, well, independent.  As someone who sat through the rows about the Liberal Democrats and their name (at one point the name Democrats was being tried) I know this is not as easy as it sounds.  But it does need thought.

3 Decide whether you are a party or a movement: If you are a party you need to register, which in turn means having a name and a strapline and a logo.  To run candidates in elections with anything on the ballot other than the one word independent you need to register with the Electoral Commission.  Even the phrase The Independent Group wouldn’t be allowed.  This is why individuals who stand as independents for Mayoral positions often register a shell party in order to stand out a bit.  Try not to be tempted thought to answer journalists questions with detailed suggestions about party formation.  This non glamorous side of politics is littered with technical problems and you don’t want to end up suggesting the impossible.

4 Publish a few more basic policy themes: But don’t be tempted to write huge amounts of detail.  People want to get a sense of your general direction and perhaps some examples of your attitudes on current issues.  You don’t need the sort of policy heavy prospectus that some national parties have.

5 Think about post Brexit: So far you have made it clear that you want a second referendum or People’s Vote on Brexit.  This might not happen. We may leave at the end of March. You need to know what you will be saying if Brexit happens on the day Theresa May says it will.  A People’s Vote is only a short term policy.

6 Finally, work out what you will do if you disagree on a Parliamentary Vote: There may be times in the near future when your members want to vote different ways.  Will you try to enforce discipline (with all the old politics vibes this creates) or will you be more relaxed?  You can be sure that some parties will try to create situations which could cause split voting.  Whatever happens you need to know what you are saying about this.