What Labour’s Brexit motion means in practice

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

As Labour delegates gathered in Liverpool, it was impossible to avoid mentions of Brexit. There are 25 separate fringe meetings listed on the conference agenda and there are certain to be more meetings arranged on the fly.

The challenge Labour faces, whether at conference or immediately afterwards, is that it is simply impossible to satisfy all the strands of opinion among members and Labour-leaning voters. While the party’s position has been made clear on some policies (with rail renationalisation an obvious example), Brexit is one of those areas where it is all a bit vague.

This has not necessarily been a problem to date. With doubt surrounding the government’s Chequers proposal, it would be difficult to have a hard and fast position that is not total opposition or total support. Of course Labour can do neither. It has instead drawn up a list of six tests it says the final deal must pass in order to be acceptable. But these are carefully drafted to be general enough not to frighten the horses.

But conferences have a habit of throwing a spotlight on what is missing on party platforms, and there has been a build up of pressure on Labour to be more precise and to commit to a stronger statement of opposition.

Ahead of conference, more than 100 motions on Brexit had been proposed for debate. Under Labour’s processes, this meant a lot of stitching together and compromising had to happen to produce one motion to put to a vote at conference. Late on Sunday night the wording emerged ready for a debate on the Tuesday (September 25).

The words agreed won’t please everybody. But they do move Labour in the direction of supporting a people’s vote – a referendum on the final Brexit deal. The key phrase, which campaigners will fix on is “if we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”

This immediately raises two questions. First, how likely is another early general election? It is good campaigning fare for Labour to keep calling for it, but under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (2011) there either has to be a large House of Commons vote in favour (which is what happened last time) or a successful motion of no confidence in the government, which is not then reversed by a second vote. At the moment there is no parliamentary arithmetic showing such a vote can be won. An early election is simply not in the interests of either the Conservatives or the DUP, so crucial votes are not available to make it happen.

The second question is about the logistics of another referendum. The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29 2019. Referendums don’t just happen. Parliament has to agree to one, the wording has to be sorted out, there have to be official campaigns designated, expense limits need to be agreed and there has to be a campaign period. Some argue that there simply isn’t time. However the roadmap published by the People’s Vote campaign argues that the logistics can work. The Article 50 letter can be withdrawn, the campaign argues, to make this possible.

The motion also includes the line “conference believes we need a relationship with the EU that guarantees full participation in the single market”. Shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer had in fact already highlighted this aspiration by proposing in 2017 a lengthy transition period with single market membership. This could also be a reference to future membership of the European Economic Area, something that is controversial in Labour circles.

The question of a question

This is only part of the story for Labour however. There is ambiguity among anti-Brexit campaigners (or pro-second vote campaigners) both inside and outside the party about what form of words a public vote would use.

Some believe it should offer the option of remaining in the EU. Others say it should simply be about accepting the government’s deal or not. It is not even clear if it would be a binary choice. Some, including the Conservative’s Justine Greening, are advocating a three choice ballot, which would presumably offer the choice of accepting the deal, rejecting it and remaining in the EU or rejecting it and leaving without a deal. (A linked problem arises here over the form of vote. A first past the post approach to the three options would cause an almightly row.) Of course some of this ambiguity is deliberate. Campaigns wanting to establish the principle of something need to avoid too many early details as that usually derails momentum.

The task for Labour, as an opposition party wanting to get into government, is to adopt a position which is clearer than it has been while not offering up hostages to fortune by being overly specific. The position also needs to be maintainable during those tense weeks between the return of parliament on October 9 and the vote on the government’s deal. No small task.The Conversation

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics, Edge Hill University

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

JARED O’MARA AND WHAT LABOUR NEEDS TO DO NEXT

In a few days we have seen an MP’s past become a problem, an inquiry launched, a resignation, a suspension and any number of new stories and commentators emerge.

In a few days an obscure back bench MP has been on every news and political programme with his party playing catch up to deal with the backlash.

This week’s political soap opera revolves around one Jared O’Mara.  Elected (to some people’s surprise) in June in Sheffield Hallam, the backbencher had been pretty low profile. In fact, he has yet to speak in Parliament. But now, initially thanks to stories on one of the leading political blogs, his distant past and more recent actions have caused a major headache for the Labour Party.

In a nutshell, a series of online posts by O’Mara were found which managed to offend or insult many people. These included a suggestion that musician Jamie Cullen should be sodomised. While these were written well before he became an MP, allegations then emerged about insulting behaviour towards women earlier this year. And in the way of these stories, a steady stream of quotes, accusations, allegations and attacks began.

Rival political parties poured oil on the flames and Labour was, at first, seen to be dithering in the face of increasingly shocking revelations.

Frankly, O’Mara has no future in politics now. It is inconceivable that Labour, or any other party, will select him as a candidate again.

But that aside, the whole episode is also a major problem for the Labour Party.

So what options remain for party managers and activists?

One argument which has been deployed, for example in the Guardian, is that when the snap election was called there certainly wasn’t time to look into the background of every candidate.

In other words the Labour Party is a victim here. I am afraid that won’t wash.

It is inconceivable that in a seat which was likely to attract media focus, having been surprisingly close in 2015, there was no time to do a bit of basic research. Labour MP Lucy Powell, speaking on ITV’s After the News programme, made it clear that candidates are and should be vetted. And for anyone to carry the Labour Party name, or any other party’s name, an official from the party has to sign shortly before polling day. (For the political geeks out there, this is someone called the Designated Nominating Officer – I have been one myself in the past).

So, given the victim response is not available, Labour retains a number of options.

Launching an investigation and removing the whip from O’Mara were obvious, and necessary steps. But the party now has a timing problem. At some point the investigation will have to have results. Labour will want to make sure that any announcements likely to cause more problems are far enough away from the elections in May, which in 2018 include all the Councils in Greater London.

Labour will also need to find ways of responding to accusations that allegations had been made, but not dealt with, in the past.

The party will also need to be ready to deal with an increasing number of stories on this topic. Even relatively minor accusations will gain strength as they now have media salience. The Sophie Evans accusations for example (she tells of being insulted by O’Mara in his bar) had been published previously and gained little attention. Now of course they gain importance. And I am sure journalists are going through the Trip Advisor page about O’Mara’s bar to contact anyone who posted reviews mentioning violence or insults.

Labour also faces a stakeholder problem. Because of the range of insults posted by O’Mara in his younger days, a potentially large number of groups have been affected. Among these are groups Labour would generally expect to be supportive.

So, what can Labour do?

The instinct in a political party to protect one of your own is a strong one, and some, such as Angela Rayner and Shami Chakrabarti have attempted to do this (Chakrabarti’s comments are some way into the story in this link). However, any further vocal defence would be a massive mistake. It will simply look as if the party is applying different standards to different people.

Labour also needs to repair any damaged links with particular groups, but to do it quietly. LGBT campaigners, for example, may well want to know why O’Mara’s online commentsweren’t spotted. The party will need to be in receive rather than broadcast mode to rebuild any lost confidence.

They key thing the party can do however, is to make it clear that its processes will be such that candidates with baggage like this will get caught in an improved filter. No one wants MPs to be identikit. But party members and managers do need to be able to select candidates without the worry of stories emerging into scandal.

Ambitious leader speech sees Vince Cable aiming for the top job

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

As the Liberal Democrats met for their first conference since the 2017 general election, many were feeling disappointed at the state of things. The party came away with a mere 12 election victories after mistakenly believing the Brexit referendum had given it a branding which would help it capture more votes. Yet despite disappointment, party managers reported a higher than average conference attendance and membership numbers remain high.

Members met to reflect on the past, look to the future and begin working on how to take the party forward in an increasingly muddled political environment. Lib Dem conferences are a mix of decision-making votes and key note speeches and the leader’s speech is traditionally the final session of the event. This year that fell to Vince Cable.

Leaders’ conference speeches are difficult at the best of times. They have to communicate to party members in the hall, to (often) cynical journalists who have “heard it all before”, to members of the “political community”, and to potential voters, members and others who will only catch bits of the speech on the news. And whatever the leader wants to say, there will be questions which need to be answered and fires which need to be put out. Anyone reading the Alastair Campbell Diaries, or indeed the accounts of John Major’s time as Conservative party leader, will know just how fraught and last minute the speech preparations can be.

And of course if it is your first run out as Leader, the pressure is worse.

So today Cable had a lot to do. He had to look and sound like a leader, positioning both himself and his party in the most beneficial way. And he was certainly ambitious about it.

When, a few days before his speech, he told an interviewer that he does genuinely believe he can become prime minister, some may have thought that this was simply the answer to expect from a politician. But a theme which sprung out from Cable’s speech was government. “We are the government of the future,” he said at one point. And he ended with a call to head “back to government”.

This is actually quite risky. Many will remember David Steel’s rallying cry at the Liberal Assembly in 1981 when he called on members to “go back to your constituencies and prepare for government”. Government for the Liberals, now the Lib Dems, didn’t arrive until 2010, and only then because of the need for a coalition. The Steel phrase is often recalled with raised eyebrows at party conference. (It also became a regular in sketches at the Liberal Revue or the conference Glee Club.) And of course when Steel made his speech, the SDP Liberal Alliance was riding high in the polls.

So for Cable, head of the group of just 12 MPs, to make such a bold statement is a risky piece of positioning. But it is also necessary. For Lib Dems to have an obvious purpose, they must be seen as working towards that end. And that end must seem possible.

Safe pair of hands

Another theme of Cable’s speech was the need for people with experience who could take a grown up approach to things. He devoted significant time to talking about ministerial work and achievements. This is not an unknown practice for a political leader but it is a little unusual to look back more than two years. However, if Cable’s pitch is about being able to govern, there will be an ongoing need to stress examples of this work by key people such as Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson, both MPs, and Lynne Featherstone, now in the House of Lords.

As ever in a Leader’s speech there were short points on issues which would go down well with the party and also garner soundbites. Donald Trump’s state visit should be cancelled, the hall was told. Votes at 16 would be the centre of the party’s campaign for political reform.

The ConversationIt’s never clear how to measure the success of a conference speech in a non-election year. Is it about membership increase, good media coverage, more donations, poll ratings? For this piece of positioning however, what will matter is whether the message can be credibly sustained over the years to come.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A council has been intercepting emails to elected officials – here’s why that matters

File 20170912 3778 8k82xj
Terry Kearney, CC BY-NC

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

Emails from local people to elected councillors have been intercepted by officials at Liverpool City Council. It’s not clear whether this involves a large or small group of people, but a recent example, and the council’s response to it, has shown that this is a practice that has been going on for some time.

The issue came to light when a particular email was stopped and gained an addendum before being passed on. The story appeared in the Liverpool Echo and has led one group of councillors to refuse to use the official council email system. In fact, reaction by some has been pretty fierce.

While this might look like a “little local problem”, it actually raises a host of issues about the relationship between politicians and citizens – and between corporate state bodies and elected people.

Local councils in the UK vary in what they do. But they all exist to run services for people in their area. They are also democratic organisations, with individuals elected as decision makers and representatives. This means the council has a legal existence as an organisation, but also that there are councillors who are the political side of things and who have votes at meetings. In all but the smallest council, the paid staff (often referred to as officers) will considerably outnumber the political “elected members”.

It’s not clear how many emails have been intercepted and over what period of time. I fully expect individuals and organisations to now make use of Freedom of Information laws and subject access requests to find out more. Anecdotally, I have heard that people are already contacting local councillors in Liverpool to ask whether their email communications have been intercepted.

In the particular case that brought the issue to light, an email intended for a councillor was diverted to the chief executive’s office, read and then added to with a suggestion of how the councillor might like to reply. It was then forwarded on to the councillor.

Most of us imagine we have a good idea of what members of parliament do but public understanding of the role of a councillor is much vaguer. Yet there are many more councillors than there are MPs. So this group makes up the majority of those elected to political roles. And given that councils are responsible for issues like planning, roads, schools and waste collection, the decisions they make have a very direct effect on people.

The Liverpool incident raises two very important questions. Should citizens expect to be able to communicate with an elected politician without interference? And should councils, as corporate bodies, be able to control the information of the people elected to effectively be in charge?

Liverpool City Council’s defence in this case was that it was trying to protect email recipients since a local citizen had been behaving “unreasonably” in her communications with councillors and officers at the council. Her actions were described as a “scatter gun” approach and the council system was then set up to divert all emails from her address to a central point. The council also said that it applied this approach in a “small number of cases”.

This argument might work for an organisation wanting to protect its staff. The problem here is that councillors are not staff. They are not employed by Liverpool City Council. They are accountable to the electorate and it is reasonable to assume that if I send an email to Councillor X, Councillor X is the person who gets it.

Councillors do receive money but it comes in the form of allowances, not pay. And there are none of the things we expect from an employment contract such as performance reviews, progression pay and so on. So a relationship between a resident and an elected member is a direct one. It is not mediated by an employer.

It is clear to me that when a citizen makes contact, there is an expectation of confidentiality and privacy. The issue of confidentiality is vital here. Some citizens pass on sensitive personal information when requesting help. Others may be asking for assistance in pursuing a complaint about part of the council.

Some issues are difficult neighbour disputes. Others may be lobbying for a particular decision which runs against the policies of the ruling group. In my time on Liverpool City Council, I experienced all of these situations. And in all cases it would be difficult to have trust in the casework and representative system if it was felt that communications were likely to be read by other people.

Of course, it is possible that some incoming emails could be threatening, I have had some myself. But elected representatives can still take their own decisions about how and who to block. And many threatening communications are surely issues for the police anyway.

The issue of control is an interesting one. Clearly councils have to have rules about how they operate. But it’s also clear that there have to be some standards.

Constitutionally, elected members come together to make decisions which staff then carry out. Even where there are elected mayors with executive powers, councillors make a range of other decisions. And although many decisions are delegated, the responsibility for oversight rests with the elected individuals, not the staff.

The ConversationWhen I was a councillor, I used to roll my eyes at those few elected members who refused to use the central email system because they didn’t want staff to interfere. I now know they were right to be wary.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How PR giant Bell Pottinger made itself look bad

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So … the thing is. Shutterstock

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

The reputation of global PR company Bell Pottinger has suffered a massive blow. The boss has resigned, clients have walked, the firm has been expelled from the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) – and it has now put itself up for sale. All because of its work on a controversial contract in South Africa.

Bell Pottinger, which has staff, partners and offices in many parts of the world, is headquartered in London. So when the South African political party the Democratic Alliance wanted to complain about the firm’s activities, the London-based PRCA was its chosen route.

The whole issue of ethics and regulation in public relations is a thorny one. In virtually every country, anyone can call themselves a PR practitioner. I am an accredited practitioner with all sorts of qualifications, but there is nothing in law to stop my neighbour, a plumber, from hanging out a sign saying he is a PR officer, too.

But thanks to a drive from industry professionals there have been efforts to promote ethics and ensure some sort of regulation, which practitioners and companies can choose to sign up to.

In the UK, there is the PRCA (mostly for organisations) and the CIPR (mostly for individual practitioners). Each has codes of conduct and disciplinary processes. Each can censure and expel. Ethical practitioners hope that clients will equate membership with high standards.

The PRCA’s expulsion of Bell Pottinger is the most serious sanction it can take, and follows an investigation, a provisional ruling and an appeal. But now Bell Pottinger is out, and it cannot apply to rejoin for at least five years.

According to PRCA Director General Francis Ingham:

Bell Pottinger has brought the PR and communications agency into disrepute … The PRCA has never before passed down such a damning indictment of an agency’s behaviour.

Bell Pottinger was founded in part by Sir Tim (now Lord) Bell in 1987. Advising former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher on her presentational style, he became one of the biggest names in PR. The firm did not shy away from controversial clients, who included former South African president FW de Klerk, Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian president Bashir al-Assad, and the South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, after he was accused of murder.

Lord Bell himself resigned from the company last year. And in an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight (which was twice interrupted by his mobile phone ringing) he said this latest episode was “almost certainly” the end.

Experts in keeping up appearances, the firm no doubt regrets the work it carried out for the wealthy Gupta family, which has close links to South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma.

The British PR firm got into trouble with a social media “economic emancipation campaign” in which the phrase “white monopoly capital” was said to have been deliberately, or irresponsibly, used, stirring up racial tension.

South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance accused Bell Pottinger of a “hateful and divisive campaign to divide South Africa along the lines of race”.

The scandal led to resignations – and the loss of clients. Britain’s biggest bank, HSBC, has said it would no longer use Bell Pottinger. A Swiss luxury company headed by a South African businessman, a South African investment group, and Acacia, which owns gold mines in Tanzania, are also reportedly off the books.

The damage to the company’s reputation is immense. While Bell Pottinger did take on work for clients which some of us find offensive or “to be avoided”, there is a difference between a client with a bad reputation deserving some help, and creating a bad reputation through the very act of communication.

Is all publicity still good publicity?

Will nations and companies still want to hire the company in the future? Some will probably take the attitude that recent events do not affect the organisation’s ability to carry out its work.

But will journalists and other PR audiences be ready to accept the firm’s messages? Probably not. The first response of any journalist contacted by a Bell Pottinger spokesperson will surely be to think of this damning incident. It will be tough for any lobbying campaign to carry conviction with the Bell Pottinger name attached.

Of course, being expelled from a professional association does not take away the ability to practice. The Democratic Alliance itself has pointed out that Bell Pottinger can still work in South Africa.

The ConversationBut PR depends on the ability to win client accounts – by convincing them that you will protect and enhance their reputation. It is difficult to see how an organisation which has effectively trashed its own reputation can protect someone else’s.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

PR challenges facing Vince Cable

By Paula Keaveney, senior lecturer in PR and Politics

It is all change at the top of the Liberal Democrats, with Vince Cable replacing Tim Farron.

Cable’s  position comes as a result of Farron standing down in the wake of the most recent General Election. The Lib Dems will forgo a leadership election though as Cable was the only nominated candidate after a series of likely contenders, including  Scottish MP Jo Swinson and North Norfolk’s Norman Lamb, ruled themselves out.

Since the 2015 General Election, and 2016 Euro Referendum, the Lib Dems have seen membership soar. But the clear pro EU positioning in June failed to deliver much of an increase in seats. In fact, there were more lost deposits and a low vote share, leading to internal discussions about what happened and why.

So, what are the key challenges facing Cable?

Sir Vince does start with one advantage: He is known in a way that Farron was not when he took over. Cable became prominent for his prescient warnings over the economy in the run up to 2008. He has also had time standing in as Lib Dem leader – remember the soundbite about Gordon Brown going from Stalin to Mr Bean – and he was a Cabinet member during the Coalition.

So, the party has less to do in terms of making journalists and the wider public aware of who the new leader is. Being known will make it easier for him to gain broadcast time and print inches .

However, the profile of an individual leader does not necessarily mean the party’s image is right or the party well positioned.

The immediate challenge for Cable is party conference in September. It is one of the few guaranteed shop window events for a smaller party.  Farron was known for his energetic , activist style. Cable will need to use the occasion to show that the party is very much back in business.

However, poll bumps as a result of  a good conference rarely last and the first big challenges, barring any by elections, will be May 2018, when local elections include those in London (in which every seat is up for grabs) and in the Metropolitan Boroughs (in which some seats are contested in places like Liverpool and Manchester). In many cases the party will be attacking Labour which will be in the happy position of facing a Government party likely to be garnering poor reviews. This makes life very tricky for Lib Dems. A good showing is needed but this is not particularly fertile ground.

This means Cable will need to be very canny in terms of positioning. Some individual campaigns will go against the general run of play, but in many local elections people follow their general impressions of the parties on offer.

So which positions would work?

The clear ‘give people another say on the EU’ call did not work in the General Election. The ‘sage advice on the economy’ is useful but not unique.  ‘More investment in schools, health and policing’ is usually a welcome message but is shared by just about every party.

There is no one position which is both stand-out and likely to work at the moment.

Of course, politics is not just the art of the possible. It is also the art of opportunity. In the past leaders such as Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and Tim Farron (on Hong Kong, Iraq and refugees respectively) have found and pursued issues which made clear calls about human rights and liberal values. Sir Vince will need to bide his time and be ready to recognise the issue which provides a liberal moment which resonates with the public.

He will also need to avoid overstatement early on. Reports in some media that he is likely to talk about making the Lib Dems the second largest party will worry long term activists. Many remember talk by former leaders of replacing Labour.

And meanwhile? Meanwhile the task is to reassure activists, many of whom did not see the poor result of 2017 coming, and take the fight to Theresa May in the Commons. The Mr Bean sound bite won’t work now, but I feel sure the Lib Dem team will be looking for something equally cutting and memorable.

Why Andy Burnham’s Manchester could change the face of UK politics

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

So, with the result of the Greater Manchester metro mayor election declared, Andy Burnham completes his move from opposition MP to local leader. The Conversation

Burnham’s decision to stand for the new post was seen by many as a signal that for ambitious Labour politicians, the place of power may no longer be in Westminster but rather the combined authorities – with all the powers they carry.

In a similar vein, this election also saw MP Steve Rotheram – Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary private secretary and occupant of the ultra safe seat of Liverpool Walton – decide he would rather be Merseyside’s mayor.

Greater Manchester is one of six metro mayor positions elected in the recent poll. And while each role has a slightly different combination of powers, it’s argued that the Manchester role is the most significant.

Here, those drawing up the combined authority remit – which looks to cover Greater Manchester as a whole – have included policing and health along with the more expected responsibilities, such as transport. And in the run up to the election, lobbyists and think tanks have been quick to see the potential, and the need to build alliances.

A victory for Labour?

While it will take some time before citizens in Greater Manchester, and the rest of the country, get an idea of just how much of a difference this new mayoral figure will make, the implications of the recent vote for political parties and for democracy can be examined straight away.

Labour will of course point to this result as a sign of success. When Sadiq Khan won the London contest, much was made by Labour of the victory here. But it will be harder for Corbyn and others to make as much of Greater Manchester.

This is mainly down to the fact that in London there was a contest – or at least the perception of a contest – between Khan and Zac Goldsmith. Whereas in Manchester, while it is true that other candidates have worked hard, no one was realistically expecting anything other than a Labour win. The combined authority is made up of ten local authority areas, nine of which are currently Labour led.

But beside the immediate spin, there is a bigger strategic point here. Because if Labour is smart, it could use its position in city regions – such as in Manchester – to build and maintain a reputation for running big things well.

This could mean that Manchester may well turn out to be of great use to the party as a way of demonstrating ability on a significant stage.

But of course that in itself will depend on making the rest of the country, and the nations voters, all realise that the stage is in fact significant.

Low turnout

But despite Bunham’s win, many of course will be concerned about poor turnout – which was 28.93% for Greater Manchester. For a big job with big responsibilities, this is a poor level of voting.

Similarly low levels of voter turnout were previously seen when the regional police and crime commissioner roles were initially introduced. And it is true that it takes a while for people who are not political obsessives to get used to innovations like this.

Nevertheless, there will be work to be done to make people both aware of the metro mayor role, and convinced of its democratic legitimacy.

But low turnout figures and awareness aside, the role could clearly play a key role for Labour’s regional strategy. And given that Burnham recently said he is ready to leave Westminster and devote himself to Manchester, it may be that the the political watchers will need to start keeping an eye on the Irwell rather than the Thames.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shock reaction to election proves May and her team know what they are doing

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

Britain had barely returned from its Easter break when the press reported that Theresa May, the prime minister, was to make a statement in Downing Street. After an hour’s frenzied speculation about what she might say, May stepped up to a podium in front of Number 10 and announced that she and her cabinet had decided there should be a general election on June 8. The Conversation

And that, it seems, is that. Under the 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act, at least two-thirds of the House of Commons must vote in favour of an election for one to be called – ahead of the due date which in this parliament was scheduled for 2020, the last election having taken place in 2015. But with Labour saying it will back May’s decision, the country will head to the polls in a matter of weeks.

This was a bombshell announcement delivered at remarkably short notice. Even though political commentators have been debating the advisability of calling a snap election since the Brexit referendum, the announcement caught most of them by surprise.

So what does the announcement tell us about May, her team, and the challenges they now face?

First of all, May is taking a gamble on her personal brand. Until now, she presented herself as a steady, no nonsense, get-the-job-done leader. To reinforce that image, she several times reiterated that she would not call an early election. Her sudden U-turn might seem like an opportunity for the opposition parties, but she’s probably not too vulnerable on this front.

For all that politicians and political reporters obsess over process issues and consistency, most voters don’t. May will also be protected by the vote in the Commons to come: Labour, for one, will vote in favour of an early election, so Jeremy Corbyn and his party can hardly attack her for calling it.

Game on

The U-turn factor notwithstanding, May’s argument for holding the election is reasonably logical. As she acknowledged in her announcement, the Brexit process has caused confusion, and many people will want a simple and clear way through the minefield. By painting the opposition parties as obstructionists and troublemakers that endanger the future of a post-Brexit Britain, May puts herself on the side of the people.

It all added up to a fantastic example of a leader wrongfooting both the media and the opposition, who scrambled to issue their responses.

The Conservatives are also surely keen to fight a Labour party run by the dramatically unpopular Corbyn.

May has also reportedly ruled out any TV debates along the lines of those held in 2015. That’s a blow to the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and the Lib Dems’ Tim Farron, both of whom stood to gain from sharing a stage with May. (Anyone who watched the 2015 debates will remember that Sturgeon’s debating skills are especially formidable.)

The May team won’t have the element of surprise again, and a lot now depends on whether they’re actually ready for the campaign. But the timing, tone and surprise factor of the election announcement was the work of a team that really knows what it’s doing. The fallout over the next few days will tell us a lot about the Conservatives, but even more about the other parties.

As Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and UKIP respond in full, we’ll start to see just how strong, prepared and determined they are – or aren’t.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Hillary Clinton’s concession speech – a class political act

Presidential election banner background. US Presidential election 2016. Hand putting voting paper in the ballot box with american flag on background.  Flat design, vector illustration.

It’s normal for conceding presidential candidates to give their speech in the middle of the night, as their guests are still at HQ and the final results are trickling in.

Hillary Clinton, however, decided not to do that after losing the 2016 election to Donald Trump. Instead her team arranged for a mid-morning speech on the day after the vote. It was held at a separate venue – at a hotel in New York – with seats for staff and supporters.

Speeches by losing candidates are interesting. The chosen tone, message, content and length tell us a lot about the state of democracy and the health of the candidate’s party. In fact, a CNN commentator claimed ahead of Clinton’s address that the concession speech is often more important for the health of democracy than the victory speech.

Clinton’s decision to make her speech in the morning means that she could say something more planned than if she had to cobble together a late-night reaction at a “let’s get it over with” event. It also means a better chance for news coverage, since a little time has passed since the upset of the result.

A later speech, according to commentators such as CNN, allowed Clinton to concede “on her own terms”. Crucially, it also meant not speaking in front of a set clearly designed for a victory speech.

Her role post result was to thank supporters but also to attempt to get some key messages across. Media have been briefed that Clinton’s speech would be a message to the American people about “the way forward”.

Chelsea Clinton after her mother’s speech.EPA

She stressed the need for participation over time. Democracy, she reminded her supporters, does not just mean casting a vote every four years, it’s a constant commitment. While she appealed to her audience to accept the result, the message was clear – continue to monitor Trump’s America.

“Our campaign was never about one person or one election,” she said. “It was about the country we love, about building a country that was hopeful, inclusive and big hearted.”

She was also keen to stress inclusion, shared values, and the “vision we hold for our country”, despite not making any direct references to concern that her opponent lacks these values.

There was a strong sense of passing on a torch to her supporters: “You represent the best of America,” she told the room, before promising that a woman president will happen one day.

I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling but some day, someone will and hopefully sooner than we think right now.

Speaking to the alarm felt by many about the tone of the campaign, Clinton acknowledged the divisions in American society and stressed “the rule of law” and equality under the law. “We respect and cherish these values … and we must defend them,” she said.

Whether this was a goodbye, or a rallying call for a new movement, isn’t quite clear. But Clinton was certainly keen to focus on the future of her country rather than dwelling on her loss. She admitted the the result is painful and “will be for some time” and there was a moment when she looked ready to cry, but she pulled it back quickly.

So what now for Hillary Clinton? I’m not sure. But the delivery of a speech like this on a day which must be full of pain shows she is nothing if not a professional political operator.The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Britain’s first post-Brexit by-election a triumph for Liberal Democrats

Robert Courts won for the Conservatives but on a dramatically reduced majority. PA/Chris Radburn

For those who like to read the runes of politics, parliamentary by-elections are a gift. Each local area of course has its own characteristics but these contests offer a snapshot verdict on the government and major parties between general elections. It’s also a chance for those parties to try out and refine campaigning techniques.

The Witney by-election, caused by the resignation of former prime minister David Cameron, has certainly given us something to pore over.

By all accounts this is one of the safest Tory seats in the country – Cameron took 60% of the vote in the 2015 election. West Oxfordshire Council is Tory run and, although there are pockets of relative deprivation, the constituency is generally rural and affluent.

And indeed, the Conservative candidate won the by election on October 21. But the significance in Witney lies less in which party won than in the performance of the parties that didn’t.

Back in the game. Paula Keaveney, Author provided

After being almost totally wiped out in the 2015 election, the one-time coalition partners increased their vote share by 23% in Witney, beating Labour to come in second place behind the Conservatives. There was a swing to the Lib Dems of just over 19%, denting the Conservative majority by around 20,000 votes.

The Lib Dems have a reputation as a formidable by-election fighting team. Actually this reputation is based on events quite some time ago. Since 2007 the party has performed relatively poorly with tiny increases and some falls in percentage vote share. Even Eastleigh, which the party held in 2013 after Chris Huhne’s resignation, saw a large drop in vote share.

So party organisers will be extremely satisfied with this result. It indicates that the Lib Dem campaign machine is working again. Considerable effort went into encouraging activists to making phone calls to voters – or making the journey to Witney – and at times it was hard to walk down a street without seeing a Lib Dem campaigner. Labour was less obvious on the ground, although the party had clearly worked in its areas of strength, as demonstrated by the number of posters in some pockets of support.

It also shows that there are Conservative supporters who will swap to the Lib Dems. That may indicate that they are unhappy with the whole Brexit saga (Witney voted to remain) or with new prime minister, Theresa May.

2015 election results in Witney

Lib Dem slump. Paula Keaveney, Author provided

For Labour, I am sure the party forums will carry arguments about Corbyn’s failure to deliver a challenge to the government here. Witney is not a seat Labour could conceive of winning, but there must be some anxiety at a failure to make progress. The Labour candidate was, after all, a local councillor with a core of support.

As for UKIP, it will not be happy to have been beaten into fifth position below the Greens. We’ll never know how much the fight between two of its MEPs and the ongoing saga around the leadership has affected this vote. But common sense tells us that the party is facing not just a series of rows but a crisis of identity. It is impossible to do well in this kind of battle without a clear sense of purpose and message.

The Liberal Democrats clearly approached this race with a clear purpose and have achieved it. A full recovery is still a long way off but the Witney result has brought some much-needed cheer.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.