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

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.

Winter pressures and the NHS Ambulance Services: ‘Doing more with less’ is not an option

ambulances queuing outside A&E at a North West hospital

Paresh Wankhade, Professor of Leadership and Management and Emergency Services Management Expert discusses the issues the Ambulance Service faces as winter approaches in his latest Comment blog:

With each passing year, the winter crisis puts a massive strain on the NHS ambulance resources with huge bottlenecks in the transfer of patients into the hospital Accident and Emergency (A&E) wards. In 2017, media carried several reports which highlighted delays on the part of ambulance crews arriving at the scene, including deaths of the patient waiting for an ambulance. Some of these arguments have been well rehearsed and have also prompted emotional debates and the cries of “52 weeks of the year crisis” in the Parliament.  I have highlighted four issues which in my view are the key flash points for ambulance services to deal with such recurrent crisis.

Address the funding-demand gap

The sustainability of an underfunded and overstretched ambulance services is though well recognised, but remains unresolved. The National Audit Office reported that between 2009-10 and 2015-16, the number of ambulance calls and NHS 111 transfers increased from 7.9 million to 10.7 million (average year-on-year increase of 5.2 per cent), and income for NHS ambulance trusts’ urgent and emergency care activity increased by 16 per cent from £1.53bn to £1.78bn between 2011-12 and 2015-16, but ambulance activity over this period (NHS ambulance calls and NHS 111 transfers) rose by a massive 30 per cent. This is accompanied by significant shifts in the demand with only 10 per cent of 999 callers having a life threatening emergency despite the average annual increase of five to six per cent in ambulance demand.  Doing even ‘same with less’ is proving difficult for ambulance trusts, something I have argued in my recent piece.

 

Move away from response time targets

Response time targets have been historically used to measure ambulance performance. Since July 2017, performance of NHS ambulance trusts is being benchmarked against four new national standards, based upon patient’s condition, now enshrined in the NHS Constitution.  However, during May-September 2018, ambulance services in England failed to meet  all the standards. A recent Parliamentary Report concluded that ‘ambulance trusts have organised themselves to meet response-time targets, at the expense of providing the most appropriate response for patients’ (p.5).  Another view that ‘commissioners, regulators and providers still place too much focus on meeting response times” reported in the National Audit Report (p.8) is deeply worrying.

Our research points to similar conclusions. We have systematically documented a range of unintended consequences  of response time targets used by the ambulance services.  We have also explored the relationship between cultures, performance measures, and organisational change to understand how organisational culture is perpetuated and found the targets to be a significant factor impeding the process of change. Ambulance services have embarked on the drive for ‘professionalisation’ but our latest research suggests that as ambulance work continues to intensify, ‘issues around dignity, staff retention and the meaning of work are becoming ever more challenging’.

 

Introduce fines/penalty for hospital delays

Ambulance handover delays to hospital A&E departments can have serious implications for patient safety and reduce available ambulance resources. The 30 minute cycle (handover and readiness for next call) is proving difficult to resolve. NAO  figures suggest that in 2015-16, only 58 per cent of hospital transfers met the 15-minute expectation in 58 per cent of cases as against 80 per cent in 2010-11, and only 65 per cent of ambulance crews were then ready for another call within 15 minutes. There are inconsistencies on the part of commissioners to penalise hospitals that do not adhere to the guidance of 15-minute transfers in absence of a fining regime. A quality indicator for measuring hospital performance in meeting the transfer-time target has not yet materialised, notwithstanding the recommendations of the Committee of Public Accounts.

Improve efficiency and productivity

The Carter Efficiency Review, published last month, highlighted concerns about huge variations in the delivery of ambulance services. It suggested potential savings of £300m a year by cutting unnecessary ambulance transfers, along with further £200m through use of more efficient models of operations and procurement.  But the review also raised fundamental questions over the need for significant investment in the ambulance sector. The shortage and retention  of paramedic staff coupled with high sickness absence rates continue to be a problem, an issue highlighted in the draft NHS Workforce Strategy. However, the review raises the clear need for investment since one of the recommendations to reduce high conveyance rates is likely to have cost implications. This will also require high quality staff engagement.

 

Conclusion

There are no easy fixes and addressing the winter pressures will necessitate strong and visionary leadership by ambulance chiefs and cooperation from other health care partners, in a political climate dominated by Brexit. A ‘whole systems’ approach is crucial to deal with this crisis. The Dalton Review called for successful leaders to act as a ‘systems architect’ to use their entrepreneur skills to explore innovative organisational models, as set out under the NHS Five Year Forward View. The Carter Review necessitates ambulance leaders to make right business and spending decisions which will impact the NHS. Devising an effective public education campaign to minimise misuse of ambulance resources and managing public expectation, will be a good starting point.

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.