Comment is a collection of views, opinion and insight from Edge Hill University’s academics about topical issues, current events or areas of expertise. Commentators from across the University use this space to discuss their views as well as sharing their own knowledge, research and interests.
In the UK the scheduled May elections were delayed for a
year but in the US there is the Presidential and other elections in November
and, more trickily a series of primary contests to select candidates.
Primaries (and caucuses) select delegates according to
candidate. The delegates then go to
Conventions which nominate the chosen candidate.
Normally this time of year would feel like a parade of
never-ending contests. Instead the coronavirus crisis has meant many primaries
are postponed, and some have now become all postal vote affairs. And even though there is no real challenge to
Donald Trump on the Republican side, and the main challenger to Joe Biden
(Bernie Sanders) has
suspended his campaign on the Democrat side, the primary votes will happen.
The shutdown and postponed votes however means more to the
Democrats than Republicans. Normally
this succession of contests would be a massive profile raising opportunity for
a challenger. Instead Joe Biden finds it
an increasing struggle to stay politically relevant. While State Governors and Federal legislators
have an obvious platform, he doesn’t.
Biden can of course organise on line Town Hall meetings and
he can broadcast statements. But the logistical challenge is more easily
solvable than that of message and profile.
In news terms the only game in town is coronavirus and the response of
Donald Trump. Biden is campaigning
heavily on this, tweeting to attack previous lack of preparation, for example
this one from April 4 “In January, while
Donald Trump was downplaying COVID-19, I wrote an op-ed calling for immediate
action to combat the growing threat. In it, I also said Trump was the worst possible
leader to deal with a public health crisis. I stand by that statement.”. The Democratic presumptive nominee is taking care however to accompany his
attacks with proactive suggestions such as the Biden
There is one primary date that didn’t change –
Wisconsin. Most primaries are run by the
State so the State legislature makes the decision. And in this case Wisconsin
kept its date (7 April) with a small window of opportunity for postal
ballots to arrive back seven days later.
The Democratic Party Convention, at which the Presidential
and Vice – Presidential candidates are nominated, has
been shifted back to mid- August but even with the new date it is not at
all clear how much of the normal Convention can take place.
And of course in the Democratic Party the focus now moves even more closely to the Biden Vice-Presidential pick.
For many UK politicians, the question of votes for prisoners
is politically toxic. David Cameron said
the prospect made him feel physically ill and when the issue has come up in
Parliament it’s been a rare person who has ventured an opinion in favour.
But the tide could be moving in favour of the franchise for
those behind bars.
UK legislation has long excluded prisoners from voting. This blanket ban was challenged back in 2005
in Hirst vs United Kingdom with the European
Court of Human Rights ruling that a whole group could not be excluded in
that way. The government however was
reluctant to make any changes arguing that part of the punishment of being in
prison was losing those sort of rights. The
stalemate on the issue continued until 2017 when a handful of prisoners, those out on temporary licence, gained the franchise. It’s worth saying here that those on remand –
in a prison but not actually convicted
of anything – have always retained the right to vote, whether aware of it or
The number of those on temporary licence is small enough for
few people to notice. But changes in
Scotland and potentially in Wales this year could open the door to more
pressure to bring prisoners into the electorate. In Scotland a Bill to, among other things, extend voting
rights to certain prisoners – those with a sentence up to 12 months – gained
royal assent in early April and is now a law.
That means the right to vote in local elections and the poll for the
Scottish Parliament. There won’t be
polling stations in prisons. Instead
inmates will be registered at their old address and will make their choice by
post or proxy.
In Wales another Bill on voting will be discussed in the
Senedd plenary session today (8 April).
The Welsh Government is intending to add amendments
so that prisoners with sentences of up to four years could vote in Welsh local
Opinions on voting for prisoners vary dramatically. In some countries voting rights for prisoners
are widespread. This includes Ireland,
which saw inmates vote for the first time in 2007, and Canada. Some countries, such as Ukraine, set up
polling stations inside prisons, sending the votes back to the prisoners’ home
Yet in other parts of the world it is not just prisoners who
can’t vote also but those who have served their sentence. In the US some States ban those with felony
convictions from ever voting again. (Felonies are the serious crimes) This is being challenged with a
potentially significant court case later this month. In Florida,
voters supported a plan to allow give the vote back to a large number of
ex -felons. (In the US there are often referendum type votes on policy issues
at election time). The State legislature
thought differently however and came up with a plan to block the scheme. Now a Florida Court is to rule on whether the
legislature or the voters will get their way. The whole thing is all very
technical, but the upshot is that the
franchise could be extended in a meaningful way. And of course civil rights campaigners from
elsewhere in the US are keen to build on any success in Florida.
Over time democracies
have generally widened the franchise.
We’ve seen changes to voting ages and we’ve seen gender, class and
financial restrictions removed. It will
be interesting to see what further changes are made or resisted when it comes
to those in jail.
Edge Hill University’s politics courses include a specialist
module on Elections and Voting Systems as well as material about analysing
democracies and constitutional change.
In a public health crisis such as coronavirus, buildings
have had to be closed and gatherings banned.
That has included political institutions such as the House of Commons,
which went into recess early.
Yet if Parliament cannot meet, not only can there be no
legislative progress, there also can’t be proper scrutiny of the
The problem is not just a UK Parliament one, bodies around
the world are having to find ways of balancing protecting health with
Those familiar with the UK House of Commons and Lords will realise the problem. Members are crowded onto benches. Voting takes place in jammed division lobbies. The maze of passage ways doesn’t lend itself to social distancing. Before Easter’s early recess, changes were made to make protection a little easier. This saw a “two-shift” Prime Minister’s Questions in which MPs swapped over at half time to allow more to take part and observe distancing. Questions remain however about what might face MPs on their scheduled return on 21 April with the Speaker and others examining whether some MPs could take part remotely. If possible and agreed, that could mean a very different feel to Prime Minister’s Questions.
A Commons recess doesn’t necessarily mean an end to
activity. Select Committees have been
meeting and taking evidence remotely with, for example, the
Home Affairs Select Committee holding a video conference with witnesses on
There was some disquiet about the earlier than expected
start to the recess. Some opposition MPs
argued that the scrutiny and challenge role of Parliament could not be carried
out if Parliament was not sitting somehow.
In the weekly Questions to the Leader of the House on the day before the
recess was to start, Labour MP Wes Streeting said this: “I understand the
difficulties that we are in, but I have to disrupt the consensus: I do not
think it is right for Parliament to go into recess early, and I am worried
about how long it will be until we return. I hope that the Leader of the House
will guarantee that we will return on the date in April when we are due to do
The Scottish Parliament met to vote on its Coronavirus Bill on 1 April
and is now in a planned recess until 20 April.
The design of the chamber makes it easier for Members of the Scottish
Parliament to maintain distance. There
are individual desks, which means
members can spread out. Voting is
electronic which means no crowding though lobbies.
The Welsh Assembly meanwhile lowered
its quorum – the minimum number of members having to be in the chamber for
plenaries and then introduced on
line meetings of the body. It has
another plenary meeting to go before Easter.
As governments around the world take more powers and
Parliaments are less able to meet thought has been going on elsewhere about how
to maintain scrutiny. One of the more
imaginative approaches comes from New Zealand where a special
select committee has been set up, with majority membership from opposition
parties, to scrutinise the Government specifically over its response to
coronavirus. The committee meets on line and it is broadcast on the
Parliament’s TV channel.
In Australia there has been fierce debate about the suspension of Parliament. The Government planned a suspension until August, but has had to recall members for at least one debate for legal reasons. Opponents of the suspension argue that other crises have not stopped Parliament and that democracy is at stake.
Nearer to home, the European Parliament, surely one of the
largest single group of Parliamentarians in the world is meeting (mainly) on
line and voting on line. Changes were introduced for the late March plenary
with only a few members needing to be in the chamber but everyone
able to vote electronically, wherever they were. Political groups were still concerned that
MEPs needed to do more to fulfil their roles to represent and to
scrutinise. This has led to a
special session being organised for late this month (April).
Other European Parliaments have adopted rules to allow on
line meetings. Poland’s lower house, the
Sejm, had to have an in person
meeting to do so in late March.
Parliaments are having to walk the line between safe
operation and ensuring they do their job.
But the forced changes of these months may well cause rethinks across
organisations about how best they do their work. Perhaps some of the old customs will go.
Edge Hill University’s political degrees include advanced material on Parliaments and how they function.
Saturday’s (4 April) “reveal” of the Labour leadership
result would under normal circumstances be a big news event. The coronavirus crisis however means the
contrast with the big noisy 2015 announcement event will be stark. There will be no room full of party
activists, candidates, journalists and MPs, no clapping, no leaping onto a
stage after handshakes for the photographers.
Instead there will be a simple announcement and the screening of a
filmed victory speech.
But the loss of the drama doesn’t change the fact that the
new leader will have a massive task on his or her hands. Even without COVID19, the situation facing
Labour is tough. There are real
questions about direction, about electability and about party unity. Those who’ve studied party leadership
contests argue that those doing the choosing particularly prize unity, but
there is little point in being united if elections can’t then be won.
In normal times the new leader would have a couple of
obvious platforms to use to build profile and do some opposition. These are Parliamentary sessions after the
recess, in particular Prime Minister’s Questions and the annual party
conference. These are not normal times
however. Parliament may have to return as
a virtual chamber for a while and doubt must hang over the September
conference. (The Lib
Dems for exampleare to take a decision on cancellation shortly)
The first test of the new leader would have been in just a
month’s time, with a set of
elections including the contest for
London Mayor. The cancellation of these
means a year- long build up to a massive test in 2021 when this year’s
elections join next years. This brings the Scottish Parliament and Welsh
Assembly into the equation. This is a
mixed blessing. A set of elections this
May could have produced “better than expected” results for the leader. Labour was highly likely to hold on to some
significant positions. Putting Scotland into the mix, as will happen next year,
risks bad news stories overshadowing anything good. But at least the delay to 2021 means that the
party can do some planning on messages and direction and put 2019 a more
distant view in the rear view mirror.
So what are the urgent tasks and
challenges facing the new leader?
Sort out the party machine. This is easier said than done. Media reports have pointed to a dysfunctional
set of relationships at various levels.
The National Executive Committee is the centre for most decision-making
and the new leader will need to find a way to use this to make changes.
Work out key messages that are
believable. The problem with the 2019
election policies wasn’t that people didn’t like them. Some were very popular. It is that there were far too many and it
wasn’t clear what was important or how some of it would be paid for. To be
credible the party has to have core policy offers and avoid the temptation to
produce a shopping list.
Find a way of describing Labour’s
mission in a way which is simple and
clear. Politics is about more than
slogans, but slogans often take us to the heart of the matter. We all knew what Tony Blair meant by “tough
on crime and tough on the causes of crime”.
“New Labour – Because Britain Deserves Better” is good communication and
has the benefit of appearing to apply to everyone. Compared to these, what does
“For the Many not the Few” actually mean, or convey?
Find a (tactful) way to get
though. In normal times an opposition
politician could just blast away. Today
he or she runs the risk of appearing to politicise a crisis or to be focusing
on the wrong issues. Yet there are ways
of communicating during a crisis which combine an understanding of what people
are willing to listen to with a clear message of change. Chief among these is looking and sounding like
someone who could deal with a crisis.
Finally, although this will be
difficult, find ways of ending internal party fighting. Parties are never entirely peaceful, but
internal arguments which break out in public are damaging. They drive away supporters and voters, they
can lead to the loss of activists and they generate a lot of bad press.
The electorate in this contest
have been labour members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters. The new leader will need at the very least to
take the first group with him or her.
This is going to need an understanding
of what the members believe, but also the courage to challenge at times.
Whoever wins will certainly have
their work cut out!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.