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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in the game. Paula Keaveney, Author provided

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

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

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

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

2015 election results in Witney

Lib Dem slump. Paula Keaveney, Author provided

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

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

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

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

Liberal Democrats in Brighton – why their party conference still matter

Tim Farron hearts EU. PA/ Jonathan Brady

Party conferences are strange beasts. They can be a mix of sales conference, rally, social event, training course, decision-making forum, networking opportunity and job interview. And there will always be several “conferences” going on at once. For a charity campaigner or trade union lobbyist, the conference will be very different to that experienced by an MP or an activist.

But while us outsiders only get a glimpse of everything that goes on, there are ways to read party conferences that offer insight about the party and its people. The Liberal Democrats are at a particularly interesting period in their history, so the party’s meeting in Brighton offers particularly interesting fodder.

Who is on the podium?

A key issue at conference – and particularly this year – is who speaks. The Liberal Democrats only have eight MPs but they can’t all have keynote speech slots. The choice of speaker is significant.

This year, apart from the obvious Leader’s speech by Tim Farron, keynote MP slots have been given to Norman Lamb (Farron’s challenger for the leadership) and Alistair Carmichael (MP for Orkney and Shetland and home affairs spokesperson).

Carmichael could do with some good PR. PA/David Cheskin

The choice of Lamb, given he is health spokesperson, is not surprising. Health always yields plenty of topical material. Carmichael, however, is a less obvious choice. His inclusion could of course point to the party’s ongoing desire to stress the sort of civil liberty issues covered in his portfolio. Or it could suggest the need to provide him with a positive platform following a recent scandal in his constituency, during which he did not exactly cover himself in glory.

What’s on the agenda?

In politics, timing is key. At conference this means how much time is given to a topic and at what point. Scheduling matters. Has a topic been given a prime slot – such as mid morning or in the run up to one of the leader’s appearances? How much time is being given over to discussing the topic? That gives us an indication of how important the issue is to the party.

The selection of topics up for debate on the conference floor also tells us a lot about what is important to the wider party and about what it wants to promote. When an election looms, party leaders see it as more important to be seen making soundbite-laden speeches. With limited time, that can mean less time for votes put forward by the members. But since the next election is probably years off, there is plenty of time this year for voting on the nitty gritty of policy.

High on the agenda is Europe – an issue which has been given a prime-slot motion. The party has deliberately scheduled an opportunity for this highly pro-European group of people to discuss the fallout from the referendum and, more importantly, what comes next.

One of the problems faced by the Lib Dems in the past has been a certain fuzziness. Polls often showed voters were not clear about where they stood on certain matters. However, Europe provides a massive opportunity for the party. Brexit may well mean Brexit for the majority of voters but there is a clear advantage when it comes to the remainder for whichever party keeps the pro-European flame alive.

Both in post-referendum comments and in those closer to the conference, party leader Farron has managed clearer statements and more defined positioning than Labour. Now, a large chunk of the Monday morning session at conference has been allocated to Brexit discussion.

Less prominent this time, but important none the less, is a session on Trident and nuclear weapons. There will be no vote on this. Members are taking part in a “consultative session” in the run up to an actual vote in the spring.

These consultations are part of a rather lengthy policy development process which the party uses on some topics. And while this will get less attention than conference floor proceedings, it is important. Lib Dem policy is currently not unilateral nuclear disarmament but there is a strong seam of unilateralism running through parts of the party.

What does success look like?

Given how much political media coverage is based on speculation and preview, there is a real risk that coverage of the Brighton event will be drowned out by guesses about Labour’s annual conference later in the month. So one measure of success for the Lib Dems will be a decent level of positive coverage.

Externally the party will want the event to deliver profile and positioning. Internally it will want to bind members in more strongly to the shared efforts of the next few years. It will be interesting to see, next time there is a TV interview on Europe, whether broadcasters are more likely to pick up the phone and call Farron. If they do, then this year’s Brighton conference will have achieved at least one of its goals.The Conversation

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

Post Brexit Conversations

busy people

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) comments on the recent appointment of Labour candidate Andy Burnham:

Andy Burnham, Labour candidate for mayor of Greater Manchester, tells us something significant is happening. Most of the focus will be on the internal conflicts within the Labour Party, and they are important for many reasons. But I think the success of Andy Burnham tells us other things are happening too.

Over the past 40 plus years, city bosses saw their career ladder as going from the local to the national in the UK. And when they made that change, many of them disappeared into the Westminster fog. Andy Burnham is going the other way – from the national to the local (or rather the city region).

Why is this important? One, it suggests that he is doubtful (at best) of Labour winning the next election, and two it suggests that he thinks being mayor of the Manchester City Region is an important political role . This move would not be unusual in other countries – in the United States Obama’s first Chief of Staff went from that role to be mayor of Chicago.

The third possible consequence is that following the May mayoral elections, especially here in the North West with Liverpool and Manchester, those elected together with the mayor of Greater London might seek to shift the centre of gravity away from Westminster to the cities. What kind of new politics might that bring?

I4P are hosting a series of post Brexit conversations and talks starting this October and going through to June – click here for more information.

A political football

legs of a soccer or football player on ball on stadium, warm colors toned

The campaigns on both sides of the referendum debate – Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave – hoped that football would help them win the tournament.

The beautiful game may not be as significant as the UK economy, but in a tight contest, campaigners knew they needed every tactical advantage, and anything that could mean a last minute score was crucial.

Both hoped that regulars at Deepdale, Turf Moor, the DW Stadium and others would hear their message.

So what were the campaigners saying about Brexit and our teams?

Both sides were arguing that their campaign goal is best for English football.

And while the message mainly focused on the Premier League, it’s clear that campaigners think that all professional clubs could be affected by a Brexit.

Burnley is among the clubs that Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) claimed would be particularly hit if we voted to leave.

The claim is based on free movement of people.  If we are not in the EU, the argument runs, clubs will find it harder to bring in top players. BSE is so keen to target football supporters that it offers a form (via Facebook) which allows you to get a reply focused on your particular team. And while on one level this is a data collection exercise (you have to give your e mail) it is a creative way of campaigning.

Vote Leave agreed that pulling out of the EU could make it harder for clubs to bring in European players, but says this is a good thing.  Vote Leave has signed up Sol Campbell. He claims that “along with the star players, we are seeing teams load up with too many mediocre overseas footballers, especially from Europe, crowding out young English and British talent. Because of European rules on freedom of movement, it is virtually impossible for us to get a proper grip on the situation.”  Campbell argues that this in turn has an effect on young people considering a career in football, having a ripple effect all the way through the game.

Some managers have entered the debate with outspoken Sam Allardyce (whose long career includes managing Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers and playing for Preston North End) prominent among them.  Big Sam says Brexit will benefit our clubs.  But football fan, and Sussex Politics Professor Dan Hough says Allardyce’s own past, bringing in players to Bolton Wanderers, contradicts him.  Writing on the London School of Economics’ Brexit Vote blog Hough explains “…, ask any Bolton fan now – as they find themselves facing the 2016-17 season in the third tier of English football – about how Allardyce used the EU’s free movement of labour laws and they are likely to go bleary eyed very quickly.”

So what do football supporters think?  Something tells me that the referendum has not been the main topic of conversation at Deepdale or Bloomfield Road.  But Brexit has though made its way onto some of the blogs and discussion fora such as Back Henry Street and Vital Latics.

Earlier this month bookmakers Coral surveyed members of a loyalty card scheme linked to Euro 2016.  The result – a majority for Leave.  But if one of Burnley’s most famous fans has his way, that won’t be the result.  Former Labour spin doctor and Turf Moor regular Alastair Campbell has pledged to convert at least one person each day to the cause of Remain. On his blog he describes starting this mission in a chat with travelling Milwall fans when he, and they, were en route to support their teams.

So what does it mean now we have voted to leave the EU?  Will it be all over or will it be time to do a Hodgson and bring on the winning substitutes?  Neither campaign’s arguments were clear enough on football for us to know for sure.  But I doubt that the arguing will stop now the whistle has been blown.

EU Referendum Campaign – Should we stay or should we go?

If there’s one book you’ll find on most politicians’ bookshelves it’s Drew Westen’s The Political Brain.  This 2007 work said that facts and logical arguments are not enough in political communication.  Even those who are hyper-logical make emotion-based decisions.  And if politicians or campaigns speak to feelings, they are more likely to succeed.  Think back to Gordon Brown’s often statistic-laden statements and contrast with Tony Blair’s emotional, but often fact-free passages.  It’s clear which cut through to the audience.

With this in mind I have looked at  communications by both sides in the debate around Europe.  Should we stay or should we go?    This is an area of contested fact and we’ve already seen a blizzard of arguments. But as the referendum date (23 June) is now known, it’s useful to see how both sides’ comms are shaping up.

There is more than one group on each side.   The Electoral Commission will make two of these “official” shortly. But we don’t need to look at every single campaign group to get a sense of what strategies are being pursued

Britain Stronger in Europe looks set to be the official Remain group.  BSE (slightly unfortunate choice of initials) has already attracted an impressive list of supporters.  Field operations (that’s handing out leaflets and knocking on doors to you and me) have started.  But the front window currently is the website.  So what sense of communication and messaging does this give us?

The first thing that sprung to mind when I looked at www.strongerin.org was British Airways!  It feels very corporate (unlike my sense of what an active campaign normally looks like). The slogan, that Britain will be Stronger, Safer and Better Off, if we stay in Europe, is prominent and repeated.  Front page material included (on Sunday 21st Feb) two “self-interest” type messages and two attacks on, or challenges to, the opposing camp.  A sign-up form for potential supporters is given much space.

Some key components of active campaigning are missing here.  As of 12 noon on Sunday 21st, the website was reporting that the organisation hoped “to see the completion of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation package shortly”. Now I know that this is from a press release issued a few days earlier but given that David Cameron’s announcement came on the Friday night, the lack of a speedy update or editing job should concern campaign managers.

The attack material consists of a challenge to the other side to spell out the likely outcomes if Britain withdraws from the EU and an “aha we got you” type release reporting statements by prominent Brexit supporters.  This second piece focuses on whether Britain would be able to take part in the single market post-withdrawal.  It’s not a bad subject. In fact it’s a very good and key subject.  But here it’s presented in an overly technical way in which the main message is somewhat lost. (I was itching to rewrite this!)

As a reader, I didn’t feel emotionally engaged by the messages on this site.  It felt very safe, almost uncommitted in parts.  Someone already supporting the Remain message would find helpful material, but a neutral reader would, I suspect, stay neutral.

On the Brexit side we have Vote Leave and this campaign was quicker to react to the Cameron announcement. In fact its press release is timed 10.01 pm on 20 Feb which is a whole minute or so after David Cameron’s announcement started!   Leave also had the Michael Gove announcement lined up so was able to post a lot more news more quickly over the weekend. (Surprisingly, the Boris Johnson announcement does not appear on the Leave front page or news section as of 22 February. This may be because he has yet to formally contact the campaign, or because of agreements with the Daily Telegraph, for whom Boris writes a column).

The first thing anyone visiting the  Leave website sees is a sum of money, increasing  roughly  once a second, which is described as  the UK’s total contributions to the EU.  We don’t know the start point for this sum, but that niggle aside it is a very clear piece of communication. And is of course to be expected from a campaign run by a former head of the Tax Payers Alliance.

It’s not just money though.  Frankly a message that is only about money won’t cut through to emotions.   A short video about British ”heroes” is clearly designed to reinforce pride in a distinct, shared identity.  Winston Churchill’s appearance was 100 percent expected, but we also see Emmeline Pankhurst and Alan Turing among the personalities featured.   It’s tempting to argue about inclusions or exclusions from material like this, but the existence of this video is significant for the messages this campaign clearly wants to communicate.

Website names, the actual words that will appear on a url, can be key evidence of the core of a campaign’s message.  Vote Leave’s name is not Vote Leave (which after all is about rejecting something) but Voteleavetakecontrol (a much stronger piece of messaging).  How many of us, given the chance to take control rather than be told what to do, would turn that down?

Vote Leave’s website, like Stronger In, doesn’t feel like an active campaigning website yet either.  Both however are e mailing supporters and asking for activity on social media.

I’ll be looking at the communications by both sides over the next few weeks.  I’m interested in how the tone and content changes.  And I’ll be using Benoit’s Functional Theory of Political Communication to do some analysis.

June 23rd will be a key date for our country.  I hope the communications will help us all become engaged in the decision and cast our vote in an informed and committed way.

 

This post was originally published on the CIPR’s Influence website.