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.

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.

Who is leading the EU campaign battle so far?

EU flags in front of European Commission

Mid April saw the official start of the campaign to either persuade us to Remain or to Leave when we vote in the European Referendum in June.  The Electoral Commission has designated two organisations as official campaigners.  On the In side is Britain Stronger in Europe.  On the Out side is Vote Leave.

In the last week a new poll showed the Remain side pulling ahead.  But the gap is still small and with weeks of argument still to go, no one can be certain of the result.

Of course the official ten weeks follows months of activity by organisations which launched last year.  So it’s possible to get a sense of what the campaigns have been like so far, and what they might do, or need to do, in future.

As a Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics, I’ve been taking a close interest in what the campaigns have been doing.  Specifically I’ve been looking at press releases to get a sense of proactivity, levels of activism in general, choice of spokesperson and use of language.  And while clearly we are now about to see things step up a gear, this early insight is useful.

Over a period of five weeks, up to 8 April, I looked at everything in the “news” section of the Britain Stronger in Europe website and the Vote Leave website.  I began by looking simply at language, but soon found that these sections provided information about a much wider range of factors.

So what did I find?

Before going any further, a key point is that the level of press release/news production by Vote Leave is noticeably higher than that by Stronger In during this period.

Firstly, both campaigns have been more reactive than proactive.  This means using other events, which might be Euro negative, Euro positive or Euro neutral to make statements.  A key example of this is the Tata Steel crisis which was used by Vote Leave to launch a number of statements.

When you work on a campaign, there are always more external events than events of your own.  This is simply the maths. So I am not surprised that the campaigns were more reactive.  What did surprise me however was the proactivity score.  Before looking, I would have assumed that Stronger In would be the more proactive of the two.  This was because Vote Leave, by its very nature, is reacting to a state of affairs.  In fact, Vote Leave showed significantly more proactivity than its opponent.  Often this proactivity consisted of collating existing statistics and re-presenting it, with planned timing, as a dossier, or report or statement.

Secondly, there has been a difference in press releases in the type of spokesperson chosen.  When I refer to spokesperson in this context, I mean the individual quoted.  Stronger In has mainly used UK politicians.  Vote Leave has mainly used campaign officials. Now this is initially surprising.  Those of us who have worked on political campaigns know that we are meant to use the actual politician when using quotes.  However in the case of Vote Leave, the campaign official used, in virtually every case, is Matthew Elliot.  He runs the campaign, but more importantly is the former head of the Taxpayers Alliance.  In this role, Mr Elliot became well known to journalists and was ever-ready with a quote.  This means he is perhaps more suitable in some cases as a spokesperson than those politicians signed up to the cause.

There may however be another feature to be deduced from this.  Using a campaign official will definitely be quicker than tracking down a politician to approve a quote.  This is however only possible when there is not a complicated sign-off process involving those politicians.  So it seems Vote Leave is simply better equipped for speed and this spokesperson-use is both a sign of speed and a way of making it possible.

The importance of speed in a campaign cannot be overstated.  Both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair’s winning campaigns set great store by this.  Vote Leave’s news page helpfully records not just the date of publication but the timing.  Stronger In does not record the time.  But it is possible to make a judgement about speed (particularly speed of response) by looking at whether statements come out on the day of relevance or a day or so later.  In each case in which I was able to compare speed, Vote Leave was faster.

Thirdly, I was interested in the types of statements being made.  US academic William Benoit, in his Functional Theory of Political Campaign Discourse, argues that political contest statements fit into three categories.  These are Acclaim, Attack and Defence.  This is a little too simple for UK elections and contests in which abstention and differential turnout plays a part.  But it is a useful way of categorising output.  I expected Stronger In’s material to be mainly Acclaim – “Your Life is better in Europe” and Vote Leave to be mainly Attack – “Europe is doing you harm”.  In fact both campaigns’ statements are more weighted towards Attack, the attacks mainly being about the other side’s desired position, statements or personalities.  An example of this is Stronger In’s release about the Boris Johnson speech which made a “mistake every eighty seconds”.

Finally I looked at language.  The language of speeches is almost always more powerful than the simple language of press releases.  And those releases with powerful language tended to be those using speech excerpts.  There are too many themes to go into here, but I want to focus on patriotism.  Patriotism is often heavily used in political campaigning and I would have expected this to mainly feature in Vote Leave communications.  During the period studied however, it was Stronger In that was making most use of this message.  The clearest example is a release using an extract from a March speech by Andy Burnham in Liverpool. He says:

“I say to everyone – don’t diminish this great country of ours. Don’t let them define how we are seen by the rest of the world…”

“Let’s fight them on the beaches of what it means to be British and reclaim that ground. Let’s be true to what we’ve always stood for and always should…”

With a phrase such as “fight them on the beaches” Burnham and the campaign are making a clear effort to link patriotism and pride in Britain with the Stronger In cause.

So what now?

To succeed, Stronger In needs to get faster, and since 15th April there are signs that is has.

To succeed, Vote Leave needs to harness the patriotism of those likely to support it, and since 15th April there are signs it is doing so.

It is all to play for.  And what a fascinating way to study PR and Campaigning initiatives and messages.