Remain Alliance – can it halt Brexit and beat Boris Johnson?

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Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

This week’s by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire will be the first formal test of the so-called Remain Alliance. The unusually short list of candidates in this contest is partly because parties such as the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, have stood down in favour of the Liberal Democrats. Campaign visits have also been made by those who originally formed Change UK, such as former Conservatives MPs Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen.

It is rare in British politics for parties to stand down in favour of their usual competitors. And while this isn’t the first occurrence, or the first initiative, the Brecon agreements could well lead to something more formal. A little earlier in the summer, former Change UK (now Independent Group for Change) leader Heidi Allen launched Unite to Remain. The idea is for Remain-supporting parties to work together to maximise the chance of electoral, and therefore policy, success. This would include the use of a common title or strapline to make the point.


Read more: How Boris Johnson can win a snap election – and what the others can do to stop him


There have been attempts to achieve a common purpose in the past. The 2017 general election, for example, saw the promotion of the so-called Progressive Alliance (of which more later). But what marks out the latest attempt is the move to register a name and logo (Remain Alliance) with the Electoral Commission. Current electoral law means that ballot papers can only include registered names and logos (or the word “Independent”).

Tribalism

To understand whether or not the current initiative can succeed, it is worth looking at cross-party cooperation, or the lack of it, in the past.

British politics is usually very tribal. This tribalism has meant that past efforts at cooperation have generally been motivated by negative factors, such as a desire to defeat a particular party (usually the Conservatives).

But the nature of the electoral system also means that tactics could trump tribalism. In a first-past-the-post system, which is used for UK parliamentary elections, a horse-race narrative often develops. It is in the interests of a challenger party to appear as the only participant with a chance to overtake the favourite and win.

This in turn means supporters of lower placed, unlikely-to-win parties are targeted to “lend” their votes to defeat a less-preferred option. This has given birth to idea that only certain parties are worth supporting.


Read more: How Boris Johnson draws on the past to rule in the present – with a little help from myth


Resistance, however, can come from the candidates and activists of those lower-placed parties. While the Green Party did stand down in favour of the Liberal Democrats in the 2016 Richmond Park by-election when the Lib-Dems successfully took the seat from Zac Goldsmith, for example, parts of the local Green Party felt very aggrieved and voiced their annoyance quite publicly. This in turn means that cooperative arrangements are often rare.

Who wins, and loses?

It can be very difficult to negotiate cooperation, particularly when one party will feel it is losing out. Anyone who thinks this is easy needs to look further into the SDP-Liberal Alliance.

The SDP was formed in 1981 and almost immediately began working with the existing Liberal Party. The idea was that one of either party would contest each parliamentary seat. This was generally achieved, but only after tortuous negotiations which rather ruined the image of cooperation and which are well described by participants such as the then MP, now Lord, Bill Rogers and the authors Ivor Crewe and Anthony King.

In fact, the Croydon North West by-election in 1981 was fought by the Liberal Bill Pitt – rather than by the leaders’ preferred option, Shirley Williams – because Pitt simply refused to budge. Pitt went on to win.

Of course, parties do not need to be working together explicitly for voters, or organisations, to urge tactical outcomes. While tribalism has a long history in UK politics, so too do attempts to persuade voters to make tactical decisions.

TV87, for example, referenced in an article in Political Behaviour, was a campaign set up to focus voters’ minds on the possibility of lending votes in the 1987 election. And it became common for publications and campaigns to produce lists of seats where incumbents were vulnerable to temporary tactics.

Anna Soubry: leader of Independent Group for Change. Shutterstock

The current initiative, which goes well beyond leaving decisions to voters alone, can perhaps best be judged against more recent projects. The 2017 general election saw the promotion of the so-called Progressive Alliance. The thinking was that Progressive parties (generally centre-left or left wing) could stand down for each other in seats where this might help defeat a Tory, or assist a vulnerable Progressive incumbent. The book All Together Now by Barry Langford lists 42 seats in which this happened, but it was not always successful and it was only really the Green party which played a full part.

So can the Remain Alliance work?

The Brecon and Radnorshire by-election result may provide part of an answer, although we need to remember that this has been a Lib-Dem seat in the past and the party has been campaigning there for some time (in other words, the cooperation between parties may not be the crucial factor here).


Read more: Brexit: wisdom of crowds proves effective predictor of Britain’s chaotic EU departure


Perhaps more telling will be any negotiations ahead of the forthcoming Sheffield Hallam by-election as well as what happens when more than one party has a justifiable claim to stand.

The big issue, however, must be Labour’s role and how one can define a Remain party. Labour played no active part in the 2017 Progressive Alliance, so what would the Remain Alliance do if Labour was the clear challenger to the Conservatives, or Brexit party, in a tight contest? Only time will tell, but the answer hangs on whether or not Jeremy Corbyn ever comes out as an unequivocal supporter of either Leave or Remain.

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.

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.

Playing the expectation game

Marking A Tick Box

May 5th sees elections across the country.  And of course there will be election results.  But for those working in political communication, a result is not simply a number.  It is a chance to get messages across, of success, of progress, of popularity.  It’s also, for some, a chance to communicate about the strengths or otherwise of individuals.

So with a few days to go to polling day, we can expect communication teams from the major parties, and some not so major parties, to be working on expectation management.

What all parties will want is for the results in May to be seen as good for their party.  Clearly, not everyone can win every contest. So some will be keen to get journalists and commentators focusing on particular fights and paying little attention to others.

So what is happening and what will the comms people be doing?

May 5th will see people going to the polls to elect Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Members of the Welsh Assembly, Members of the Scottish Parliament, The Mayor of London, Mayors in Liverpool, Salford and Bristol, the London Assembly, Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales and local Councillors in many parts of the country.  If America has a Super Tuesday, this must be a super-extraordinary Thursday.

It could however be a confusing results picture.  With so many elections to choose from and so many different roles, political communicators will need to be canny about what matters and what doesn’t.

Perhaps the biggest challenge faces Labour. Corbyn’s team will be keen to direct attention to London, where polls repeatedly put contender Sadiq Khan in front.  Should Khan win, Labour will be hoping that this provides a message of success to drown out any coverage of failure elsewhere.  And failure, or the perception of failure could come from local government result totals and from Scotland.

Combined local government results are sometimes hard to analyse.  In 2012 Labour did well and political analysts will point out that it is the “same seats” being contested this year.  In reality, much can change at local level in four years, and some seats have seen boundary changes.  That caveat won’t stop totals being produced and a win/loss assessment being made. Labour’s challenge, should the party do badly at Councillor level, will be to pull focus back to London.  The Scottish results are already predicted to be poor for Labour so extra focus-pulling will be needed here.

In terms of personalities, expectation management spinning has been going on for some time.  Corbyn’s opponents will want to blame any poor performance on him.  Supporters will want to use a Sadiq Khan victory as evidence that the Corbyn leadership is making progress.  An example of the opponent spin was provided recently by veteran MP Frank Field.  This speech extract is about Europe, but the section at the end is a clear signal.

The Conservatives have an easier job of it.  Cameron’s spinners may need to deal with a loss in London, but uppermost in Tory minds will be the need to focus attention on failures by Labour.  The team will particularly hope for an extra “split” story with their opponents indulging in loud internal arguments. Interestingly, there is also some speculation about whether the Scottish Tories can overtake Labour.  On the face of it this seems unlikely, but any narrowing of the gap by Ruth Davidson’s team will be pounced on by spinners north and south of the border.

What Ukip does and says will be worth looking at.  Since the General Election, at which the party gained nearly four million votes, Ukip has seemed to be losing public support and attention.  Its result in the Oldham West by election was poor given the spin that the seat could be captured.  And there are signs of loss of local strength. On Merseyside for example, the party has failed to find candidates for the high profile Mayor of Liverpool position or the Police and Crime Commissioner role.  There are just a handful of Councillor candidates across Liverpool’s 30 wards.  If this failure to stand is replicated in other parts of the country, the party’s share of vote at Councillor level will be lower than previously – not a good news story for Nigel Farage. Ukip will want to direct attention to Wales, where the party is loudly contesting seats in the Assembly.  Given that Ukip had no representatives in the most recent Assembly, any victories can be spun as an advance.

And what for the Lib Dems?  Actually the Lib Dems are rather lucky this time.  The last few elections have seen an unremitting focus on seat losses and failures.  This time journalists will be looking elsewhere.  The pressure for Tim Farron is off.  The Lib Dems are highly likely to have some successes the party can point to.  The challenge will be cutting through to get those noticed.

Political junkies will be able to start making a judgement from early on Friday 6th May. By then the spinners will hope to have already established their focus.  It will be interesting to see which interpretation of Super-Extraordinary Thursday wins through.

Everything you need to know about the mayoral election

Foot voting. Ververidis Vasilis/shutterstock

On May 5 when the UK next heads to the polls for local and regional elections, voters in London, Salford, Liverpool and Bristol will have an extra choice to make – who they want to become their next directly elected mayor.

Directly elected mayors have a great deal of power – unlike their purely ceremonial counterparts who tend to be senior councillors wearing the robes of office and tasked with carrying out a range of civic duties. Directly elected mayors are there to exercise political leadership and to “get things done”.

London was the first to have this post, but by the middle of next year there will be more than 20 elected mayors across England. And in the recent budget, the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, spoke about increasing the numbers again which could mean more to come.

The modern London mayoralty began back in 2000 following a referendum in London which supported the creation of a mayor and a Greater London Authority and provided legislation to introduce the structures.

More positions were created shortly afterwards, in places as different as Bedford, Doncaster, Lewisham and Middlesbrough. Tony Blair was an enthusiast as is David Cameron – and the push to create more elected mayors has continued ever since. Mayoral elections are for a fixed term, which means those mayors last elected in 2012 will face a contest this year. Terms of office – assuming no death, resignation or disqualification – are four years long.

For or against?

Those in favour argue that mayors can provide strong local leadership. Research looking at the impact of the mayor in Bristol has shown that the introduction of an elected mayor directly resulted in an increase in the visibility of city leadership. But those against say that the creation of elected mayors actually reduces local democracy with most elected representatives having little or no power.

This is because the more power belongs to the one figure, the less power each individual councillor has. An example is that whereas an administration’s budget could be defeated by a majority, the mayoral budget requires a two-thirds majority. Mayors also may not feel answerable to elected councillors because rather than being elected by the council (as council leaders are) the mayor has a direct mandate.

The decision to have a mayor is often taken by a referendum, although there are examples – such as in Liverpool – where local people were not consulted and the mayor was elected by the council. Decisions have also been revoked – both Stoke and Hartlepool decided to abandon the role after controversies. Hartlepool’s elected mayor, Stuart Drummond, was an independent candidate best known for his role as the local football team’s monkey mascot. And a lot of other local electorates in England and Wales have actually rejected the idea altogether.

Despite the significance of these positions, turnout in mayoral elections has been low – participation in the last London contest did not reach 40%. And in Liverpool, back in 2012, just over 31% cast a vote. Politicians know that turnout is partly driven by a sense of a close contest, but in London there was a perception of a contest and yet still the turnout was low.

What does the role mean?

Being an elected mayor is a big job. The largest constituency in Liverpool has an electorate of around 70,000, while the figure for the mayoral contest is closer to 320,000.

The powers of elected mayors vary – but they have great symbolic importance and individuals can develop a strong personal presence, becoming “Mr Salford” or “Mrs Watford” for example. The focus on the individual also encourages image building. The first directly elected mayor of Middlesbrough, former senior Cleveland police officer Ray Mallon became known as Robocop by many,

Many MPs or former MPs also seem to view becoming an elected mayor as a good career move – and in London both main players are current MPs. Leicester’s elected mayor is former MP Peter Soulsby, while Ian Stewart in Salford was MP for Eccles at one time, and former MP Sion Simon reportedly plans to contest the West Midlands post next year.

Who wins? You decide. BasPhoto/Shutterstock

How does the voting work?

Voting in the mayoral elections is a little different to voting in local or parliamentary contests – the system used is the supplementary vote. This basically means that electors get a first choice and a second.

If no candidate reaches the 50% threshold, only the top two remain in the fight and all the other ballot papers have their second choices transferred. This clearly affects campaign strategies and messaging – annoy the supporters of every other candidate and you are unlikely to get second preferences. Boris Johnson needed second choice votes to get across the line in 2012.

There is also the consideration of how the other polls happening on the same day will influence the way people vote. While we might want to believe that voters carefully consider each role separately before making their choice, we know that the presence of one very popular or very unpopular individual on one ballot paper is likely to affect thinking about others.

I voted by post today and had three ballot papers: mayor, police and crime commissioner, local councillor – which is a lot of decisions to make about our future leaders in one go. If elected mayors are to have the legitimacy the government desires then electoral engagement needs to increase. But it’s not the voters fault if they don’t see the point. It is down to mayors themselves to become better at making us see them as relevant enough to care about.

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

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.

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.

What do we learn from the Comprehensive Spending Review?

There are three lessons from the Comprehensive Spending Review.

First, don’t believe the spin before the statement;

Two, don’t believe the spin after the statement;

And three, look at the trends in spending and their impact.

Whilst the headlines are saying it wasn’t all bad and the cuts weren’t in the order of 30 per cent, but in some cases 20 per cent, and there is investment in some areas that wasn’t anticipated (sport especially) we can look at the trends.

One lesson immediately is that the revision of growth means that the Government has more flexibility than they thought and we can assume (even though the next election is just under five years away) that this will help prepare for 2020.

The second immediate lesson is that the percentage of spending by the state as a proportion of national income is heading downwards past European levels and moving towards US levels.

This is significant and profound. It means that some of the financial and policy changes introduced over the last five years or so are going to be irreversible without significant investment through taxes should a new (non-Conservative government) wish.

The third lesson is what is happening at the local level: since the late 1970s successive governments have shifted the share of money spent at the local level from taxes raised by city hall to money allocated from Westminster. Now the move is the other way. But it is happening in a context of cuts and social and political change.

The responsibility for spending is being devolved (the shift to city regions or combined authorities) but the resources are not following. Hence closures of many local services which are regarded as non-essential (libraries and children’s services) but at the same time statutory services are bring squeezed – especially adult social care.

We can expect more closures of services for the elderly and these cuts are likely to lead to more localised resistance and opposition. As part of our role we will be monitoring these changes and will post updates and briefing papers too over the next twelve months.

Find out more about I4P and its calendar of events here. 

The results are in: What do they mean?

As the results come in across the UK there are a number of headlines from the collapse of the Liberal Democrats to the rise of the SNP to the growth in votes for UKIP but with little electoral success.

As with every election night the stories and speculation focuses on the individuals. So there is lots to fill the airwaves of the futures of a number of high profile candidates from Nick Clegg to Ed Miliband.

But it’s important to remember that this is the first stage in the election story. Now there will be the results from the local elections where councillors in city halls across England were being elected. This second part if the story is really important.

If Act One is the election of a national government – that looks like (at 5.10am) to be dominated by the Tories then Act Two is who will be responsible for implementing the decisions of the central government across the cuts in public spending. It is this which is as significant I think as the results in Scotland. I say this because the vote in Scotland does not change the balance of power in Westminster it actually strengthens (in the short term) the power base of the Conservative economic policy.

It means that the austerity measures as outlined (and as implied) are likely to be implemented. And the pace and scale of the cuts will be similar to the last five years.

Why does this matter ? I think it’s important because at the local level (where the bulk of the cuts are directed ) the gap between city hall and Westminster will accentuate. And the gaps between the political classes (including the media) and communities and families and individuals dependent on the welfare state will widen.

It is these widening gaps which reflect growing inequality too which is the longer term story of the night. And they are ones we will return to.

The formal campaign is nearly over but what happens next matters more

As the General Election comes to a close, the speculation on what happens next is starting to seem much more important than what has been going on for the last six weeks.

We have seen, as I have been arguing through these election blogs, at least three different campaign.

From the media’s point of view the most significant has been the one on TV and the radio. In this campaign the language is carefully monitored and bears very little resemblance to how we speak in everyday life, and much more significantly perhaps this campaign is regarded as legitimate. Despite the fact that much of this public campaign has little direct contact with real voters and neither does it invite public dialogue and conversation, it has been a campaign which has been based on a shared consensus.

The second campaign has been local and in some cases very real. There have been public meetings and this general election campaign has, at times, bumped into the other campaigns going on at the moment: local elections to local councils where the results on Thursday do affect what happens in local communities and especially with respect to social care , housing and economic development.

These two campaigns (local elections and local constituencies) in most cases exist in parallel. They rarely touch. And indeed what has seemed the most striking story of the 2015 Campaign is the one that current First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon thinks has little to do with policy and much more about how the post Thursday events are framed.

What we could have gained from the Nicola Sturgeon discussion is how we make sense of coalition politics rather than single party government.

Thinking of these developments, the rise of smaller parties, the cumulative impact of devolution and the consequences of devolved assemblies and parliaments, might set up more fruitful discussions.

The final election conversation is the one not covered in the campaign, but touches the size and reach of the voluntary sector and the development of services and infrastructure to support those of out of work or living on benefits .

These include the rise in food banks, the cuts to welfare, the rise in the peripheral labour force (zero hours contracts or part-time and fixed-term contracts) and the prospect of five more years of austerity. These conversations are taking place within neighbourhood groups, voluntary sector organisations and networks.

It is here, I think, that we will see new sets of activity and interest coalesce around the concerns which the first campaign has ignored. I will explore some of these developments after the election.