King's Speech 2024 overview

Labour’s King’s Speech: an interventionist streak but more to come

Written by Michael Kane and Helen Stott. 

With the King’s Speech, Labour may have hoped to represent an emancipatory moment after almost a generation in what seemed to be perennial opposition. However, it was instead borne out of the political, economic, and democratic challenges that riddle the UK right now.

It’s 15 years since Labour’s last State Opening of Parliament, where Gordon Brown’s Government’s final legislative programme was influenced by external factors. Specifically, one key proposal focused on strengthening the governance of financial services amid the backdrop of increasing negative sentiment towards bankers and a global financial crisis. Prime Minister Keir Starmer’s first legislative programme may also be shaped, and perhaps constrained, by significant external factors.

Labour are facing what Chancellor Rachel Reeves has called the worst fiscal inheritance since 1945, with a ballooning tax burden and national debt, mixed in with struggling public services, alongside a wider feeling of political apathy. For instance, the 2024 British Social Attitudes revealed that 79% of participants were dissatisfied with the way the UK is governed. Meanwhile, University College London’s ‘Policy Lab’ report found 74% of the public now believe that Britain is rigged to serve the rich and influential.

This feeling arguably manifested in the 2024 General Election, with only 52% of adults in the UK voting, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research. Interestingly, this is the lowest figure since universal suffrage for those over 21 years old was granted in 1928. This is complemented by a sentiment of democratic deficit around Labour, with their 170 seat majority being propelled by a meagre 34% of the vote. To add to this, the election highlighted the relative fragility of Labour’s electoral coalition, with the Greens doing well in more cosmopolitan urban areas, and Reform UK finishing second in a significant number of Labour’s traditional ‘red wall’ heartlands.

In this sense, Starmer’s legislative programme comes at a time of immense challenges for the country where few actually believe political institutions can address them.

Economic growth and interventionism

Prior to the election, many would have been forgiven for tuning out of Labour’s economic message for how repetitive it was – the central tenet being that the UK must return to economic growth. It formed the first mission of Labour’s five: to make the UK the fastest growing economy in the G7. Only four days into Government, and Reeves reminded us that striving for economic growth would dictate HM’s Treasury activity. This focus on economic growth stems from two places – Labour’s repudiation of the UK’s economic stagnation under the previous government, and the practical necessity of funding their plans for public services, housing, and the impending net zero and digital transition. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones admitted to Channel 4 that the only way to ‘find more money to spend on public services is by growing the economy’.

The pre-eminence of growth is also evident in King Charles’ remarks, which were composed by the Government. In an age of 24-hour news, most people’s exposure to the King’s Speech comes through brief coverage of the King’s remarks, rather than the Bills themselves. Therefore, it’s significant that King Charles opened his speech by detailing the Government’s mission to secure economic growth before detailing the means that Labour will employ to achieve this: 1) planning reform; 2) GB Energy; and 3) Skills England.

All three of these tenets arguably represent a shift to a more interventionist approach from Labour. Their proposals on planning reform would represent a sudden departure from the Conservatives’ inaction through the implementation of new compulsory purchase compensation rules and mandatory housing targets. Whether this proves to be morally contradictory with Labour’s desire to devolve decision making to local communities (the English Devolution Bill) remains to be seen.

Likewise, the legislation to create GB Energy clarified that it will not just serve as an investment vehicle but will ‘own, manage, and operate clean power projects’ – a radical shift, perhaps, from the implication by Cabinet Minister Pat McFadden that it may only serve as a funnel for private investment. Skills England is the proposal that ties these measures together. The new national skills body would develop a ‘national and local picture’ of skills shortages through working with the ‘Migration Advisory Committee, unions and the Industrial Strategy Council’. Such a proposal is a direct attempt to remedy skills gaps and labour shortages – as illustrated by the New Economics Foundation. These gaps, along with low productivity, impeded the prior Government’s pursuit of growth and limited its ability to address the housing crisis or the impending net zero transition.

These three proposals under the overarching vision of economic growth may indeed illustrate a more interventionist approach than initially suspected – however, only once the Government’s tax and spending plans are elucidated in the forthcoming Budget can this be confirmed.

Interventionism continued through the New Deal for Working People

Years winning the 2024 General Election, Labour had been clear that their plans for economic growth would go hand-in-hand with those to strengthen workers’ rights. The Government used the King’s Speech to introduce the Employment Rights Bill, which the party says will deliver on the policies set out in its New Deal for Working People. This includes requiring that employers accommodate flexible working ‘as far as reasonable’; banning zero hour contracts; ending ‘fire and rehire’ practices; removing ‘unnecessary restrictions’ on trade unions; and strengthening other employment rights, such as parental leave, sick pay, and protection from unfair dismissal. Alongside the Bill, Labour said that they will introduce a ‘genuine living wage’ and get rid of age bands for pay.

The last Government had somewhat adversarial relationships with the trade unions, and as Labour come into power we will see this relationship shift drastically. However, that doesn’t mean it will all be plain sailing. It is true that Labour has a structural link with the trade union movement going back to the party’s creation, and unions like Unite remain some of Labour’s biggest donors. However, Starmer and Reeves have repeatedly stressed that they want Labour to be the ‘natural party of business’, and under Starmer’s leadership the proportion of party funding received from companies and individuals has dwarfed the contribution of unions. Sharon Graham, who won the election to become General Secretary of Unite in 2021, has taken quite a pragmatic stance towards Starmer’s Labour party – she has not threatened dis-affiliation, but has been very clear that her unions’ continued financial support comes with strings attached. Prior to the General Election, she refused to give the union’s endorsement to Labour’s manifesto, and there has been protracted conflict between the Labour leadership and the unions over what some see as a watering down of the original commitments on workers’ rights.

The contents of the Bill announced during the King’s Speech last week will likely please the unions, but the legislation will have to go through debate in Parliament, and business will be lobbying to make sure the new regulations don’t impact their bottom line too much. Business leaders have already voiced their concern about some of the proposals. Earlier this year the President of the Confederation for British Industry said the UK needed to avoid a ‘European model’ of excessive regulation, warning of the ‘unintended consequences’ of Labour’s plans. The difficulties Labour will have in implementing this legislation are symptomatic of the fragile coalition they need to hold together should they survive another term in government.

What’s missing and what’s next?

While the King’s Speech proved to be a comprehensive legislative programme with over 35 Bills, it is equally important to pay attention to what was omitted. King Charles’ speech made reference to the Government’s intention to regulate AI and reform the apprenticeship levy, but there weren’t any Bills introduced on these topics. This indicates that they may be on the Government’s future legislative agenda, but are not an immediate priority.

Ending the VAT tax break for private schools was also mentioned, and this will likely be in the forthcoming budget. Meanwhile, legal migration and the two child benefit limit were not explicitly mentioned. This is interesting, considering how pervasive these issues have been and how they encapsulate some of the electoral challenges Labour face; from the left with the Greens and new intake of Independents, and from the right with Reform UK.

However, since the King’s Speech, there has been some mention of these issues, with Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson admitting on the morning of the 22 July that the Government would consider ending the two child benefit cap – a stance that Starmer later endorsed. On the same day, Starmer’s speech on plans to establish Skills England posited the reforms through the lens of migration, as he condemned the UK’s overreliance on foreign labour.

While the King’s Speech elucidates how Labour will begin to address the political, economic, and democratic challenges that riddle the UK right now, it is not a comprehensive guide to Labour’s plans. Further clarity will likely come in Labour’s forthcoming Budget and their plans to address the important issues yet to be tackled.

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2024 manifesto reactions

Will a Liberal Democrat revival be impeded by perceived ideological ambivalence?

Just over 40 years ago, Liberal Democrats forerunner the SDP-Liberal Alliance returned their best collective election result in 1983 as they finished third – only 2% below the Labour party. While the party might have hoped that the 1983 election would serve as the turning point in their bid to remodel British politics, this wasn’t to be. Aside from 2005 and 2010 – where the party achieved over 50 MPs and over 20% of the vote – 1983 was the high-water mark.

Today, the Liberal Democrats face a different challenge. Since 2015, they have been pushed into the fourth-largest party spot in the Commons, and have often battled to remain politically relevant rather than politically significant. Nonetheless, a multi-pronged strategy has seen them return to electoral relevance, while being significantly helped by anti-Conservative sentiment across the country.

On the one hand, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has pursued an occasionally bordering-on-ridiculous campaign with attention-grabbing stunts serving to highlight significant issues – paddleboarding in Lake Windermere as an example. Meanwhile, campaigning has focused less on being a viable alternative government, instead targeting disaffected Conservative voters in the Home Counties in a bid to increase their seats. The focus has been less on macro campaigns, such as Jo Swinson’s emphasis on Brexit, but instead on seemingly under-discussed issues that cut through to the very voters they need to target: adult social care and sewage pollution.

This, coupled with an election broadcast that focused on Davey’s relationship with his disabled son, has seen the Liberal Democrats rise as high as 15% in YouGov’s voting intention tracker. Moreover, because of their targeted campaigning in the Home Counties, their relative support translates well into the first past the post system, with some MRPs putting them as high as 67 seats.

Ideological clarity

If the Liberal Democrats are to increase their seat share in the House of Commons as significantly as the MRP polls suggest, this will bring greater media and political attention and scrutiny of their policy platform. This has already begun, with Davey being questioned on BBC 5Live on his seemingly contradictory support for the proposed phased smoking ban and a regulated market for cannabis. Interestingly, Davey had previously voted against the proposed ban on smoking indoors in pubs.

This perhaps reflects a wider fissure within the modern Liberal Democrat movement. This has previously dogged the party and turned some voters away, with tuition fees as a key example, but there are also wider divisions between the Beveridge and Orange Book wings of the party. A concern, perhaps – exposure of any ideological ambivalence should they return to the political prominence that would come with more seats in the Commons.

The Brexit cloud

Against a backdrop of a potential no-deal outcome coupled with the Labour party’s triangulation, former Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson sought to establish the party as a vehicle to stop Brexit. The party was subsequently burned for such an overt stance as Swinson lost her seat. Contrastingly, their 2024 manifesto only mentioned Brexit twice. At the manifesto launch, when pushed, Davey committed to rejoining the EU, but noted that it was a long-term ambition.

This strategy of careful vagueness has brought them comparative joy, bringing the ability to target disgruntled Conservative voters in the Home Counties. Many of whom are leave voters, with both the South East and South West voting leave in the referendum. However, with Labour set to move into Government, seeking to resettle the UK’s relationship with the EU, the Liberal Democrats will not be able to avoid the issue for much longer, nor should they wish to.

Perhaps this Brexit cloud instead represents an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats. Specifically, they could use the agenda shift to carve out a genuine dividing line with Labour by pushing their competitor party on membership of the customs union or single market while simultaneously appeasing their pro-european core vote.

While their manifesto quietly pledged to rejoin the single market, they will need to overtly take on the wider European issue. Whether the Liberal Democrats face their reckoning with their stance on the EU out of necessity or desire, it may help them oppose a future Labour Government.

Devolution

Regional devolution should be a hallmark for a Liberal Democrat manifesto given their long-standing commitment to constitutional reform and political and economic decentralisation. Yet their manifesto seems to step back from any regional devolution. The absence of detail on how they would end top-heavy councils or pursue alternative forms of devolution should communities reject elected mayors is thought provoking. The lack of a clear vision on local government reorganisation could be seen as disappointing for a party whose bread and butter should be innovative ideas around the devolution of power.

Criminal justice

Criminal justice reform has often served as a key distinguisher for the Liberal Democrats against Labour and the Conservatives, with former leader Charles Kennedy successfully rallying against New Labour’s proposed counter terrorism bills in the 2000s. Yet as the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes, under Lib Dem manifesto spending plans, prisons would still suffer billions in cuts. In the face of Conservative commitments to expanding whole life sentences, increasing scrutiny of IPP sentences and Labour’s reluctance to remove IPPs and the immense pressure faced by prisons, there might be space for the Liberal Democrats to speak to their liberal and reformist ideological convictions. Their pledges are largely restricted to vague proposals to end prison overcrowding, recruit and retain more prison staff or improve the provision of training, education and work opportunities in prisons –  but the money is not there in their funding proposals.

Housing

In a recent interview with The BBC, Nick Robinson exposed the Liberal Democrats’ ambiguity over housing policy. Robinson raised the example of the Liberal Democrat-run councils that had opposed plans to build 3,000 homes on an airfield in Oxfordshire, coupling this with a repeat of Davey’s criticism of housing targets in Surrey.

In some sense, this seems to at least symbolically contradict the Liberal Democrat manifesto plans to a year target of 380,000 new homes and within that 150,000 new social housing. This perhaps shows that the Liberal Democrats divergent local and national political strategy may not hold should it come under increased scrutiny. Historically, the Liberal Democrats have looked to campaign on separate local issues compared to their national campaign as they targeted disgruntled voters. While a repeat of this strategy may have helped them in the Conservative blue wall, they may have to revisit their housing policy – especially with Labour so forthright on their plans to alter environmental regulations on the green belt.

Why not Labour?

The biggest challenge that faces the Liberal Democrats, and the one that perhaps encapsulates all of the above, is the very change that will likely result from the upcoming General Election: a Labour Government. This is important, as the very political context – large swathes of frustration at the Conservative Government – that sparked their resurgence is removed and they will have to pivot their attention to a new focus. With this will come new questions for the Liberal Democrats to propose, and dividing lines to draw against Labour. This will bring new challenges but also opportunities for the Liberal Democrats – they will be forced to answer the question many voters will be asking themselves: why vote for the Liberal Democrats, and not Labour?

When Tony Blair became Labour leader, some predicted that it could signal the end of the Liberal Democrats, with them being ideologically crowded out. Yet the party increased their vote share in 2001, 2005, and 2010. A Starmer Government may represent a similar opportunity for the party to squeeze Labour. The Lib Dems already have a strong basis for this with their ambitious social care plan and their proposal to scrap the two child benefit cap. Should they solve their issues around ideological clarity, this would be an interesting development to keep an eye on.

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How the General Election conversation has evolved

How the General Election 2024 conversation evolved from the announcement to voting week

By Phoebe-Jane Boyd, Michael Kane, and Dahye Lee.

Despite the General Election announcement by the Government on a rain-soaked Wednesday evening coming as a complete surprise, the themes and dividing lines that have defined the Conservatives and Labour’s campaigns have not.

While the Conservatives have faced ridicule for their 14-year record, fueling significant anti-Conservative rhetoric across the country, Labour have consistently been questioned on their alleged opaque plans for Government, and what they envision for the future of the country should they take power.

But how has the wider online conversation and press coverage evolved since the first week of campaigning to today? What topics captured the interest of political reporters and the voting public, and which media platforms shaped the narratives?

We analysed the UK General Election 2024 conversation across online and print news, TV, radio, and podcasts as well as X, Threads, Facebook, blogs, and forums, from 23 May – 1 July to examine these fluctuations as we head towards an historic decision for the UK.

Which topics have preoccupied the press and public, now and then?

Most mentioned topics

When laying out the top-mentioned topics during this last week against that of 23 – 29 May, conversation around the top ranked has intensified, while the remaining topics have not experienced dramatic changes since the initial General Election announcement.

NHS/Health remains a key consideration, making up 12.6% of discussion over the last week. Natural, perhaps, following major party pledges and public concerns surrounding the state of healthcare following the election.

A topic that started off top of the agenda in the press and on social media and has since fallen out of conversation drastically? Sunak’s National Service idea, which fell by 60%. Controversy has stayed with Sunak, however, with mentions of Sleaze jumping by 80% due to recent gambling scandals. This scandal has also spread to Labour.

While the first leadership debate, hosted by ITV on the 4 June, saw Sunak consistently stressing the ambiguity in Labour’s plans for tax, the junior doctors strikes, and curbing illegal immigration, Starmer focused on a need for Sunak to be ‘ashamed of the last 14 years.’

Flash forward to the last leadership debate hosted by the BBC just last week and the underlying messages remained the same. Sunak ramped up the rhetoric as he urged voters to ‘not surrender’ their pensions, taxes, or borders to Labour. Starmer, again, sought to associate Sunak with the last 14 years of Conservative Government, condemning him as ‘Liz Truss Mark II.’

Labour has managed to hold its lead over the Conservatives in polling, at around 20%, showing the party’s defensive strategy has paid off.

What topics are Labour and the Conservatives each associated with?

What topics are associated with each political party

Each party’s associations are shaped by their core political priorities, as shown in the above breakdown of conversation by Conservative and Labour. Conservatives prioritise National Service and Foreign Affairs, consistently scoring above 70, which is partly weighted by public criticism.

Labour has seen an uptick when it comes to housing, with mentions coming from a mixture of audiences – Labour candidates, and supporters of other parties. Yet, these mentions are still less than those from anti-Tory audiences.

Have the media and public been aligned on what matters?

Social vs News

Social and news data breakdown signals how the public and media (mis)aligned on what matters to them.

News coverage has focused on Tax, NHS, and immigration – issues that highlight contentious aspects of major party pledges, from Sunak’s proposed tax hike, to Reform UK’s immigration policies, and Labour’s latest NHS plans.

In contrast, the public’s interest, shown on social media, has focused on Foreign Affairs, Sleaze and the NHS, featuring speculation on Sunak’s early election call, and the growing calls for action from the Government.

Online conversations on the General Election today continue to lean towards news and political events. Channel 4’s TikTok dominance, particularly among young people, highlights its influence.

TikTok screengrab

With UK party leaders showing less visibility on TikTok compared to figures like France’s Jordan Bardella – who boasts 1.7M followers – it could be argued that there is less emphasis on populist styles of leadership for the majority of UK political parties.

Where this is markedly different – Reform UK. The party’s burgeoning impact in TikTok dialogues has challenged the traditional discourse dominated by major parties.

In fact, the return of Nigel Farage as leader of Reform UK, alongside Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey’s campaign stunts and serious focus on social care, has squeezed the incumbent Conservatives from both the left and the right throughout the 2024 General Election campaign.

This has the potential to redraw political boundaries as Farage may finally be elected as an MP in Clacton and the Liberal Democrats may return to become the third largest party in the Commons, removing many Conservatives from the blue wall.

Personality-focused campaigns can project messaging further into new audiences, providing beneficial, and unforeseen, impacts (if not on votes, as Farage has found in previous years, with no election to office).

Which outlets are leading the conversation and coverage now?

Most shared media outlets

The Guardian and the Mirror emerge as the top-shared media sources among the public – both left-leaning outlets. Notably, people frequently share articles from The Guardian to substantiate their opinions, often using them as evidence in debates.

The most engaged articles focus on questions around the timing of the General Election, and scrutinisation of Sunak’s representation throughout his campaign.

Tweet from Edwin Hayward

Meanwhile, right-leaning publications such as The Telegraph and GB News, previously outside the top ranks, have also emerged among the top credible sources. This is largely due to the growing social sharing by ex-Tories and Brexiteers who are keenly watching Reform UK’s rising influence.

Dr David Bull tweet

It was only October 2022 that Sunak promised to deliver ‘integrity, professionalism and accountability’ in Government while Starmer has consistently emphasised the importance of returning politics to the ‘service’ of working people. Whether these aspirations materialise after the election is a different question but no one can doubt the importance of this with the last few weeks, and years, in mind.

For regular updates on what is happening in UK politics and public affairs, sign up to our weekly Point of Order newsletter, going out every Friday morning.

The scandals of the General Election 2024

The scandals of General Election 2024: How the D-Day and gambling controversies spread among audiences

By Phoebe-Jane Boyd, Dahye Lee, and Ingrid Marin. 

While political experts predict a lack of enthusiasm from the public when it comes to voting on 4 July, there has been growing interest in the scandals of the UK 2024 General Election across the press and social media.

The big two controversies providing catalysts for column inches and social snarking? Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s early departure from this year’s D-Day celebrations, and the numerous political figures currently under investigation for gambling on the election date.

With no two scandals quite the same, we explore how each story reached audiences on different platforms and grew, analysing the UK General Election 2024 conversation across online and print news, TV, radio, and podcasts as well as X, Threads, Facebook, blogs, and forums, from 27 May – 27 June.

A disastrous D-Day for Sunak

Right at the beginning of the General Election campaign, Sunak walked out of D-Day celebrations in France to appear on ITV News. Despite the apology from the PM, this story hasn’t gone away, earning another mention during last night’s final Sunak vs Starmer BBC debate. But how did the story originally grasp the attention of reporters and potential voters?

Graph showing the spread of the D-Day scandal

Breaking down the D-Day conversation across different platforms shows that it was reporting from broadcast media that initially sparked interest in the D-Day scandal, with social media picking up the story and amplifying it to new audiences. Early broadcast clips proved perfect fodder for panels criticising Sunak, and for people to share on their social channels.

Camilla Pearce X post

While the D-Day scandal went quiet from 11 June across broadcast, press, and social media, it made a comeback on 21 June, propelled by Byline Times’ decision to circle back to the issue as part of its reporting on the use of veteran ID cards for voting.

Byline Times X post

Given the prominence issues like defence and security have had so far in this election campaign, Sunak’s mistake has ultimately been a gift to his rivals, leaving the stage clear for Keir Starmer to show leadership and patriotism.

However, Starmer has not been immune from scandal…

Bad bets placed by politicians

The betting scandal has dominated election campaigns as the run-up to the General Election rumbles into its final week.

Some quick context to the latest controversy: reporting started prior to last weekend, with parliamentary candidates Craig Williams and Laura Saunders, an unnamed Metropolitan police officer, and the Conservatives’ Director of Campaigns Tony Lee first implicated in the betting crisis. Nick Mason, the Conservative’s Chief Data Officer, was subsequently revealed to be under investigation by the Gambling Commission. According to a BBC report, 15 Conservative candidates and officials are now being investigated by the commission.

Nevertheless, the betting scandal is not contained to the Conservative party, as Labour revealed the suspension of Central Suffolk and North Ipswich candidate Kevin Craig following his admittance of betting against himself.

How Gambling Gate has evolved over time

In contrast to the D-Day scandal, the spread of this story shows the crucial role of social media in shaping a scandal’s narrative from its early stages, well before it gains mainstream attention.

Behind the early social peak on 12 June – a Channel 4 TikTok video breaking the news of the MP Craig Williams inquiry going viral (102k views to date).

Channel 4 TikTok

On June 19, social media swiftly circulated news of Williams’ alleged arrest on betting allegations, which was then backed by BBC coverage.

The revelations of additional Conservatives’ betting activities, coupled with Craig’s suspension from Labour on 25 June, furthered the narrative – gaining the attention of political journalists, and propelling the story into mainstream media outlets.

Over time, the scandal has captured the attention of both press news outlets and broadcast channels, both mirroring the narrative arc of the discourse happening on social media.

A lesson for the comms teams for each of the political parties vying for power at the 2024 General Election, perhaps: in the modern climate of interconnected media, crisis management has to start early in the cycle of a story, and across all platforms, before a scandal can spread.

Sunak and Starmer’s latest responses to the scandals

Last night, Sunak and Starmer drew the curtain on five weeks of intense campaigning in their final head-to-head television debate.

The D-Day and gambling scandals got early mentions, but weren’t the only controversies to feature in the latest clash.

Both Partygate and ‘Covid contracts’ were brought back into debate by Starmer – showing that while scandals can fall out of the public eye and press columns for a time, there’s always the possibility they will be weaponised at the most inopportune moments for those involved or implicated.

For regular updates on what is happening in UK politics and public affairs, sign up to our weekly Point of Order newsletter, going out every Friday morning.

Are all bets off for the Conservatives at the 2024 General Election?

Are all bets off for the Conservatives? Analysis of the General Election conversation and coverage

By Phoebe-Jane Boyd, Dahye Lee, and Ingrid Marin.

Topics tackled by party leaders during their latest media appearances spanned LGBTQ+ rights, National Service, and the European Court, but one subject in particular has grasped the attention of potential voters…

We analysed the UK General Election 2024 conversation across online and print news, TV, radio, and podcasts as well as Threads, Facebook, blogs, and forums, from 17 June to this morning.

Trends in the General Election conversation by party

The topic that won’t go away for the Conservatives

Troubles for the Tories

Were the press and public focused on the leaders’ latest performances on radio and TV, as figures in the campaign might have hoped? The impact of broadcast appearances has instead been overshadowed by the Conservative gambling scandal.

Thursday 20 June was a bruising day for the party, with the news that two Conservative candidates are being investigated by the Gambling Commission for using inside information to bet on the date of the election. Rishi Sunak told the ‘Question Time’ leaders’ special audience that he was ‘incredibly angry’ to learn of allegations and said anyone found guilty would be ‘booted out’ of the party.

Despite these assertions, the narrative has shifted, which highlights the Tories’ difficulties in addressing internal crises proactively, leading to broader public awareness of the controversies.

This story is unlikely to go away from the public eye this week, as Labour’s National Campaign Coordinator Pat McFadden wrote to the Gambling Commission’s Chief Executive Andrew Rhodes on Sunday evening, calling for the commission to make ‘the widest possible information about how wide the circle spreads’ available.

Senior Conservatives also responded to the news, with the Home Secretary James Cleverly refusing to defend those who placed bets, insisting that it was a ‘small circle.’ Michael Gove, who is standing down at this election, compared the scandal to Partygate. This morning, Tobias Ellwood called for anyone who has broken the law to be removed from the party.

Poor performance from the Conservatives meant potentially good things for one other party in particular…

A boost for Reform UK

Amidst the Conservatives’ scandal, the growing dominance of Reform UK in polls has become a motif in both traditional media and social platforms. Reform UK’s impact on social media is led by their own proponents – going against the stereotype that its base is made up of tech-averse pensioners.

What do the polls say?

A poll from The Telegraph showed that 69% of over 50,000 readers thought Sunak came out on top of Thursday’s TV debate, with Starmer receiving only 17% of readers’ votes.

Despite this, several polls published on Thursday portended catastrophic results for the Conservatives, with a poll for The Telegraph predicting they could retain just 53 seats, and Sunak could become the first sitting Prime Minister in history to lose his seat.

One of the leading topics of conversation among Telegraph readers was the absence of Nigel Farage representing Reform at Thursday’s BBC Question Time, especially as a new poll suggests that voters would prefer him to a Conservative as the leader of the opposition to a future Labour Government. The BBC has since announced it will add another Question Time leaders’ special featuring representatives from Reform UK and the Green Party.

The impact of radio

The impact of radio on Conservative and Labour conversation

Despite the two LBC interviews and an episode of BBC’s Question Time, the highest radio impact was created by the aforementioned Conservative gambling scandal, which generated almost three times the volume of Labour in the General Election conversation.

The top radio shows with the highest engagement turned out to be LBC and The Times, with both generating a reach of 1.1 million and 703,000 on that day, respectively.

While social media drives the Labour conversation, it was radio that made an impact on Reform UK voters, who actively engaged in response to Starmer’s interview and his answers to a voter on LBC.

Social media peaked following Conservative leader Rishi Sunak’s interview with LBC. Poll results seem increasingly influential among Labour supporters, who are using them to bolster voter confidence and sway swing voters across Conservative, Reform, and Liberal Democrats.

Claire Tighe tweet

Is radio time a good investment for General Election hopefuls? With clips being shared on social media, use of the format drives engagement. But will the content of these clips impact voting on 4 July?

For regular updates on what is happening in UK politics and public affairs, sign up to our weekly Point of Order newsletter, going out every Friday morning.

Stormont

What does the reestablishment of Stormont mean for Northern Ireland’s future?

The prolonged period of uncertainty in Northern Irish politics may finally be coming to an end with the restoration of local governance. 

But what exactly does this mean for the future of politics in Northern Ireland, and what comes next? Read on for our overview of the reestablishment of Stormont.

What’s happened over the last few years?

The Brexit vote was the turning point which cast questions over Northern Ireland’s future position within the UK. The issue of Brexit became uniquely challenging for Northern Ireland. It remained inside the EU’s single market for goods (while the rest of the UK left) to allow for free-flowing trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Brexit deal, however, was to see the introduction of trade barriers and an ‘Irish Sea Border’. In January 2019, when Theresa May’s Conservative Government was trying to get DUP support for the deal, it published ‘UK government commitments to Northern Ireland and its integral place in the United Kingdom’. The document promised that there would be ‘no divergence in the rules applied in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in areas covered by the protocol’. In other words, the whole of the UK would continue to align with whatever EU rules applied in Northern Ireland, thereby removing the need for what became known as the Brexit sea border.

This compromise was strongly opposed by Northern Ireland unionists (those who are loyal to the idea of ‘the United Kingdom’), with virtually none being happy with the fact Northern Ireland was being drawn closer to the EU. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was opposed to this compromise so much that in February 2022, they abandoned the power-sharing agreement with the Irish republican party Sinn Féin.

Without one party, the power-sharing arrangement fell apart.

Developments over the last few months

In February 2023, Brussels made major concessions in replacing the original Northern Ireland protocol Brexit trading arrangements with the Windsor framework. The main features of the Framework were the creation of a new ‘green lane’, with very reduced checks and formalities for goods ‘not at risk’ of moving into the EU Single Market. It was thought at the time that easing the problems with the initial Brexit deal would end the boycott, but this didn’t happen.

In December, the UK Government offered Northern Ireland a £3.3bn financial package to aid the country’s ‘crumbling’ public services – with the condition that Stormont would be reestablished. Initially, this did not tempt the DUP, but following the largest strikes in more than 50 years in January, the party saw the real need for this injection of cash, and for the return of Stormont.

On 29 January 2024, then-DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson met with colleagues to discuss how to get the Northern Ireland Executive back on track. The meeting lasted five hours and, once Sir Donaldson emerged, he confirmed that the party executive had accepted the proposals made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the Irish Sea Border offer, thus ending a boycott that had lasted 726 days.

Two days later, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris unveiled the agreement that the Government had reached with the DUP to allow power sharing to resume in Northern Ireland, with Sinn Féin as the largest party.

The Government followed through on its promise to deliver £3.3 billion, and Sunak also made some tweaks to the Windsor Framework, including the lifting of some routine checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain, therefore reducing checks and paperwork on these goods. By Monday morning (5 February), Stormont was back up and running.

Where are we at now?

After two years of deadlock, Northern Ireland has a functioning government. However, with the deal coming under criticism from some Brexiteers, who argue that the new deal will prevent the UK from diverging further from EU rules, the future appears somewhat uncertain.

The return of Stormont also meant that Michelle O’Neill became the first nationalist First Minister of Northern Ireland. This was touted as a moment of ‘very great significance’ by Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald, as this is the first time a nationalist politician has held the role since power-sharing was established after the Good Friday Agreement.

Prime Minister Sunak urged that the return of Stormont ‘is not constitutional change’ but about ‘delivering on the day-to-day things that matter to people’. Then-Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar echoed this sentiment, saying that ‘day-to-day concerns of people’ should be the priority of the executive over ‘constitutional questions’.

Mary Lou McDonald has also said that Irish reunification is within ‘touching distance’ and that there will be a referendum on the issue by 2030. The Good Friday Agreement states that the Secretary of State should call a referendum or ‘border poll’, if it appears ‘that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland’. A poll from LucidTalk found that a majority of respondents in Northern Ireland (49%) would be in favour of staying in the UK, with 39% supporting reunification, and 11% unsure. Support for a united Ireland was stronger among younger age groups, with most under-45s preferring reunification.

Depending on performance, Sinn Féin may be able to win over more voters in the Republic of Ireland in the next election. Additionally, if the deal holds up, Northern Ireland will be in a win-win position where it can trade freely with both the UK and the EU. The UK Government, too, want this to work – not just so that devolution returns but also so that the Sunak administration can chalk it up as a win. Sir Donaldson praised Prime Minister Sunak for the deal, saying he had ‘delivered where others haven’t’.

To connect with MPs and keep up to date with the political landscape, find out more about Vuelio’s Political Services

Questions for Sir Keir Starmer

Questions for Labour and Keir Starmer ahead of the 2024 UK General Election

Labour leader Keir Starmer is expected to become the UK’s next Prime Minister – here we look at questions he and the Labour party should be looking to find answers to.

Could the lack of experience in the Shadow Cabinet be an issue?

The Shadow Cabinet currently has 29 MPs in it – only eight of whom were MPs when Labour was last in power; seven have served in Government; and three have held roles as a Secretary of State (or equivalent). Yvette Cooper, Ed Miliband, and Hilary Benn combined have roughly nine and a half years of experience in senior roles in Government. It seems fair to assume that the current Shadow Cabinet will make up the majority of the Cabinet should Labour win the General Election. If we compare the current Labour Shadow Cabinet to David Cameron’s first, there were 16 Conservatives in that Cabinet – even with 13 fewer members, they still have around a year and half more experience of being in Government.

Labour have been out of power for 14 years, so it is not expected that they would have an abundance of ministerial experience to choose from. This is seen as one of the reasons that Sue Gray was hired, granting Labour some nous to get things done and make progress on their priorities quickly. However, should Labour be successful, the ministerial ranks will still be lacking in experience. With public services under pressure and public finances restricted by Labour’s fiscal rules, ministers will need to get creative. Perhaps this means Labour can develop their own version of what Michael Gove brought to his various ministerial positions.

What is the plan with social care?

The Labour party made no funded commitments in its manifesto but they do pledge to create a ‘National Care Service’ with local delivered services and support for people to ‘live independently for as long as possible’. There are commitments to partnership working, high quality care, and ensuring providers behave responsibly. There is also mention of a ‘Fair Pay Agreement in adult social care’. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies points out, these do not have any specific funding set aside for them, either meaning taxes, borrowing goes up, or other services get cut.

The Chief Executive of The King’s Fund Sarah Woolnough puts it rather aptly; saying Labour have put forward what is ‘a plan to come up with a plan’. With the current social care system widely viewed as not working, the Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting even said he would have wanted the manifesto to go further on social care. Streeting said that if the economy grows then more money could go towards health spending, but that does nothing for immediate problems.

At present, the Labour Party are able to say they need to see all the information and are inheriting a difficult situation. However, soon all of this could be theirs to own and they will be expected to come up with a plan.

Is the two child benefit cap here to stay?

Scrapping the two child benefit cap would lift nearly 500,000 children out of poverty and would come at a cost of under £4bn a year. It is believed that the consequences on children and families go far beyond the money saved. Starmer has previously said he would not be against scrapping the policy, but he has refused to commit to a timeline for doing so. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that an additional 670,000 children will be impacted by the cap by the end of the next Parliament, so some action is surely called for.

Members of the Shadow Cabinet have previously spoken out in criticism at the policy. Starmer said it was a ‘tough decision’ but Labour had to avoid repeating the mistakes of Liz Truss’s Government. However, taking action to reduce child poverty is likely to be received differently than Truss’s tax cut-laden mini-budget.

Is there room for diversity of thought in the Labour party?

One of the biggest challenges the Labour leadership has faced during this campaign is dealing with the fallout of how they have acted around selections. The Labour leadership have taken a hardline approach in terms of selecting (and deselecting) candidates.

Jeremy Corbyn is running as an Independent candidate in Islington North; Diane Abbott would likely have been running as an Independent if it was not for external pressure. Rosie Duffield has also spoken about a lack of support from the Labour leadership and how it had tempted her to defect.

Perhaps Labour do not want to rock the boat until a victory is sealed, and that will then be the time for diversity of thought. However, recent jibes towards Corbyn and his leadership of the party appear slightly odd considering Starmer was a key figure in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet. It is often said that the Labour party is a broad church, but Starmer could be seen to be set on narrowing the ideological view of its Parliamentary membership. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown took no action against a rebellious MP in Corbyn who voted against them 428 times – some expect Starmer to have a similarly large majority, and it will be interesting to see whether he changes his approach.

For regular updates on what is happening in UK politics and public affairs, sign up to our weekly Point of Order newsletter, going out every Friday morning.

Reform UK manifesto release

Reform UK releases ‘contract’ manifesto – what was the press and public reaction?

By Phoebe-Jane Boyd, Dahye Lee, and Ingrid Marin. 

After a wave of manifesto releases last week, Reform UK have released their ‘contract’ for the UK General Election.

In rebranding the manifesto as a ‘contract’, and repositioning the vote for country leadership as ‘the immigration election’, have Farage’s efforts to distinguish his party from its competitors, and get people talking, made an impact?

Here is analysis of the UK General Election 2024 conversation across online and print news, TV, radio, and podcasts as well as TikTok, Threads, Facebook, blogs, and forums, from midday 17 June, as we map the media and audience reaction.

What topics cut through the conversation regarding Reform UK’s manifesto?

Reform UK manifesto reactoin

Reform UK’s manifesto/’contract’ has significantly impacted one theme – immigration. As anticipated by anyone paying attention to Farage’s media appearances, the data shows just how much the topic has cut through into the public consciousness – immigration (+15.04%) emerges as a critical topic.

The party’s primary commitment to freeze what it has branded ‘non-essential’ immigration, and deport individuals crossing the Channel in small boats, has dominated the news coverage alongside the switch to the ‘contract’ nomenclature.

Perhaps surprisingly, this narrative has gained momentum on TikTok – the home of Gen Z – through Channel 4’s coverage, amplifying engagement among younger supporters of the Reform UK party.

Reform UK on TikTok

While conversation across other social media platforms has been comparatively quiet in comparison to that of other parties, Labour supporters – particularly vocal pro-Palestinian activists – have passionately engaged with Reform UK’s immigration agenda. This segment of social media users are actively positioning Labour as the antidote to Reform UK’s potential influence on the 2029 election.

Stand up to racism tweet

Energy and sustainability, largely overlooked in Reform UK’s pre-manifesto discussions, have also come into focus with a modest increase (+1.02%). The controversial move to abandon Net Zero goals in favor of bolstering fossil fuels has been extensively covered by the press, including BBC, ITV, LBC, and Sky News, alongside the party’s core policy pledges.

The practicalities of Reform UK’s manifesto – will it help the party’s chances at the voting booths this year?

The ‘contract’ was ambitious and could be considered somewhat scattergun in its policies – perhaps a reflection of Reform UK’s diverse voter base. Reform committed to around £140bn in spending commitments and tax cuts including raising income tax thresholds; abolishing stamp duty; tax relief for independent schools; and abolishing inheritance tax for all estates under £2 million. The party revealed this would be funded through £156 billion in savings in public spending and an assumption of increased tax revenue from higher growth.

These plans have drawn criticism around credibility, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies noting that Reform’s tax cuts and spending commitments would cost more than stated. Meanwhile, the Tax Policy Associates observed that £33bn of Reform’s commitments were found to be uncosted – this amounts to nearly double the unfunded commitments in Liz Truss’s mini-budget.

Concerns around the fiscal credibility of Reform UK’s manifesto are maybe not so important, however. A recent poll by Ipsos revealed that a significant portion of voters do not believe the main parties will be able to fund their own manifesto commitments anyway. The poll showed that 50% did not believe Labour could afford their plans, while 62% thought the Conservatives’ plans were unaffordable. 57% were not confident in the affordability of the Liberal Democrats plans either.

Perhaps this best encapsulates the relative apathy in the UK right now regarding choices at the 2024 General Election: with the UK facing significant economic and political challenges in the forthcoming years, a majority of voters do not believe that the main parties’ manifestos can deliver.

Could Farage’s warning during the 7 June TV debate that change is on the way, with support for Reform UK set to grow, prove true?

For regular updates on what is happening in UK politics and public affairs, sign up to our weekly Point of Order newsletter, going out every Friday morning.

2024 manifesto reactions

Ambition, ‘bad ideas’, and pushes to be ‘bolder’: General Election 2024 manifesto reactions among audiences and the media

By Phoebe-Jane Boyd, Dahye Lee, and Ingrid Marin. 

This week represented the midpoint of the General Election campaign and it was a pivotal moment for all parties to pitch to voters.

Manifestos from the main parties were released throughout the week – with the exclusion of Reform UK, due to come on Monday 17 June.

To understand how the releases impacted press coverage and online discussion, here is analysis of the UK General Election 2024 conversation across online and print news, TV, radio, and podcasts as well as TikTok, Threads, Facebook, blogs, and forums, from 11 – 14 June, as well as a deep dive into political stakeholder reaction as the week progressed.

First, a look at the big two – the incumbent Conservatives, and the party expected by many to oust them come 4 July, Labour.

Manifesto coverage and conversation – Conservatives vs Labour

Manifestos 2024: Tories v Labour@2x

Following the passionate clashes during the ITV and BBC debates between Conservative and Labour, the main impact of their manifestos is focused on tax.

Conversation has risen around this topic following Labour’s manifesto pledge to increase taxes, in a potential boost to the Tories.

Did Labour’s manifesto make an impact?

Reaction to the Labour manifesto

As to whether Labour’s manifesto has changed reporting and social media discussion around its policies and promises, analysis of the pre- and post- release shows an impact on the topics of tax (+5.3%) and energy policy (+7.5%).

The increase in coverage and discussion of tax is driven by diverse news narratives surrounding Labour’s related policies. The highest engagement is for ITV‘s focus on Labour’s tax lock, while GBNews highlights voter concerns about Labour’s proposed tax increases.

Why the spike for energy? Labour’s pledge to ban new petrol and diesel cars and ensure ‘certainty to manufacturers’ in energy and sustainability has prompted Conservative communities to generate criticism.

Alan D Miller tweet

Did the Conservative manifesto make a difference?

Reaction to the Conservative Manifesto for 2024

The Conservative manifesto also made an impact on Tax (+8.2%), alongside Housing (+2.3%).

BBC’s coverage of Keir Starmer’s condemnations of Sunak’s National Insurance cuts dominates the tax narrative, as the Tory campaign becomes increasingly embattled. Over on social media, the proposal to scrap National Insurance for the self-employed is provoking negative reaction due to perceived unfairness.

Unsurprisingly, Nigel Farage is enmeshed in discussion of Conservative chances at the election, as the Reform UK leader criticises policies as they are announced – this week’s manifesto included. Gaining traction online now – his comment that a Conservative promise regarding its Rwanda Bill was ‘another lie’.

Political stakeholder reaction – a look back at the week

Monday: Liberal Democrats got ambitious
The week began with the Liberal Democrats releasing their party manifesto. They pledged a £8.35bn NHS and care package – funded by reversing tax cuts for banks and closing tax loopholes – and set out long-term plans for rejoining the EU.

Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Thea Stein responded to the manifesto, calling it highly ambitious. However, she also said the funding proposed appeared ‘insufficient’, and that the sums ‘simply don’t add up’. Additionally, IFS Director Paul Johnson said that the tax measures would not raise the £27bn a year that the party claims, and that some of the tax raising proposals are, economically, a ‘bad idea’.

Tuesday: Conservatives sparked questions regarding costings
Questions about how proposals will be paid for were also raised on Tuesday when the Conservatives released their manifesto and pledged to cut taxes (including entirely scrapping the main rate of self-employed National Insurance) and introduce a new Help to Buy scheme by abolishing stamp duty for first-time buyers (on homes up to £425,000).

Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the manifesto promised £17bn a year of tax cuts, alongside a big hike in defence spending, and questioned how this would be paid for. The Conservatives suggest they will fund some of their commitments by cutting the rising welfare bill, but Johnson questions how achievable this is.

Similarly, Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was a ‘Jeremy Corbyn-style manifesto’, suggesting the Conservatives had not explained how they would pay for their policies. He promised that Labour’s manifesto would be ‘fully costed’ and would only include ‘promises that we can keep and that […] the country can afford’.

Wednesday: Green Party pushed Labour to be bolder
Wednesday marked the release of the Green Party manifesto, pledging to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund more spending on housing, the NHS, and the climate crisis.

The manifesto includes the introduction of a wealth tax and a raising of National Insurance on annual wages above £50,270. Focusing on the four seats which the party believes are winnable, the co-leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay said electing Green MPs would ‘push Labour to be bolder’, particularly on net-zero climate change policies, which they accused other parties of ‘running away from’.

Thursday: Was Labour too cautious?
On Thursday, Keir Starmer launched the Labour party’s manifesto, where he pledged to prioritise ‘wealth creation’. As commentators expected, the document was relatively light on policy detail, and didn’t contain any big surprises.

Some commentators have suggested that Labour’s spending plans are more cautious than the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. If Labour are firmly committed to not raising taxes, this does raise questions about how they would be able to avoid cuts to public services.

Former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls warned the manifesto could be a ‘straitjacket’, and make the first year of a Labour Government very difficult. Senior Labour figures have responded to such criticisms by saying they would deliver growth, and therefore expand the total revenue available for public services without having to raise taxes.

Still to come: Reform UK
Ahead of the Reform UK manifesto being released on Monday 17 June, a poll found that Reform UK had overtaken the Conservatives for the first time. Farage has said his party ‘are now the opposition to Labour’, and that a Tory vote would only ‘enable’ Starmer’s party.

Whether the release of Reform manifesto adds solidity and credibility to their challenge, or else sees their recent progress melt away, is something that will be closely monitored by politics watchers.

For regular updates on what is happening in UK politics and public affairs, sign up to our weekly Point of Order newsletter, going out every Friday morning.

The perception of PR in sustainability communications

The perception of PR in sustainability communications

The current climate of accountability for those with influence and power means organisations are held to higher standards than ever before.

Now that ESG concerns are an unavoidable responsibility of public relations, how can practitioners ensure they’re communicating on sustainability with full transparency?

Our latest report uses Pulsar and Vuelio to track the sustainability conversation across press, online news sources, and social media between January 2023 to February 2024, uncovering the responsibilities that come with this new reality.

Read ‘The perception of PR in sustainability communications: How to avoid greenwashing and be an advocate for change’ to learn:

  • How PR became inextricably tied up in sustainability discourse and the role of practitioners going forward
  • Which stories grab the attention of the press and public and how to secure positive coverage and engagement
  • Why understanding where and how your audiences and stakeholders share information can help your strategic planning and inspire longer-term loyalty

Download the report by filling in the form below 👇