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.

As the UK prepares for the upcoming General Election, stay informed with the latest news by signing up to Vuelio General Election Updates.

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.

As the UK prepares for the upcoming General Election, stay informed with the latest news by signing up to Vuelio General Election Updates.

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.

As the UK prepares for the upcoming General Election, stay informed with the latest news by signing up to Vuelio General Election Updates.

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?

As the UK prepares for the upcoming General Election, stay informed with the latest news by signing up to Vuelio General Election Updates.

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.

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?

As the UK prepares for the upcoming General Election, stay informed with the latest news by signing up to Vuelio General Election Updates.

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.

As the UK prepares for the upcoming General Election, stay informed with the latest news by signing up to our Vuelio General Election Updates.

voters queuing outside polling station

UK General Election 2024: What was the state of the public conversation leading into the first debate?

By Phoebe-Jane Boyd and Dahye Lee.

The first television debate between party leaders took place on Tuesday 4 June, coming at the culmination of two weeks campaigning in which both Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer set out their stalls for the country. But, as the studio lights went up on Tuesday evening, which policies and points of view had already cut through into public consciousness?

Read the full transcript of the ITV debate here.

Using Pulsar TRAC, we analysed social and news mentions of themes in the UK General Election 2024 conversation across X, TikTok, Threads, Facebook, blogs, forums, online news, print news, TV, radio, and podcasts between 23 May – 5 June 2024.

Here is what is capturing the attention of the media and the public.

As the UK prepares for the upcoming General Election, stay informed with the latest news by signing up to our Vuelio General Election Updates.

Top mentioned topics in UK General Election 2024 coverage and conversation

National Service stirs engagement

Coverage in the press, and engagement across social media, gave early indicators of what would be covered within the debate.

NHS, foreign affairs, and education featured highly in coverage and conversation between 23 May – 5 June, due to uproar around the prospect of the return of National Service – what Starmer called ‘Teenage Dad’s Army’, and Sunak described as ‘bold action’ during the debate.

While audible laughs from the in-studio audience met Sunak’s words on the topic on Tuesday night, coverage of the proposal has received serious and significant engagement, particularly from BBC News.

The audience most engaged with the topic? Young people, and many parents, who would be impacted the most should Sunak’s plan come to fruition. Channel 4’s TikTok on this was most shared by the younger generation.

Balance of conversation

Tax was always going to be a significant part of the first TV debate for this year’s election, but Sunak’s numerous accusations regarding a supposed (since disputed) ‘extra £2,000 tax’ from Labour took up a significant portion of TV time last night.

However, it’s the Conservatives who have over-indexed for mentions of tax since the start of the party’s campaign.

In the lead up to the TV debate, this was partially due to Reform outflanking them on income tax pledges while, after the debate, numerous journalists and influencers factchecked Sunak’s £2,000 tax allegation.

Labour vs Conservatives: Who’s dominating discussion around specific topics?

Analysis of these key topics broken down by mentions of each party shows a mostly equal split of coverage and conversation for Labour and Conservative… with the expected outlier of National Service. The Tory proposal has been further amplified by ITV’s coverage.

As of today, a major focus of mentions for Labour are foreign affairs, NHS/health, and energy & sustainability, and this was driven by Tuesday’s debate directly. An X post from MP David Lammy regarding the NHS triggered intense engagement online, as did his commentary on bombing in Gaza.

 

News vs social media: Where are people talking and engaging?

While both social media and news outlets focus on the NHS, the narratives unfolding on each platform differ.

News coverage centres on questions regarding how national service can support NHS issues, while social media users urge support of the NHS and junior doctor strikes.

Immigration is the second highest topic in news coverage. Tackled by Sunak and Starmer during the debate, the resulting high number of mentions is largely driven by write-ups in right-wing outlets. Their focus? Reports regarding migrant channel crossings.

Media outlets leading coverage and engagement around the General Election

Which media outlets are leading coverage of the 2024 UK General Election so far, and sparking shares on social media?

The Mirror’s reporting of Sunak’s interactions with Russian associates – not covered in Tuesdsay’s debate – has received considerable traction among left-leaning readers, who have expressed concern over his affiliations with Russia.

While BBC’s coverage of Sunak’s National Service plan maintains broader audience interest, the Scottish Daily Express has sparked controversy, and engagement, with its reporting of alleged ‘outright lies’ in the Scottish National Party’s campaigning.

While Tuesday’s debate did not necessarily introduce anything new into the fabric of discussion, with both leaders returning to topics and talking points that they know to be important to their audiences and stakeholders, it did re-entrench battle lines. Tax is now more central to the overall discussion, which had previously not attained much prominence, or airtime.

Whether it’s Sunak’s £2,000 tax attack line, or the subsequent debunking of the figure the next day, which sticks in voter’s minds, the subsequent weeks will reveal.

For extra on the UK political landscape, sign up to the weekly Vuelio Point of Order newsletter.

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Society of Editors conference

Politics and the press: What the media needs from PRs in the run up to a General Election

With a UK General Election just announced, political journalists are readying for a busy time ahead. But what do reporters in this field want from PRs and comms professionals?

In a recent panel at the Society of Editors Conference, Politico UK editor Jack Blanchard, The Guardian’s political editor Pippa Crerar, The Sun on Sunday’s political editor Kate Ferguson, and Newsquest North regional editor Gavin Foster discussed the current relationship between politics and the press. Read on for the effect this will have on PRs, and what journalists working in the political media want from you.

Credible and reliable sources

Political journalism, like many sectors of the media, has lost audience trust over the last few years. One of the ways journalists are combatting this is with credible and reliable sources.

‘We have to do a daily sense check on the sourcing of our facts and make sure that they’re credible,’ said Pippa Crerar at The Guardian.

‘Whether that’s something we pick up on social media, whether it’s research which has been emailed, or a rumour that has been passed on’.

Any information you send to political journalists as a PR must be backed up with strong sources. At The Sun on Sunday, Kate Ferguson is now ‘double sourcing’ to ensure reliability. This is also vital at trade publications like Politico, as Jack Blanchard explained:

‘Politico has a very specific audience. It’s read by people who work in politics and people in the media that rely on what we do. We do feel like we have a very high bar to get things right because people will literally be planning their days around our morning email. Fact checking is extremely important to us’.

Knowing the audience

Before contacting journalists, understand the audience they are writing for. Politico, as mentioned above, has a very specific audience – general press releases, or information that is widely available, is unlikely to be used. The time you send is also important – the brand’s London Playbook email goes out by 8am, for example.

There are ‘still quite a hardcore of people that are obsessed with politics’, says Jack. But the key to grabbing their interest is in ‘how we pitch’.

Also important for both national and regional media – tone. Pippa shared that journalists at The Guardian focus on ‘politics from the prism of the country-in, rather than Westminster-out’. Content must be accessible for everyone across the country.

On a regional and local level, Gavin stressed the importance of ‘cutting through the noise to get to what really matters’. When reaching out to media outlets in this area, be clear what the importance is to readers if you want to get coverage.

Differences between the 2019 and 2024 General Elections

The General Election coming up in July this year will be very different to the last.

‘2019 was the “Brexit election”, with Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson. Boris was a personality. He sold: Boris sells politics and sells papers,’ said Kate.

‘Now we have Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer. These are less extreme personalities, less engaging, and in some ways, less polarising as well.’

The media will be searching for different angles. Pippa at The Guardian is keen to get away from ‘just turning up in towns and doing vox pops, but having proper relationships with different parts of the country’.

While young people are ‘switching off party politics’ according to Pippa, she believes this audience is ‘incredibly engaged when it comes to issues like climate’. This gives media coverage opportunities to areas adjacent to the usual political coverage.

Jack said he would ‘like to see a media company start off trying to make videos as their primary way for delivering serious impartial political thinking’. Social media, especially TikTok, is regularly used by the younger demographic as a way to consume news. Media organisations will, as a result, be using these platforms a lot more than they were in 2019.

Not sure how to go about contributing for video? Jack stressed the importance of ‘engaging, interesting, and well-edited’ content. Any press materials must be adaptable and able to be packaged in various formats to suit the needs of the media, and the audiences they engage.

Want to get in touch with political journalists and editors ahead of the election? Connect with them with what they need via Vuelio Media Database.

Interested in reaching out to political stakeholders? Try the Vuelio political database.

commuters working in the city

Northern Rock: The 2024 local elections

Towards the end of 2004, the North East of England voted to reject plans to give the region an elected chamber of 25 representatives. To be more blunt, New Labour’s proposal was completely quashed with 77% of voters rejecting it. This spurred then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to comedically hide away from the main vote count in Sunderland.

The referendum’s impact went beyond the borders of County Durham and Northumberland as the emphatic result led to similar proposed referenda proposed in the North West and Yorkshire and Humber being scrapped.

Nonetheless, 20 years on perhaps the political appetite has changed. The most recent set of local elections represented an interesting marking point for northern devolution. It marked the third Tees Valley Mayoral election and the consolidation of the existing North of Tyne Mayoralty into a new North East Mayoralty. This, coupled with the first election of a Mayor for York and North Yorkshire, could indicate that, in some sense, Prescott’s personal mission for northern political devolution was achieved.

The North East perhaps represents the archetypal example of where political devolution is needed. The region lags massively behind its southern counterparts in terms of wages, living standards, education outcomes, health outcomes, and macro economic output – all of which have lasting impact on an individual’s well being. Moreover, a recent report by the IPPR found the North East has the lowest overall and average level of wealth in the country.

Logic dictates that devolving political power to the North will bring economic change through establishing centres of powers which will alleviate economic inequalities. This logic has been furthered by Labour Leader Keir Starmer in his discourse around his proposed Take Back Control Bill.

However, while the 2024 Local Elections may have revealed much in terms of progress towards this mission, it also illustrated the gaps and challenges that still face such political change, some of which may be similar in character to those present in the 2004 referendum.

Houchen’s cult of personality

Moving into the local elections, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s political fate seemingly partly rested on the Tees Valley mayoral election, but this contest is significant for reasons beyond national party politics.

Ben Houchen was re-elected in spite of a 16.5% swing to Labour in the election, with commentators noting that Houchen bucked the trend of Conservative casualties across the country. Houchen’s re-election perhaps cements his standing as Mayor, a position he has held since 2017 as he enters his third term.

Such longevity has allowed Houchen to establish his own cult of personality and shape the Tees Valley mayoralty in his image, and this name recognition most definitely helped him in his reelection. Moreover, Houchen’s synonymity with the Tees Valley Combined Authority may lead to similar comparisons to prior London Mayors, such as Sadiq Khan, Ken Livingstone, and Boris Johnson, who also cemented their personal and political attachment with the role.

This has allowed Houchen to add gravitas to the mayoralty and emphasise his own policy priorities. For instance, despite the controversy surrounding Teesworks, Houchen has successfully ploughed public money into Teesside Airport to reacquire and expand it. His re-election will also allow him to pursue his promise of £1 bus fares for under-21s.

Teesside Airport and the action on bus fares encapsulate archetypal examples of devolution in action in the North. This and Houchen’s re-election may suggest where devolution has worked through the cultivation of local policy priorities so the north is not so dependent on national policy movements.

The first steps for the North East Combined Authority

As mentioned prior, the recent local elections also amounted to the first mayoralty election for the new North East Combined Authority. This combined the existing North East Combined Authority and North of Tyne Combined Authority 20 years on from the referendum and nearly 40 years after Tyne and Wear County Council was abolished.

The challenge is huge, with the region lagging behind the South of England in all sorts of life outcome metrics. Despite this, if the wider North East region is to fully grapple issues such as the digital and net zero transition then this is also a beacon of opportunity, with Newcastle representing one of the largest urban centres in the North of England and the wider region hosting a series of large industries who will play a vital role.

It is on Labour’s Kim McGuiness to grapple this challenge after she beat the previous North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Discroll in a semi-competitive election. Discroll was removed from the Labour selection process for the North East Mayor after the central party detailed that they just wanted to secure ‘the highest quality candidates’ – a move criticised by Unite, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram. Driscoll then stood as an Independent and received 28% of the vote. Discroll’s support sees a parallel to Houchen as his experience of devolution allowed him to partly move beyond party political dogmas and cleavages through cultivating his own political brand. This may speak to the success of existing devolution through allowing the North East to develop its own body politic not contingent on Westminster.

Nonetheless, McGuiness’ victory on 41.3% only represents the start of her journey. The question remains whether she will fully overcome the challenge that Discroll encapsulated: the idea that the Labour Party under Keir Starmer has become too far removed from Corbynism. This is a challenge worsened by McGuinness’ characterisation as a safe pair of hands and her perceived association with Starmerism.

If McGuiness is to succeed, she may do well to carve her own identity and priorities in the spirit of devolution and to remedy the economic inequalities felt in the North. Her innovative ideas to implement North East Careers Hubs in villages, towns, and cities, and free travel for those in education and training may be some means of cementing herself as Houchen has done, while showing that devolution can work for everyone.

Mystery man David Skaith

The recent local elections represented the first Mayoral Election for the new Mayor of York and North Yorkshire, with Labour’s David Skaith winning on 35% of the vote, while the Conservative candidate received 27% and the Liberal Democrat candidate 16%.

Beyond his prior experience of being a small business owner in York, relatively little is known about Skaith specifically. This may be due to the little media attention on this contest with the Westminster bubble more focused on the implications of West Midlands and Tees Valley for Sunak, with few putting their money on Skaith to win in Sunak’s backyard. Given the broken-up nature of the vote, with Skaith winning on only 35%, his first challenge may be out of electoral necessity as he will have to quickly cement himself publicly.

Skaith’s challenge is made harder by the unique composition of the York and North Yorkshire mayoralty. Specifically, the urban-rural divide is stark between the large urban areas of Harrogate and York and the contrasting rolling green hills and farms and smaller towns of Richmond, Leyburn, Thirsk, Northallerton, and Bedale further north. This is compounded by Skaith was carried to victory through 54% of the vote in the York region but only receiving 28% in the more rural North Yorkshire region. Skaith has to ensure that political and economic devolution works for both of these communities, which may make addressing significant issues, such as the green and digital transition, infinitely more tricky to navigate.

Fragile devolution?

Upon the release of the 2004 referendum result, John Tomeney, chairman of the Yes 4 The North East, suggested to The Guardian that the result spoke to something bigger than a regional parliament. He indicated that it represented the ‘growing breakdown in the belief that political institutions can affect people’s lives for the better.’

That referendum and comment came only 20 years ago. Therefore, it is worth remembering that devolution through Combined Authorities and Mayors is fragile and perhaps even embryonic, with the idea only rising in prominence over the last 15 years. This is best exemplified by the minnow levels of turnout, with 29% in the York and North Yorkshire contest, 30% in the Tees Valley, and 31% in the North East election. While this may not be particularly significant in the grand scheme of the national turnout, it still suggests there is wider work to be done to imprint devolution permanently.

In this regard, while the 2024 local elections are a marking point for northern devolution, they are also a starting point. Therefore, the best means to cement northern devolution might be for the current crop of metro mayors to deliver local policy priorities on the range of cross-cutting issues facing the region to guard against the very breakdown that John Tomeney warned of.

 

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man on phone outside houses of parliament

Rishi Sunak announces a General Election

Following a day of mounting speculation, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed yesterday that he was taking the country to the polls for the first summer election since 1945. Westminster circles were alerted by a series of movements from senior Cabinet members, such as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt cancelling his ITV appearance for later yesterday evening and Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron’s cancelling a trip to Albania. Initially there was speculation of a Cabinet reshuffle, or Hunt even standing down as Chancellor in a wholesale Government refresh. However, the worst fears of marginal Conservative MPs were confirmed by midday, when accredited journalists such as ITV’s Robert Peston started cautiously reporting that the Government planned to call an election.

In an age of social media and the prevalence of media leaks, some suggested that the Government did well to keep the General Election under wraps and away from the media for so long. However, after the unveiling of the infamous podium in front of 10 Downing Street, which has previously hosted impromptu political developments such as Liz Truss and Lord Cameron’s resignations as Prime Minister, everyone’s suspicions were confirmed.

The Government draw their battle lines

Sunak declared that now was the moment for Britain to ‘choose its future.’ In his speech, Sunak’s focus was almost presidential as he initially drew upon his first major political action when he was Chancellor: introducing the furlough scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic, emphasising his prior experience and decisiveness. Sunak argued that the Government is successfully taking action on the economy, pointing to the latest ONS figures which show inflation has declined to 2.3% – its lowest level in almost three years.

Sunak’s speech echoed his address at a Policy Exchange event last week, which drew on the same themes of rising global instability and the need for strong leadership on security issues. The same battle lines were drawn as Sunak warned that the UK faces increasing threat from ‘the axis of authoritarian states’ such as North Korea, Russia, Iran and China. He also spoke about the threat and opportunity posed by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence.

Sunak accused Starmer of hypocrisy for serving under Jeremy Corbyn yet allowing former Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke into his party. Moreover, he ridiculed Labour’s plans to ‘depress’ their way to victory as he noted Britain’s alleged inherent optimism. Meanwhile, consistent emphasis on the need to ‘stick with the plan’ against going back to square one made notions of message discipline look infantile.

Labour gearing up for a fight

Speaking shortly after the Prime Minister’s announcement, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told voters that the country’s future is in ‘your hands’, with the simple single-word slogan of ‘change’ written across his podium – a word he repeated several times throughout his short speech. Labour had a chance to refine their election offering at an event last week in Essex, where Starmer unveiled a Blair-style pledge card containing six ‘first steps’ for a Labour Government. The event featured short speeches from the Shadow Cabinet outlining Labour’s commitment to stabilise the economy, cut NHS waiting times, set up Great British Energy, crack down on antisocial behaviour, recruit 6,500 more teachers, and set up a new Border Security Command. During the event, some journalists put to Starmer that his ‘first steps’ seemed a watering down of his original five missions’, launched back in early 2023. Starmer responded that his missions still stand, but the first steps are a ‘down payment’ on what Labour would do in its first 100 days of government. This move indicates that Starmer will be heading into this General Election with his characteristic caution, focusing on modest promises which are deliverable within the immediate future.

Meanwhile, Labour still has around 100 election candidates left to announce, and with just six weeks to go, the party will need to turbo-charge its selection process to get candidates out knocking on doors as soon as possible. Over the coming days, a few more sitting Labour MPs are expected to announce they will not be re-standing, meaning the party will have to find candidates for these seats as well, although this will likely be in Labour ‘safe seats’. The party’s top down selection of candidates, as well as the delay in selecting candidates for ‘non-battleground’ seats, has sparked anger from some Labour members.

The SNP manage expectations in their reaction

The General Election will not just be a top-level political battle between Sunak and Starmer, but also a vital junction for the UK’s smaller parties. North of the border, the election provides the first test for the SNP’s new leader, Scottish First Minister John Swinney. A veteran of the SNP, Swinney will have to draw on his wide ranging experience as his party faces a tough electoral challenge with recent polling suggesting they could lose as many as 37 seats. This perfectly illustrates the challenge facing the SNP with their 17 years of Government perhaps making them seem tired and old in the face of opposing parties. The contest in Scotland will provide a useful read into the prospects of the wider Labour party with their re-election hopes dependent on significant increases to their current MP count of 2 in Scotland.

The timings could not be worse for the SNP following the recent collapse of Hamza Yousaf’s leadership and the controversy of readmitting right winger Kate Forbes into the Cabinet. As mentioned prior, Swinney will not have to assert himself personally to the Scottish electorate given his varied and significant experience, however he will have to quickly create a coherent policy platform to take on opposing parties – this may be harder to navigate given recent internal turmoil within the party. Nonetheless, yesterday Swinney addressed the Scottish Parliament as he detailed that his main priority of Government was to eradicate child poverty.

In response to the initial announcement, Swinney interestingly argued that the timing was ‘unfair’ and ‘disrespectful’ with the date coming in the middle of Scottish school holidays. In a more detailed reaction today, Swinney took a measured and cautious approach, perhaps a reflection of the SNP’s fragility, as he stressed that he will ‘speak up for Scotland’ while also noting that he has reunited the SNP after a ‘tough time.’

Reform start their campaign but Farage is absent

The Conservatives’ fate at the upcoming General Election will also be contingent on the success of Reform UK. The party’s recent rise in the opinion polls illustrates the squeeze that the Conservatives face from the right of the political spectrum – this follows Reform nearly pushing the Conservatives into 3rd place in the Blackpool South by-election.

In response to the Conservatives’ announcement, Reform held a press conference this morning which had initially been signposted as a reaction to the ONS’ latest immigration data. In the press conference, Leader Richard Tice derided the high immigration as he also noted that the Conservatives cannot be trusted to cut immigration and that Labour seeks mass immigration. Reform’s focus on immigration and border security went beyond political opportunist semantics as Tice was placed in front of a banner titled ‘The Immigration Election’ as they clearly set their stall. Moreover, following this announcement, Tice detailed that he would stand for election in the constituency of Boston and Skegness as he hopes to become Reform’s second MP following Lee Anderson. Interestingly, YouGov later revealed that according to their latest MRP poll, Reform were polling at 25% in the constituency, only 11 points behind the Conservatives.

Nevertheless, Reform’s hopes may be impeded by Nigel Farage’s announcement that he would not stand at the upcoming general election but instead focus his efforts on the US Presidential Election campaign. Former 10 Downing Street pollster James Johnson had observed that a Farage comeback could have scuppered the Conservatives’ General Election hopes. However, in a confusing attempt to save face, Tice revealed to the media today that Farage would come back to help the campaign despite not standing – whether this proves to be electorally significant remains a different issue.

The Liberal Democrats launch their ‘revival’

After their success in the local elections less than a month ago, when they finished second and ahead of the Conservatives, the Lib Dems have launched their campaign with a bold message to ‘smash the blue wall and kick out the Conservatives’. Leader Ed Davey argued ‘we need to get rid of this divided Conservative party who are incapable of governing’ at the campaign launch in Surrey earlier today.

The 2019 general election saw the Lib Dems win 11 seats, and the party has gained an additional four in subsequent by-elections. The party is now targeting 80 key Conservative seats in what is their strategy to oust the Government. The list includes the constituencies of Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk.

While he has ruled out a coalition deal with the Conservatives, Davey has not done the same for Labour, reviving rumours that started circulating when Starmer clearly stated to Beth Rigby that he would not make a deal with the SNP while refusing to say the same about the Lib Dems.

Parliament prorogued and the wash up begins

With the announcement of a General Election also comes the prorogation of Parliament tomorrow and its full dissolution next Friday. This holds significant implications for the progress of vital Bills with some entering the ‘wash up’ process – where bills are either lost with the dissolution of Parliament or quickly passed through if they have the required support.

In the House of Commons today, the Government’s Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt noted that the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, the Post Office Horizon Bill, the Finance Bill, and the Victims and Prisoners Bill would be included. This leaves notable Bills such as the Media Bill, the Football Governance Bill, and the Tobacco and Vapes Bill with the prospect of abandonment despite the Tobacco and Vapes Bill featuring in the Prime Minister’s address to the nation yesterday. Whether these bills are picked up by Labour is a separate question for their manifesto as their support of the bills may not guarantee their inclusion in a future manifesto.

foreign aid workers

Insights from engagement in Foreign Aid discourse

Having a full view of your wider stakeholder conversations across media, online, and social media gives you an advantage when shaping your comms strategy. Access to data across multiple channels can help you detect emerging trends and crises, and provide insights into public opinion, identify misinformation, and present opportunities to educate where needed.

For insight into the media and online landscape when it comes to conflict, we took the topic of foreign aid and tracked the conversation between 1 November 2022 – 31 October 2023 with our sister platform Pulsar.

Read on for how stakeholder insight can help you tailor your comms strategy.

Trends dominating the foreign aid discussion from November 2022 – October 2023

Volumes of the Foreign Aid conversation on X between 1 November 2022 and 31 October 2023. Source: Pulsar TRAC

Mentions of different themes in the Foreign Aid conversation between 1 November 2022 – 31 October 2023. Source: Pulsar TRAC

As global conflict unfolded throughout 1 November 2022 to 31 October 2023, related media coverage naturally grew to keep the public informed. But which topics took up the most attention when it came to foreign aid?

Tracking sharing of, and engagement with, posts on X during this period uncovered obvious subjects peaking the discussion. These included countries involved in geo-political crisis – ‘Ukraine’ and ‘Israel’ – as well as where displaced members of their population would go for safety (‘immigration’).

Alongside these aforementioned trends was a significant engagement with the topics of the domestic need for money and corruption – two issues that often go hand-in-hand with the costly realities of conflict and aid.

News sources dominating the conversation of foreign aid between Nov 22 – Oct 23

Volume of Outlet by Credibility on X in the Foreign Aid conversation between Nov 1 2022 – Oct 31 2023. Source: Pulsar TRAC

When looking at media outlets across the world, expected long-established news sources including The Guardian, the Express, and BBC News produced plenty of coverage and engagement during the year of analysis. Outlets considered non-credible by Pulsar’s misinformation detection – including the US-based right-wing brand Breitbart – also feature. But at the top is a relative newcomer to the press landscape – GB News.

Launched in 2021, GB News’ right-leaning political slant has attracted an audience with a matching right-wing mindset. UK politicians regularly feature in GB News programming (to some controversy), clips are shared across social platforms, and other news outlets regularly cover its fluctuating fortunes. Despite questions around impartiality and audience numbers, its influence online grows.

How do political leanings impact which topics attract the most engagement from stakeholders, and how can you attract attention with your own comms?

Which topics interest which stakeholders

Share of Narratives by Community in the Foreign Aid conversation between Nov 1 2022 – Oct 31 2023. Normalized to 100. Source: Pulsar TRAC

An analysis of stakeholders grouped by their political affiliations (as identified by their online affinities and behaviours) shows their differing preoccupations and interests, as well as different styles of interaction with messaging.

A comparison of UK-based Conservatives, UK Republicans, and Left-leaning audiences engaging in the online foreign aid conversation unearths high engagement for ‘immigration’ topics from right-wingers in the United Kingdom, with less engagement for ‘Israel’ and the ‘Domestic Need for Money’.

Left-wingers are equally engaged in the four of these trending topics tracked, while US right-wingers engaging in these topics were most invested in Ukraine and Corruption-focused reporting.

What does this show us? US and UK right-wing stakeholders engaged in singular discussions, with broader narratives taking the attention of global left-wingers.

Volume, visibility & impressions for communities on X between Nov 1 2022 – Oct 31 2023. Normalized to 100. Source: Pulsar TRAC

Analysing impressions (how many people see the content) versus visibility (a bespoke Pulsar metric that reflects how how much impact a piece of content has) also uncovers a clear difference – right-wing content between November 2022 and October 2023 gained viral traction in specific communities, where left-leaning content resonated more widely.

What does this mean when seeking meaningful engagement with all groups, regardless of political affiliation?

Engaging your stakeholders with your comms

Tailoring your strategy and communications for each audience online is how to hit each of your stakeholder segments. Considering where each of these gets their information and how they share it with their own communities provides a map for reaching them.

This could mean making Facebook groups or podcasts a part of your outreach strategy alongside the news channels your stakeholders watch daily with your messaging, or creating short-form content for specific social media platforms designed to be shared quickly and widely.

Engaging with global conversations of conflict is complicated, but an understanding of your stakeholders, where to find them, what they interact with, and how, provides a clearer direction for your comms strategy going forward.

For more on planning your strategy in times of crisis, find out about Vuelio’s horizon scanning solutions.

How an ITV drama brought the Post Office Scandal back into the spotlight

The Post Office Horizon scandal continues to take up column inches and spark political debate.

What lessons can be learned from the ongoing PR crisis? And how did the story explode so quickly across ​multiple platforms?

We analysed media coverage, Parliamentary events, and online mentions of ‘Post Office scandal’ between December 2023 to March 2024 to better understand how the story evolved from an under-reported legal issue, to prime time TV fodder and social virality, to a topic debated in Parliament.

Read our case study to learn:

  • How brand controversies move from platform to platform when left unchecked
  • How a crisis strategy can mitigate the risks of growing controversy
  • How horizon-scanning can help prepare for what lies ahead
  • Why staying on top of both media and political conversations will help you identify the right stakeholders

Download the report by filling in the form below 👇

Rwanda Bill Point of Order

Point of Order: Will the Rwanda Bill ruin Conservative General Election hopes?

With huge costs, mounting opposition and doubts over effectiveness, the Government’s Rwanda Bill is arguably the key underlying force behind the current lack of unity within the Conservative Party. It’s a situation some have labelled as reminiscent of the Theresa May era, where chaos consumed Parliament.

With the General Election looking set for October, and the Conservatives falling behind in the polls, just how much of an issue is Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s approach, and is the issue of immigration overall influential enough to detract voters?

Sign up to the Vuelio General Election Bulletin for updates on the race, and stay connected to key political stakeholders with Vuelio’s Political Monitoring and Political Database

The Safety of Rwanda Bill

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill in substance claims that Rwanda is a country to which it is safe for the UK to relocate asylum seekers. This is despite unanimous rulings from the Supreme Court that Rwanda is in fact not a safe country, as defined by the EU. The proposed legislation also acknowledges that the Home Secretary cannot confirm it is in accordance with the UK’s human rights obligations and seeks to disapply certain sections of the UK’s Human Rights Act.

Parliamentary happenings and progression of the Bill

At the end of 2023, Robert Jenrick resigned as Immigration Minister over the Government’s inability to be ‘tough’ on asylum and immigration policy, stating that the emergency Rwanda legislation ‘does not go far enough’. Although not a shocking move, some have labelled it a personal betrayal by Jenrick, with Jenrick also accusing Sunak of failing to keep his repeated promise to ‘stop the boats’. This move by Jenrick signalled the start of issues with party unity for Sunak and the Conservatives with other so called rebels quick to follow Jenrick’s lead and demonstrate opposition and rebellion.

As the Bill moved through the House and made its way to the Whole House Committee stage, Conservatives, Jenrick and Sir Bill Cash, put forward highly contested amendments that sought to ignore rulings from both domestic and international courts, remove input from the ECHR, and block suspensive claims against removal. The amendments were backed by some 60 Conservative MPs, including the likes of former Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Following this rebellion, former Deputy Chairmen of the Conservative Party Lee Anderson, and Brendan Clarke-Smith, resigned their positions in order to continue voting in favour of these amendments, and thus ultimately against Sunak.

In recent weeks, we have seen the Lords rebut the Rwanda Bill back to the Commons with amendments already rejected by MPs. As expected, delay to the progression of the Bill is likely, with Peers insisting that the legislation must have ‘due regard’ for both domestic and international law. Moreover, it is worth noting that the Conservatives do not have the majority in the Lords; a factor which is likely to further delay progression.

Despite the ongoing ping pong of the Bill between Houses, and it remaining stuck in parliamentary limbo, the Government seemingly had a minor breakthrough when it came to the issue of hotels being used for asylum seekers – a solution that was costing around £8.2 million per day to maintain. The Government announced that by the end of March, the reliance on hotels would be diminished, with 100 hotels being closed for asylum accommodation and reopening back to their normal use. Regardless of this, one day later, No. 10 declared a ‘migration emergency’ following the busiest day of Channel crossings since the start of 2024.

Response to the Bill and public sentiment

Despite the Bill passing its Third Reading with a majority of 44 in the Commons, it has long been apparent that the other parties are not in favour of the Bill as it stands. Labour has repeatedly demanded an impact assessment on the costs of the scheme, and the SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has accused Sunak of seeking to ‘weaponise some of the most vulnerable’.

Apprehension towards the Bill has spread outside of the Westminster bubble, with 270 charities and expert organisations issuing a joint statement calling on Peers to reject the legislation, deeming it ‘deeply harmful’ and arguing that it ‘threatens the universality of human rights and is likely in breach of international law’. The lack of confidence in the functionality of the Bill is also felt amongst the public, with a recent poll by YouGov revealing that only 1% of voters believe that the Bill will stop the boats. Furthermore, another YouGov poll found that on the issue of immigration, only 10% of the public said the Government were handling immigration ‘well’, and 83% said they were handling it ‘badly’.

Context with other issues affecting voting intention

At the start of the year, the Centre for Progressive Policy’s (CPP) recent Local Economy Tracker revealed a widespread pessimism about the future of local economies – perhaps to be expected, considering that several local authorities have issued section 114 bankruptcy notices last year. A lack of affordable housing was also mentioned as an area of concern by 31% of respondents, and 25% mentioned concerns around poor wages or lack of good jobs.

At the end of February, the latest Ipsos Political Monitor not only revealed the Conservatives have the lowest percentage of voting intention since 1978, but also deduced that asylum and immigration were among the most important issues for voters. However, it is important to note that issues relating to the NHS, inflation and the economy ranked higher than immigration and asylum policy matters here. The NHS being number one priority for voters was also echoed in an article from The Guardian at around this time.

Threat of Reform UK

On 11 March, ex-Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson defected to Reform UK after refusing to apologise for claiming that Islamists had control over London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Following his move, Anderson took to X (formerly Twitter) where he provided his reasons for the move. Anderson said he believes in ‘protecting our borders and keeping immigration to a minimum’ and that ‘illegal migrants should be removed the same day they arrive here’. At around this time Anderson also took a leaf out of Farage’s book and said ‘I want our country back’. Considering that Anderson already resigned from his position within the party due to disagreement over the content of the Bill. His decision to leave the Conservatives could also be partly due to this.

Reform UK is a party founded by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage as the ‘Brexit Party’ in 2018. The party was re-registered as Reform UK in January 2021 and Richard Tice replaced Farage as he stepped down. With Reform’s slogan being ‘Let’s Make Britain Great’ and with its hard line on immigration, it has long been compared to, or deemed similar in tone to, the approach and policies of Donald Trump.

Given that immigration is currently one of the bigger challenges facing Sunak, it seems likely that Reform UK could prove a realistic threat to the Conservatives, but also Sunak’s credibility. It is also worth noting that its predecessor, the Brexit Party did not stand candidates against sitting Conservative MPs in 2019 due to an agreement with the then Conservative leader, Boris Johnson. Thus, with Reform UK candidates standing in every seat they offer an option to voters that didn’t exist in 2019.

Alongside this, recent YouGov polling found that in terms of voting intention, Labour is leading with 47 points, the Conservatives have 20 points, and Reform UK is polling not far short of the Conservatives with 13 points. Given that the same data taken in the middle of March last year saw Reform with just six points and the Conservatives with 27 points, the current ruling party are right to be concerned about where support is going, and for what reasons. In addition to this, the number of Conservative MPs standing down is the highest ahead of any General Election since 1997, with 63 announcing they are either not seeking re-election in the current constituency or standing down from Parliament.

Possible impacts of the Rwanda Bill

Since the introduction of the Rwanda Bill, unity within Sunak’s party has diminished and polling has shown a consistent decrease in support for the Conservatives. Meanwhile, Reform UK has taken advantage of Sunak’s inability to convince his party, Parliament and the voters that this Bill will work, and are set to take votes from the Conservatives. However, it is also key to remember that polling has suggested that immigration and asylum policy are not the biggest issues facing voters at this time, and with issues relating to the NHS, inflation and the economy ranking higher in priority for voters it is clear to see a discrepancy exists here between the public’s priority concerns and the current concerns facing the Conservatives.

Despite this, it is wise to be apprehensive about the Rwanda Bill and the Government’s current stance on immigration policy for several reasons of principle:

(1) The Supreme Court unanimously held that Rwanda was not a safe country to which asylum seekers should be relocated – the Bill is extreme in that it directly challenges a very clear ruling of this.

(2) While the Bill seeks to disapply certain human rights obligations in domestic proceedings, it does not alter the fact that the UK still has obligations here under international law.

(3) It is fair to argue that this idea of limiting or de-legitimising the role of such courts is often associated with authoritarian governments and can be criticised for undermining concepts such as judicial independence and the separation of powers.

Vuelio Political Monitoring gives you full visibility of everything that’s happening across Government, Parliament, stakeholder organisations and social media, delivered in a way that works for you – find out more

WITA Powerlist reception

Celebrating powerful women in trade associations 2024

Vuelio was proud to be a sponsor of last week’s Women in Trade Associations Powerlist reception, celebrating the accomplishments of women making a difference throughout the sector.

Those acknowledged by the TAF, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)’s powerlist were invited to this celebratory event at Space14.

Emily Wallace TAF

‘What I am struck by is what an incredible opportunity we have in this room, with the most inspirational and powerful women in associations,’ said TAF CEO Emily Wallace.

‘There’s a real challenge for trade associations to support female entrepreneurs and female-led businesses. Let this be the start of something. What more we can do to become more powerful advocates for women in business in the UK and support ambitions for growth?’

Nicola Bates WineGB

WineGB CEO and head judge for the powerlist Nicola Bates highlighted the importance of gender balance within organisations, acknowledging that ‘we still have a huge amount to do in the industry’.

She also took a moment to highlight the work of previous generations of women:

‘On the personal side, I really want you to think about the woman who helped you the most in your life. She might be someone in your family, she might not. I believe we stand on the shoulders of giants.

‘We’re so fortunate to be born at this point, we’re so fortunate to be working in this country, in the West, at this time. There are so many problems in terms of women’s rights, and we happen to be here and able to advocate for our sectors.

‘Fifty years ago, this room would not be full.’

Ayesha Patel

Ayesha Patel, sector policy lead (domestic and international) at the Department for Business and Trade and judge for the TAF Awards, paid tribute to the hard work of everyone gathered in the room:

‘Not only does this event, and this list, shine a light on your extraordinary leadership, but also on the job that you do in representing your industries and sectors, as well as engaging with us in Government in the most invaluable and constructive way.

‘As a woman, may I also thank you for setting such a strong example of leadership, tenacity, and integrity for all of us, particularly in the most challenging circumstances and environments when the work is never, ever done. We all know the importance of representation, role models, and advocacy, so congratulations to all of you, and thank you for all that you do.’

Emelia Quist

Emelia Quist, head of policy research at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) spoke about the most positive parts of her job:

‘One of the things that I have to do in my role is look at survey data and see what women-led businesses are doing, and I also get to meet our members. It gives me energy to be in a room with women and drive policy change. I’m really glad to be here this evening, getting to meet so many wonderful people.’

Liz Banks CBI

‘We know how impactful trade association members can be, to drive policy change, to offer advice and support directly to businesses, and to overcome challenges, and seize opportunities – whether that’s meeting net zero targets, or meeting societal challenges in your particular sectors,’ said Liz Banks, campaigns & communications director for the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI).

‘Among the applications there were so many inspiring stories of real impact and ambition – folks rolling up their sleeves, not accepting the status quo, and getting things done.

‘On behalf of CBI and TA, thank you for creating this opportunity to celebrate all these women.’

Check out the full Women in Trade Associations Powerlist 2024 here.

How to navigate the storm of crisis

How to navigate the storm of a PR crisis

Is your organisation prepared to handle the top global risks predicted for 2024?

From the far-reaching impacts of geo-politcal conflicts, the threats of misinformation, or values-based mismatches between audiences, the possible sources of future problems are numerous. But they can be planned for.

As part of the webinar ‘Preparing for the unexpected – redefining communications strategy’, Wadds Inc.’s founder and managing partner Stephen Waddington shared extra pointers for navigating crises.

Read on for ways to get internal stakeholders onboard and how to bring international teams together.

How do you educate the leaders of an organisation about their roles in crisis comms planning?

Crisis response is part of any leader’s role. Planning, training, and regular testing for key management team members should be part of an organisation’s risk preparedness. The frequency of these activities depends on the organisation’s operational context.

Horizon scanning is a helpful tool to alert management to the range of risks around an organisation.

How do you manage risk in an environment where there is a high level of staff turnover?

An organisation’s governance should include a risk register and a robust training programme. These safeguards protect the organisation from operational issues such as staff turnover.

What are key observations on the dovetail between operational and reputational risk?

The nature of operational risk within an organisation should be well understood. Areas of crisis preparedness and response will typically be led and managed by operational teams. Reputational risk is more dynamic and depends on the operational context and markets in which an organisation operates. It should be reviewed frequently as part of the analysis for a risk register.

What advice do you have for helping global teams respond to crises and keeping teams joined up?

The robust capability of the corporate communications function to respond to issues and crises as part of an integrated organisational response is a legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic. Communications teams tested crisis plans and their execution in terms of technology, media, and processes.

How can you mitigate risk for organisations that are dealing with issues that have the potential to polarise stakeholders?

This is a critical contemporary issue for corporate communication and management teams. Political and societal issues must be balanced with business imperatives and values or purpose-driven leadership. We’ve developed a decision-making framework to support this activity.

Do you have a recommendation to manage a crisis simulation within a comms team?

We work with Polpeo, a UK crisis simulation company led by Kate Hartley. Its virtual environment can simulate a full-blown crisis in a safe setting. Polpeo combines technology and expert practitioners to train and test a corporate communications or management team.

For more on managing crisis, download the accompanying white paper ‘The evolving nature of crisis communications management’ and watch the webinar ‘Preparing for the unexpected – redefining communications strategy’.

Want to start scanning for crisis sources? Find out more about Vuelio’s Media Monitoring.

Webinar write up

Are you prepared? It’s time to redefine your crisis communications strategy

It’s impossible to plan for every future crisis, but having a comms plan in place is a must-have for every organisation in the current climate.

To help with this, we teamed up with Wadds Inc. founder and managing partner Stephen Waddington for the webinar ‘Preparing for the unexpected – redefining communications strategy’.

Watch the webinar here.

Stephen shared the lowdown on risks you need to know about this year, how to identify potential problems sources, and how to prepare for what’s ahead.

If you missed it, don’t fret – here are some of the key points covered:

Risk has changed – here’s how to keep up

2024 has already been an eventful year, and the tried and tested comms plans of the past need to be updated – it’s time to adapt with the changing world PR communicates with:

‘We are operating in a complex geopolitical environmental and societal perspective,’ said Stephen.

‘Organisations have had to humanise how they communicate with the public as a collective response to COVID-19. Initially, this was related to mental health and wellbeing, and then the wider societal context, including Black Lives Matter and Roe vs Wade. Three years on, this has resulted in a new area of crisis.’

Quote from Rod Cartwright

Stephen shared advice from Rod Cartwright, special advisor to the CIPR Crisis Communications Network:

‘Risk registers, heat maps, and risk appetite statements are essential for any organisation. But they are also only the start…’

Responding to crisis

The three tenets at the core of any crisis response according to Stephe are monitoring, testing, and then centring your comms:

‘Crisis comes with maining public trust, coordinating a complex stakeholder environment, and holding leadership to account.

‘Preparedness is tested through simulation exercises where we can spot gaps in capability, and we can put teams under pressure to help develop plans. Finally, we can make use of our ability to continually monitor, and horizon-scan’.

‘Media monitoring and social listening tools allow us more than ever to understand the public and social sphere and identify those behaviours around a crisis event’.

Future reading

Stephen highlighted some useful resources to bolster your crisis planning:

– Vuelio and Wadds Inc.’s latest white paper The evolving nature of crisis communications management
– The CIPR Crisis Communications Network’s Drafting a Crisis Communication Plan
– The National Protective Security Authority’s Reducing Insider Risk Toolkit
– The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report for 2024.

For much more on the top risks to plan for this year and beyond, as well as strategies for tackling crises as they unfold, as well as the fallout, check out our white paper.

Want to know more about media monitoring and social listening? Check out solutions from Vuelio and our sister brand Pulsar.

The evolving nature of crisis communications management

The evolving nature of crisis communications management

 

The evolving nature of crisis communications management

 

How prepared is your organisation for future crises?

A robust crisis comms management strategy can help teams tackle the unexpected.

Our latest white paper with Wadds Inc. founder and managing partner Stephen Waddington explores the changing nature of risk within society and its impact on organisations.

From value-based crises, false or manipulated information, to social polarisation, this report highlights how PR teams are operating in an increasingly complex world of interconnected systems.

Drawing insight from industry experts including Amanda Coleman, Ronke Lawal, and Rod Cartwright, The evolving nature of crisis communications management provides practical guidance on how to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a crisis.

Get your copy and learn:

  • What top five global risks comms teams need to prepare for
  • How to build a crisis comms response strategy
  • Why diversity and representation is vital for an effective comms team
  • How horizon scanning can help with strategic planning and risk mitigation

Download the report by filling in the form below 👇

Jeremy Hunt Spring Budget

Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget for ‘long-term growth’

This is a post from Michael Kane, Henry Welch, and Helen Stott on the Vuelio Political team.

Years before he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt advocated cutting corporation tax by nearly a third in the 2019 Conservative Leadership Election. For a politician viewed primarily as a safe pair of hands- particularly significant given he has been a frontline political figure since 2005 – this leadership campaign perhaps represents the best read into Hunt’s personal and moral priorities. Fast forward to 2024, and Hunt has delivered his second Spring Budget – a year and a half on from his initial appointment as Chancellor to be that safe pair of hands.

While the Government’s focus on tax cuts in the Spring Budget might be intuitive given Hunt’s policy platform in 2019, it’s also borne out of external factors, with the Conservative’s needing something to overturn a 20-plus poll gap to Labour. It could be a move to differentiate the Conservatives and expose Labour’s perceived weakness on tax and spend – a defensively reactive and politicalised budget given the impending General Election. Testament to this, the Civil Service transcript of Hunt’s address to Parliament removed ‘political content’ 27 times.

Nevertheless, while Hunt’s Budget may set up some attack lines for a future General Election, it leaves the Conservatives exposed due to its apparent failure to energise their base and its implications for struggling Local Government and wider public services. Altogether, there is some reasonable doubt over whether this actually changes anything.

A General Election budget?

With a General Election looming, it might be expected that the Government’s Budget will focus on pre-empting moves from the Opposition. Significantly, the Conservatives moved to adopt several of Labour’s tax raising policies, such as reforming the non-dom status and extending the Windfall tax on oil and gas. The Conservatives may have joked that Labour were using the ‘non-dom tax’ to fund all of its new public spending, but now the party will not have a chance and has been forced to fund reforms through ‘future savings’. Instead, this money was used to cut National Insurance (NI). This could be seen as a progressive move, with NI only affecting working people, moreover, this focus on cutting personal taxes is in sharp contrast to Conservative Governments of recent years. Labour has so far said it will keep the reduction in NI, and any attempt to increase it within its first term of government would likely be deeply unpopular. But this leaves Labour with the problem of how to improve public services (or at least stop them from continually declining) while having decreased tax revenues.

However, the Government did not stop there as through the Spring Budget, the Conservatives established NI as a clear dividing line against Labour. With a pledge to scrap the ‘double taxation’ of NI and income tax, the Conservatives put the ball firmly in Labour’s court. Labour may have supported the move to cut the tax last week, but is not willing to be drawn into the Government’s plan to abolish it completely. Labour has instead accused Sunak of parroting his predecessor Liz Truss with an unfunded commitment that would cost £46bn a year. Labour’s point may prove an

economically prudent position with Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), saying Hunt’s pledge is ‘not worth the paper it’s written on’ while it is not funded. However, a key question could be, will the Government’s message of tax cuts speak to voters during the election campaign – especially given that Labour’s financial policies receive a significant amount more scrutiny than the Conservative’s during an election period.

When speaking about the economy, it is important to remember that Government finances do not work the same way as household finances (an analogy that Labour was criticised for earlier this week) – and the way that politicians talk about money should not always be interpreted literally. For example, conversations about tax and spend – particularly over the past six months – have been dominated by the notion of ‘fiscal headroom’, but in reality this is quite an abstract and complicated idea. Headroom is the amount the Government is able to spend and still theoretically meet its fiscal rule – to have debt falling as a percentage of GDP by the end of five years – according to OBR forecasts. Nonetheless, the Government’s fiscal rules are not concrete economic laws, but are self-imposed and somewhat arbitrary. Much like prior to 1997, Labour have decided to follow these arbitrary rules in an appeal to be seen as the stable party of business. This leaves the Conservatives in the position where they can almost dictate aspects of Labour policy by using as much of the ‘headroom’ as possible.

Failing to energise the base

The last fiscal event prior to a General Election is normally seen as a way to rally the supporter base and ensure core voters get out knocking doors. There is no guarantee that this Spring Budget will constitute the last fiscal event before the election but everything the Government does now will be scrutinised with a future GE in sight. With this in mind, at this Budget the Government had to juggle sound economical and political moves. This is due to the precarious economic position of the country, with the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasting 0.8% growth for 2024 and growth not set to surpass 2% in the next five years.

This meant that Hunt and the Conservatives have been constrained in their attempt to vitalise their base, with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and Reform UK all lurking. Some in the Conservative Party were upset that there was not more done to target core Conservative voters, with tax cuts aimed at workers rather than pensioners – for instance, this is best encapsulated by the lack of focus on income tax or inheritance tax. Additionally, the move to abolish the preferential tax regime for Furnished Holiday Lets may also be unpopular with richer Conservative voters in the South West and South East of England. This may lead to future issues with members and supporters out door knocking and the Conservative’s will be keeping a keen eye on this at May’s local elections.

Public services and Local Government

A major question at the election will be a simple one: do people feel better off after 14 years of Conservative rule? The decline of British public services over the last decade, from overcrowded prisons to record NHS waiting lists, may give a simple answer. The importance of public sector improvements was hammered home by pre-Budget polling with YouGov finding that 57% to 27% of respondents prioritise public spending over cutting taxes

Many will be disappointed that the Chancellor has effectively paid for tax cuts in the present by pencilling in public spending cuts for after a General Election, as pointed out by economists. The IFS estimates that sticking to current spending plans would require cuts of around 3.3% a year to unprotected services (such as courts, prisons, and Local Government), which will be extremely difficult after over a decade of austerity. This has left a future Government in a very difficult position with these planned cuts prompting IFS director Paul Johnson to accuse both the Conservatives and Labour of a ‘conspiracy of silence’ around the scale of challenges facing the country after the election.

One area that is particularly struggling is Local Government, which provides some of the most vital frontline services; such as social care, housing, and education. This past year has seen a slew of local councils declaring effective bankruptcy, and analysis shows that over a third of local councils could go bankrupt in the next five years unless they make serious cuts. Last week saw Birmingham City Council make the unprecedented decision to raise council tax by 21% over the next two years – which is normally not permitted without a public referendum. The Government has, to a certain extent, been able to shift blame for the crisis in Local Government, as analysis shows that cuts have hit Labour-run councils the hardest. The Conservatives have been able to point to other other factors such as corruption and financial incompetence. Nonetheless, Labour will be unable to position itself this way, and will have to reach a sustainable funding settlement for Local Government, or risk serious disillusionment from voters forced to pay higher taxes for declining public services. In this regard, the challenges faced by Local Government and wider public services are challenges that cannot be avoided by both parties either.

Political implications

With a General Election at most ten months away, the important question is has this actually made any difference for the Conservatives? One of the takeaways may be clarity around the date of the election. Prior to the Budget, in a move that was probably more politicking rather than sincere, Labour Shadow Minister Jonathan Ashworth bet on live TV that there would be a Spring election. Nonetheless, following a disappointing reaction to measures announced, and no significant positive movement in the polling, many Conservative MPs now believe that there will be an Autumn election.

The immediate reaction to the Budget has been very bad for the Government. An Opinium poll has found that the Conservatives have dropped two points since the Budget, while 31% of respondents said they believed taxes had gone up despite the NI cut, with just 17% believing they had gone down. While perhaps less scientific, a huge 93% of respondents on the Daily Express’ post Budget poll have said they do not believe it will leave them better off. YouGov highlights that although many are in favour of the big announcements at the Budget, more people believe that it was unfair, unaffordable, and will leave the country and families worse off. Significantly, the public preferred Labour’s policy on the non-dom status by 52% to 21%, indicating the population’s concerns around public services.

This is where there may be a disconnect between current Government policy and voter’s priorities. When the Conservatives were elected in 2010 and in 2015, the country was arguably willing to stomach a period of austerity in the belief that a previous Government had overspent. The election of Boris Johnson and his big spending, levelling-up agenda signified the end of this period and therefore, there is some doubt over whether Hunt’s moves to cut spending to fund tax cuts will speak to the concerns of voters.

With this the ‘greatest tax-raising Parliament since the Second World War’ and 75% of councils expecting to introduce the maximum increase of Council Tax, Westminster might be forgiven for thinking that the Conservatives are shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic.

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