Trolling

The Antisocial General Election campaign?

Vuelio’s Sam Webber highlights how candidates of all parties are facing high levels of abuse in this election campaign and how many are using social media to highlight what his happening on the ground in different constituencies and to call it out. One challenge for the next government through the Online Harms White Paper will be to improve the online environment for users and to ensure it is regulated more effectively.

As votes are cast in today’s General Election, parties and policies aside, one of the more damaging aspects of the campaign has been the abuse directed towards candidates and party activists. This is often intensified by or begins on digital platforms.

Social media has also offered candidates the opportunity to highlight what has been happening on the ground in different constituencies, which might not otherwise be picked up beyond local or regional press. While not exclusively, this abuse seems to be directed more heavily towards female candidates of all parties.

Labour candidate Natalie Fleet, defending the Labour seat of Ashfield, tweeted a photo of her Nottinghamshire campaign HQ with its windows smashed.

Tweeting out a photo of the damaged shop front, she said: ‘This is the reason those that love me didn’t want me to do it. It is hard, yet I can’t stand by & see #Ashfield left behind.’

She spoke to the Guardian about the attack: ‘It’s deliberate, it’s targeted and it’s not very nice; and, unfortunately, in this climate it’s also predictable.’

A Liberal Democrat candidate, Hannah Perkin, standing in Faversham and Mid Kent said last month: ‘I have the police coming to my house tomorrow following personal threats to the safety of myself, my friends and my family. I am standing up for what I believe in. When did we lose the ability to do that? Honestly heartbroken.’

Luke Pollard, the Labour candidate for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport also reported a case of homophobic graffiti on his campaign office to the police. He said: ‘There is no place for hate in our city and I will continue to call it out wherever and whenever I see it… There is no place for hate but with each attack more and more people stand up against it.’

Only this week, the Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani tweeted out a photo of racist hate mail she received and said: ‘Today’s post – so I’m the racist & being told to go back to where I come from?’

While the number of MPs standing down at the 2019 General Election at 74, is lower than the 1997 election where 117 MPs stood down and 2010 when 149 stood down, many have noted the number of MPs and primarily women who have stepped down citing the pressure of serving in the House of Commons since the EU Referendum and indeed citing social media abuse.

Among the 74 people are a significant number of female MPs who have served as cabinet ministers including Nicky Morgan who took the rare step as the serving Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary to announce she would not be contesting the election as a Conservative candidate. Morgan said part of the reason for stepping down included the abuse she received for ‘doing the job of a modern MP’. She added: ‘I think the abuse, because of the platforms, because of how strongly people feel about the current political situation, that has changed enormously in the almost 10 years since I started’.

Justine Greening, Amber Rudd and Dame Caroline Spelman also stood down as well as prominent opposition MPs including Gloria De Piero, Heidi Allen, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson and former Conservative minister and brother of the Prime Minister, Jo Johnson.

As the campaign concludes this week, the National Police Chiefs’ Council told the Press Association 198 reports around candidate safety had been made between November 15 and December 4 and that around half were serious enough to be treated as crimes. The majority of these were allegations of malicious communications online, but there were also reports of criminal damage and harassment.

Vuelio’s recent White Paper, The Politics of Social Media, which was discussed in a fringe meeting at Conservative Conference attended by Nicky Morgan looked at the changing role of social media in British politics. The 2019 campaign has only highlighted the importance of online campaigning even more. The next stages of the Online Harms White Paper, which seeks to improve the online environment for users and tighten up regulation will be a major issue for the incoming Government whatever the result of today’s election.

 

Sam Webber is External Relations Manager at Vuelio. He is a prospective parliamentary candidate in the general election, standing for the Liberal Democrats in Erith and Thamesmead.

New followers by party

Tactical voting spikes on social media in final days of #GE2019 campaigning

Vuelio’s sister company Pulsar has been tracking social media conversations across different platforms and highlighting the most popular policies, as well as what voters are saying and sharing online during the general election campaign.

The latest update of the Pulsar/89up social election index analysis of social media followers and content engagement across the main social networks and online sources reveals over 700,000 mentions of tactical voting on Twitter since the beginning of the general election, with a significant spike in interest from 5 December. The level of conversation on this topic has consistently risen since the start of the general election.

This follows prominent public figures with large social media followings endorsing tactical voting, including Hugh Grant and Deborah Meaden.

Graph 6

The 2019 General Election is primarily a two-horse race on social media with the Conservatives’ higher social media spend going toe-to-toe with the huge personal social media presence of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour campaign organisation Momentum and prominent party supporters like Owen Jones have also been amplifying the Labour campaign messages and directing activists to the most crucial electoral battlegrounds.

Analysis of social media followers and content engagement across the main social networks and online sources (blogs, forums, online news) between 8 November and 10 December 2019 reveals significantly higher volumes of engagement with content from Jeremy Corbyn in comparison to that from Boris Johnson. For both leaders, the engagement levels of their social media posts have dropped in the last week.

Post engagement

Media sources
The social election index also collated information on the media sources that have been shared most widely during the campaign. These point to sources which are arguably more favourable to the Labour campaign and show that the Guardian, the Independent and the Mirror are the three biggest websites shared during the campaign, with the BBC in fourth place.

Media sources

In terms of actual content, the most widely shared links during the campaign includes highly debated photo story of a four-year-old boy sleeping on a hospital floor due to a lack of beds. It also includes the ‘Register to vote’ link which ensured a large boost in voter registration early in the campaign. The impact of this spike in registrations will not be fully known until the results are in but it reveals new levels of engagement with politics.

Most shared links

Corbyn ahead
Jeremy Corbyn has been adding new followers at a much more rapid pace than Boris Johnson across social media platforms, with the Labour leader getting a major uplift in the number of his social media followers after his much-criticised interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil on 26 November. Conversely Boris Johnson received heavy criticism for not agreeing to an interview with Neil despite all other party leaders doing one. A video clip by Andrew Neil with the topics he wanted to ask the Prime Minister about became one of the most widely shared pieces of content on social media.

New followers by party

Graph 2

The Jeremy Corbyn social media surge has had knock on impact on engagement for the respective political parties with Labour staying ahead of the Conservative party in terms of engagement across Twitter and Facebook. This could make a huge difference on election day itself in terms of boosting voter turnout and ensuring that party activists are campaigning in the constituencies where they can have the most impact on the overall result.

post engagement

The major issues of the campaign

Brexit remains the topic driving the most online conversation during the General Election, followed closely by the NHS. Yet, for arguably the first time in British history, the discussion about racism has driven almost as much conversation as the economy. Social media conversation about racism, whether anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, had 484,360 mentions compared 508,124 of the economy on Twitter in the period up to 10 December. Of the 484,360 mentions of racism, 86,108 are specifically mentions of Islamophobia (18%) and 203,224 mentions of anti-Semitism (42% of total mentions).

top issues in GE

On Monday 16 December, Pulsar will compare social media success with the results of the General Election to determine the impact of social media on the results. Whether Corbyn and the Labour party can use their current social media momentum to boost voter turnout remains to be seen.

Loan Charge

Using the power of social media to make the #LoanCharge an election issue

This blogpost is part of a series of guest posts on Vuelio’s political blog Point of Order, which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy makers and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

In this post, Steve Packham from the Loan Charge Action Group, argues that the General Election has been ‘both a challenge and an opportunity’ for the campaign and he writes that his group will continue to lobby newly elected MPs to suspend the date people must declare and pay the charge, which is still set for 31 January 2020.

In the heat and fury of the election campaign, it can be difficult to get messages heard about many important issues, with Brexit, the NHS and a few other key national issues inevitably dominating. However, for many people, there are issues that are personal to them, that affect them directly and that are more important than anything else in deciding how they will cast their vote in #GE2019.

One such issue is the draconian Loan Charge, a policy introduced by the current Government giving HMRC the power to demand life-changing retrospective tax bills for arrangements that were legal. It has led to at least seven suicides but still the Government refuses to suspend the date people must declare and pay it, which is 31 January 2020.

It is difficult to get such issues noticed above the media coverage of the election campaign, but it can be done through a combination of people power, campaigning savvy and clever use of social media.

In normal political times, for a Government policy to have led to seven people taking their own lives and with over two hundred MPs in the last Parliament calling on the Government to halt it would surely be enough to succeed in stopping the Loan Charge. Yet these are not normal times and, with so much focus on the Brexit saga, Ministers have proved astonishingly and callously stubborn.

The calling of this election has been both a challenge and an opportunity for our campaign. A challenge because all our efforts and the support of over 200 MPs had already led to the Treasury reluctantly announcing a review, but the report was then delayed till after election. The Loan Charge meanwhile remains in place and the clock is ticking.

Yet the election has proved to be a real opportunity too, with the chance to lobby election candidates up and down the country. As they hear about the retrospective Loan Charge and the damage it has done and will do to thousands of families, including in the constituency they are standing in, the more sign up to oppose this policy if elected. We have had some real breakthroughs, most notably when the Liberal Democrats pledged in their manifesto to scrap the retrospective Loan Charge; a very significant development.

With the need to get a suspension of the 31 January declaration date declared by current Treasury Ministers, we’ve taken the message directly to the Chancellor Sajid Javid, with powerful protests highlighting the seven tragic suicides, in Westminster and in his own constituency of Bromsgrove last Saturday. Although he refused to speak to the protesters – who were outside three of his local meetings in Rubery, Bromsgrove and Cofton – he was challenged on the issue by constituents at two of these meetings.   Clearly rattled by the protests, he sent out a member of his campaign staff to say that that the Chancellor wants the Morse review report published straight after the election. He did, however, again refuse to do the obvious and right thing, and suspend the January declaration date to allow the review recommendations to be implemented.

We have had amazing people who have turned up to protest in Westminster and Bromsgrove in the December cold, as well as a few months back in Runnymede – then the constituency of Loan Charge architect Philip Hammond. Real people power. Alongside this we have used social media and we have had #LoanCharge #LoanChargeSuicides and the question #HowManyMoreSajid? trending on Twitter in the UK. We have followed that up with protests aimed at Jesse Norman, current Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and at the Prime Minister himself, Boris Johnson.

So, through passion and powerful campaigning we have managed, even in this cluttered environment, to make the immoral Loan Charge an election issue. We will keep going and you can be sure that once the new set of MPs is announced on Friday 13 December (which will be lucky for some, unlucky for others) we will be holding them to their promise to #STOPtheLoanCharge and to #SaveLives.

Steve Packham, Spokesperson for the Loan Charge Action Group.

Pulsar social election index

Corbyn’s winning the social media general election

Vuelio’s sister company Pulsar has been tracking social media conversations across different platforms and highlighting the most popular policies, as well as the most engaging political parties and their leaders during the general election campaign. The influence of social media on campaigning is greater than ever, and this analysis shows who is finding success.

The Pulsar/89up social election index analysis of social media followers and content engagement across the main social networks and online sources reveals significantly higher volumes of engagement with content from Jeremy Corbyn in comparison to that from Boris Johnson.

Pulsar social election index

Corbyn is also picking up new followers at a much faster rate than Johnson, with both finding more success on Twitter over Facebook.

Pulsar social election index

He had a major uplift in the number of his social media followers after his much-criticised interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil on 26 November, as well as this tweet on 24 November, which was by far the most engaged with piece of content from the period we tracked.

Issues
The index also shows that people are developing and evolving their arguments on social media, with Brexit dominating the general election in terms of the volume of social media conversations, closely followed by the NHS.

The biggest surprise, compared with previous elections, is the dominance of Racism in the social media conversation, on par with the Economy in the discussion. This follows media coverage in recent weeks about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia largely affecting the two main parties.

Pulsar social election index

The comparatively low volume around Crime and Security and Defence, will presumably change in the final two weeks of the campaign leading up to polling day on 12 December, following the tragic terrorist incident in London on 29 November. It has already led to wider questions being asked about resourcing of the UK’s police and security services as well as the prison and probation service.

The breakdown of issues by party show which policy areas are cross-party in terms of the social media conversation and which are dominated by either Labour or the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems and the Brexit Party, who have polarised positions on Brexit, have their biggest share of the conversation around the EU, while the Green Party takes a larger share when it comes to Climate Change and the Environment as expected. Following media reports of the SNP’s position on Trident and the UK’s nuclear deterrent, it is unsurprising to see their highest share of the conversation is around Security and Defence.

Issues such as Housing, Pensions and Nationalisation see Labour dominate the social media conservation, whereas Privatisation, Crime and Immigration are dominated by the Conservatives.

Pulsar social election index

The index is noteworthy given the amount of influence social media is expected to have on the final two weeks of the campaign and the eventual outcome, which is reflected in widely reported party spend on social media advertising. Whether Labour can convert its social media success into votes remains to be seen, but this tracker will give an indication of the public’s behaviour online right up until 12 December.

The party with the greatest social media influence will also have an advantage on election day itself in terms of ensuring members and supporters are amplifying the party’s ‘Get out the vote’ messages and are also directed to the most critical target seats.

The social media analysis in the Pulsar/89up social election index offers insight into the general election campaign across social networks and other web sources, such as Blogs, Forums, Reddit, Online News and YouTube from the 8 November to 2 December. The report tracks mentions of key political issues and UK political parties and their leaders.

Old Bailey

Bob Neill: Our frequently overlooked justice system needs to be properly resourced

This blogpost is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blog Point of Order which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy makers and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and be connected to those who campaign on the issues they care about. The blog has recently published on voter turnout and opinion polling, the immigration system, the environment and tackling the climate emergency. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

Conservative candidate and most recent Justice Committee Chair Bob Neill says that the UK justice system is ‘as integral a part of our social services as anything else, employing, directly or indirectly, some immensely dedicated, talented and brave people’. He calls for greater investment in our prisons, more money for the legal aid system and a proper strategy for recruiting, retaining and making the best use of magistrates, who deal with around 95% of criminal cases.

For many, the justice system can seem a distant and complex web of solemn juries and impenetrable legalese. Taken together with the fact most of us rarely have any direct contact with it, it can be easy to see why the sector is frequently overlooked and often under-appreciated. However, we do so to the detriment of us all.

Indeed, the justice system underpins everything we do, managing how we deal with those who break the rules and offend; how we try constructively to prevent that, protecting the public from harm and supporting the victims of crime; and how, wherever possible, we attempt to rehabilitate those who have done wrong, giving them the tools they need to forge a second chance for themselves. At the same time, our courts system helps to protect our fundamental rights, provides us with a means of seeking redress when the law is broken, and resolves disputes between individuals and businesses. These are all measures of a civilised society.

It is for those reasons the justice system is as integral a part of our social services as anything else, employing, directly or indirectly, some immensely dedicated, talented and brave people. It needs to be properly resourced and the people working in it better supported.

Against that backdrop, the Justice Committee, which I had the privilege to Chair over the course of the last two Parliaments, has in recent years carried out an ambitious and broad programme of scrutiny on everything from bailiffs and the enforcement of debt to the probation system and the small claims limit.

So, what needs doing?

In short, from a criminal justice standpoint, we need greater investment in our prisons so we can recruit more staff and, importantly, retain experienced officers; reform the prison estate, to ensure it remains fit for purpose; and make education and training opportunities central, providing support to help offenders find employment and housing once released. The recent announcement, included in the Conservative Party Manifesto, to create a prisoner education service focused on work-based training and skills is a very welcome first step.

To those who doubt the need for reform, I would say this: with the cost of reoffending estimated to be £18 billion a year, and recidivism rates remaining stubbornly high, the stark reality is that none of us as taxpayers are receiving value for money. All but the most serious offenders will one day be released from prison. The current status quo, in which not enough support is available to ensure those same people don’t simply revert back to a life of crime once on the outside, is neither economical nor does it represent smart justice.

From a civil justice perspective, we have to make sure our courts are more efficiently run and properly maintained, also putting more money into our legal aid system to ensure access to justice isn’t hindered. One of our main concerns has been an increasingly depleted magistracy. Given these volunteers deal with around 95% of criminal cases and a substantial proportion of non-criminal work, including family law cases, it’s a challenge that needs to be urgently addressed via a proper strategy for recruiting, retaining and making best use of our magistrates, including through advertising campaigns and work-based support schemes to help those who serve.

Whichever party comes out on top on 12th December, these will be the tasks incoming ministers have to grapple with. A good start would be to move forward with a pragmatic, evidence-based approach that seeks consensus across the House of Commons on these vitally important issues.

This is a guest post from Bob Neill, who has been Chair of the Justice Committee since 2015. He is the Conservative candidate for Bromley and Chislehurst.

Polling booth

How will turnout and opinion polls affect the General Election result?

Vuelio’s External Relations Manager Sam Webber investigates the final push for voter registrations before the deadline and whether opinion polls will have an impact on turnout in the first December election the UK has had in over 90 years.

Polling day for the 2019 General Election is now less than two weeks away.

The first December election campaign since 1923 is drawing to a close with the final debates, opinion polls and seat by seat projections set to dominate the media coverage.

Postal votes are landing on doormats across the country. Many are often completed and returned within a day or two, so this weekend is in effect the first polling day of the campaign; a dry run for party activists before the main event on 12 December.

In 2017, 8.4 million people voted by post (18% of voters) and given the time of year and weather conditions, it is likely that the number voting by post this time will be higher still. Overall turnout for this election will be crucial, especially given the high number of marginal seats which are likely to decide the outcome.

68.8% was the turnout in 2017 but it could be even higher in 2019 given how important the result will be in deciding not just the next Government, but the next stage of Brexit and whether or not the UK leaves the EU and the end of January.

Equally, polls pointing to a 10% lead or more for the Conservatives and a key poll and seat projection suggesting a Tory majority of 68 might mean people stay at home if they believe that the result is beyond doubt.

It might also mean that the traditional Labour voters in the North, the Midlands and Wales who are likely to support the Conservatives on this occasion to ensure Boris Johnson has a majority to deliver Brexit, are persuaded at the last minute to stick with Labour instead.

Another factor to consider is the final push for voter registration right up until the deadline of 23:59 on Tuesday 26 November; 3.85 million people registered to vote by the final deadline which was 67% higher than the 2.3 million people who registered in the same period leading up to the 2017 poll. A significant proportion of these people will already be registered to vote though they are still counted in the total figure. However, this still points to a high level of interest in this contest despite the festive season.

67% of registrations also came from people aged 34 or under which would usually be more beneficial to Labour and proved to be true in 2017 when the party captured seats in university towns like Reading, Canterbury and Warwick and Leamington.

Labour will be hoping its dominance on social media and ability to get its party message out, drives up turnout in those key seats they need to win or retain to deprive Boris Johnson of a Conservative majority. The Conservatives will be pushing their message, that only a Conservative victory on 12 December will see Brexit delivered and take the country forward, even harder in the key seats they need to win and more widely on social media platforms. The public will decide which option they prefer.

 

Sam Webber is External Relations Manager at Vuelio. He is a prospective parliamentary candidate in the general election, standing for the Liberal Democrats in Erith and Thamesmead.

Stanley Johnson

Stanley Johnson: Rebuilding environmental bridges with the EU after Brexit should be a key UK priority

Former Conservative MEP and environmental campaigner Stanley Johnson writes that despite backing remain in the referendum, he now fully supports his son Boris as Prime Minister, who is seeking to ‘Get Brexit Done’ as long as the UK and EU can continue to work together on world-leading environmental policies.

During the seventies and eighties, I was personally involved, both as an MEP and as a senior official of the European Commission, in drafting environmental legislation on a wide range of issues such as air and water pollution, the disposal of waste, noise and nature protection; measures which have since been introduced and applied on a common basis among EU Member States.

In the run-up to the EU Referendum in June 2016, I co-founded (with Baroness Young of Old Scone) and co-chaired an all-party group called Environmentalists for Europe. We argued that the UK had contributed in important respects to the development of EU environmental policy and had derived much benefit from it.

So, I can’t pretend that the result of the Referendum, with its clear majority for Leave as opposed to Remain (17.4 million against 16.1 million votes), did not come as a shock. It was not what we were hoping for. Since then, however, my personal preference has been clear. The people having spoken with a clear voice, we have to deliver the goods and ‘Get Brexit Done’.

But that doesn’t mean that one-time Remainers like me have forgotten about the environment. Far from it. My concern now is that in leaving the EU, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

As I write, opinion polls suggest that the Conservative Party is on course to achieve a working majority. In that context, the commitments made in the recently-released Conservative Manifesto are obviously relevant to any assessment of ‘the environmental future’.

The climate issue is a case in point. Last Monday, 25 November, the World Meteorological Office Secretary-General Petteri Taalas announced: ‘There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

‘We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of the mankind. It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago. Back then, the temperature was 2-3°C warmer, sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now.’

The Conservative Manifesto states: ‘The climate emergency means that the challenges we face stretch far beyond our borders. We will lead the global fight against climate change by delivering on our world-leading target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.’

It goes on to say: ‘We have doubled International Climate Finance. And we will use our position hosting the UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow in 2020 to ask our global partners to match our ambition.’

As we look ahead to next year’s key Climate Summit, COP26, in Glasgow (and in the light of the woeful situation highlighted this week by WMO), UK diplomats and negotiators will have to be ready to work overtime. Whereas the eyes of their political masters may be trained on potential trade deals with other key players (Japan, US, Australia, India, China, Canada etc), our diplomats will need to focus on how the UK can continue – once outside the EU – to play a leading role in dealing with the world’s key environmental challenges.

Ironically, rebuilding bridges with the EU (retrieving the baby from the bathwater?) as far as the environment is concerned at least, may well be one of the key priorities. After all, as the Prime Minister is keen to remind us: we are leaving the EU; we are not leaving Europe.

Point of Order

On a Point of Order Mr Speaker…

For politically interested readers and public affairs stakeholders alike, Vuelio has launched a political content hub called ‘Point of Order’. All political articles and guest posts will appear here. Do get in touch if you have a blog post you would like us to consider for publication.

Vuelio has recently launched Point of Order, its political content hub on the Vuelio blog.

This hub includes regular blog posts from parliamentarians and insight from the Vuelio political team.

Recent articles from MPs and peers cover issues as wide-ranging as immigration, the Remain Alliance in the General Election, tackling the climate emergency and protecting our natural environment:

Vuelio will also build on its specialised research including its ground-breaking White Paper ‘The Politics of Social Media’, which included ComRes polling of 137 MPs in the summer of 2019.

The report highlighted the views of a wide cross section of MPs on how social media had changed their interactions with both constituents and stakeholder organisations.

Our research found:

  • 81% of MPs believe that public attitude towards politicians has changed for the worse because of social media
  • 76% believe social media has made it difficult for the public to source credible information
  • 47% believe social has improved the transparency of politicians

The report was discussed at the Conservative Party Conference in September 2019, with leading authorities in social media policy attending Vuelio’s fringe event including DCMS Secretary of State Nicky Morgan, Digital and Broadband minister Matt Warman and DCMS Select Committee Chair Damian Collins.

You can also sign up for our email bulletins including Vuelio Political Updates, which helps you to stay on top of major political developments – whether that’s Brexit negotiations, policy announcements or recent personnel changes, moves within government or the political parties and public appointments. You can also receive summaries and analysis of major political events such as the Budget and the Queen’s Speech.

The Vuelio Political Team is also monitoring all the General Election campaign activity and following updates from all the main parties.

Sign up to receive our General Election Bulletin, sent every Friday during the campaign.

It provides a summary of election campaign activity and news, gathered from media and political party sources. The bulletin will also include a roundup of key events and activities taking place the following week.

Please get in touch if you are interested in finding out more information on any of our political services, whether political monitoring or our database services.

And don’t forget to follow @Vuelio_Politics.

Immigration

Christine Jardine: ‘Liberal Democrats will build an effective immigration system that treats everyone with dignity and respect’

This is a guest post from Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary and Women and Equalities spokesperson. She is the Lib Dem candidate for Edinburgh West.

Christine writes that ‘The UK’s immigration system is broken’ and proposes that her party ‘will take immigration powers away from the Home Office so that visa and asylum decisions are made quickly and fairly’, and allow asylum seekers to work while their cases are decided.

The UK’s immigration system is broken, and it is hurting everyone. I struggle to think of a time when the mention of the word ‘immigration’ during an election campaign was a sign of anything but an announcement of more ways to denigrate and marginalise the millions of migrants who have made the UK their home – who pay their taxes and work for our NHS, who build their businesses and their families as part of an open and welcoming British society.

Instead, we see immigration speeches that are tailor-made for what prospective Home Secretaries think are the lowest common denominator of British people – scoring points off the back of hard-working people based on where they were born. I think they’re wrong. I don’t believe that British people are mean-spirited or unwelcoming – I think they’ve been let down by politicians who are all too eager to blame immigrants for their own failings. For too long, the two main parties have scored points off the backs of hard-working people. Decades of hostile policies and rhetoric from Labour and Conservative governments have created a system that no one trusts, and that fails to respect people’s dignity.

Employers can’t recruit the workers they need, leaving the NHS short of nurses and social care in crisis. People without documents are denied access to healthcare and housing. Far too many people are detained indefinitely, in inhumane conditions and at great expense. Families are separated by unfair, complex visa requirements. The Windrush generation has been failed, deported, removed from their families, and some died without an inkling of an apology. Public confidence in the system has been shattered.

And in this election, there’s a risk we’ll be taken out of the EU and free movement will end. Millions more people cast into the abject failure of the Home Office, facing the risk of deportation away from their home, their work and their loved ones simply because neither Labour nor the Conservatives believe they are worth standing up for.

Liberal Democrats believe in a different approach. We will scrap the Conservatives’ Hostile Environment, replacing their fishing-net approach with targeted, intelligence-led immigration enforcement. We will take immigration powers away from the Home Office so that visa and asylum decisions are made quickly and fairly. We will restore dignity and common sense by ending indefinite detention and allowing asylum seekers to work while their cases are decided. And we will stop Brexit and save free movement.

At the same time, we recognise the danger posed to those who attempt to get to the UK illegally. In Essex, only a few weeks ago, we saw the horrifying results of a failed enforcement system. Liberal Democrats will invest in officers, training and technology to prevent illegal entry at Britain’s borders, tackle the smuggling of people, weapons, drugs and wildlife, and at the same time help refugees and asylum seekers who have fallen victim to cross-border criminal enterprises.

With that comes a moral obligation to play our part in the world – to stand tall and welcome those whose homes, lives, and countries have been destroyed by conflict and rendered too dangerous to return by widespread violence. Liberal Democrats will meet our obligations – resettling 10,000 vulnerable refugees each year and help 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children from across Europe over the next 10 years. These people have already seen their homes destroyed – the very least we can do is open our arms to them and tell them that the UK is a place they can be safe and rebuild their lives.

With a Liberal Democrat government, every person will have their dignity respected and UK employers will be able to recruit the workers they need. Those who choose to come to the UK to work, study or join their families will be welcomed for the skills and contributions that they bring. Family unity will be protected; the rule of law will be respected; and we will ensure fairness for taxpayers. Liberal Democrats will build a brighter future, with a fair, effective immigration system that treats everyone with dignity and respect.

Voting

General election pacts: will they have an impact?

As the deadline for election candidate nominations passes today, Vuelio assesses the likely impact of alliances and pacts between parties.

The 2019 General Election is set to be one of the most unpredictable in living memory.

Polling is fluctuating, though in general it still shows a Conservative lead; manifestos have yet to be released; and in the last few days the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have all been affected by candidates standing down due to controversial social media posts coming to light. Labour candidate Kate Osborne remains in post despite a row over her sharing an image on Facebook in 2017 with an image of Theresa May being held at gunpoint.

The close of nominations for all parliamentary candidates is 4pm on Thursday 14 November and after this deadline there will be a clear list of which parties are contesting which constituencies.

Nigel Farage’s ‘big decision’ announced on Monday to withdraw 317 Brexit party candidates in every seat that elected a Conservative MP in 2017 follows huge pressure on him to not oppose the Conservatives. Several Brexit Party candidates had already announced they would not stand in seats where it looked likely they would let in Labour or the Liberal Democrats and a Times leader column said: ‘So long as the Brexit Party remains on the ballot there is a real possibility that Brexit will be stopped’.

Nigel Farage was clear that his party will still contest Labour held seats and seats held by other Remain parties.

Brexit supporters have pointed out that this stance could still deprive the Conservatives of a majority, if they split the Leave vote in crucial Labour Tory marginal seats in the North and the Midlands.

The Brexit Party has argued that the Conservatives should stand down in some of these Labour heartland constituencies, which have not been held by the Conservatives for more than 100 years, where polling suggests voters are more likely to back the Brexit Party to deliver Brexit than to vote Conservative.

Despite this, Farage reports that his candidates in Labour-facing seats are under continued pressure to stand aside: ‘Our people, men and women who put themselves forward are now coming under relentless phone calls, email and abuse, and being told they must stand down. That is happening in 21st Century Britain. I think that is a complete and utter disgrace.’

Monday’s Brexit Party announcement followed a video by Boris Johnson in which he promised to pursue a Canada-Plus free trade agreement with the EU and not to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020.

Not to be outdone on the Remain side, Unite to Remain announced a plan affecting 60 seats in England and Wales, where a single Remain party will stand.

This initiative is between the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats. The full list of affected seats is here. Polling guru Professor Sir John Curtice said when the list was announced that, ‘their effect is going to be small’ and he suggested at best that it might mean the Liberal Democrats winning ‘half a dozen’ additional seats. Many of the seats affected effectively had similar agreements in place in 2017 too, so the impact may be negligible.

Separate to this agreement, some Liberal Democrat candidates have come under pressure to stand down in seats held by Labour, which are vulnerable to the Conservatives. The Lib Dem candidate for Canterbury, prominent Pro-EU journalist Tim Walker, has withdrawn from the constituency where Labour’s Rosie Duffield defends a majority of 187 votes.

Because Labour is not an explicitly Remain party and chose not to take part in the Remain Alliance, the Lib Dems have said a different candidate will be nominated in Canterbury. Another Lib Dem candidate has stood down in High Peak in Derbyshire where Labour defends a narrow majority of 2,322 votes but the party was expected to replace this person with a new candidate as well.

With four weeks remaining until the election, it is impossible to know the impact these agreements will have on the result, especially before the manifestos have even been published or before any tv debates have aired.

It will depend on the polling trends and whether the margin between the main parties increases or reduces. Equally in an election in the middle of winter, the weather could have a significant impact. Flooding in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire has already affected the campaign this week with visits from all the main party leaders to affected areas to speak to affected residents, and the Prime Minister being criticised for the Government’s slow response.

Voter registration numbers continue to rise with over 1.5 million registrations in the last two weeks and adverts on TV and online encouraging people to register to vote. It is worth monitoring the total number of registrations by the deadline of 26 November. Then all eyes will be on the TV debates and the party manifesto launches to see whether these lead to a significant boost in voter turnout, and if this exceeds the 69% who voted in 2017. 18% of voters in 2017 or 8.4 million people voted by post in that election. We would expect that to increase in this poll not least due to the weather and busy run up to Christmas.

Liz Saville Roberts post

Liz Saville Roberts: The nasty party is well and truly back – the Remain alliance offers a stark contrast

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster Leader Liz Saville Roberts writes that ‘the last few days have seen the mask slip for the Conservative Party’ and argues that her party’s agreement with two other Remain parties to work together in 60 key seats ‘offers a stark contrast’.

Politics is pointless if it is not underpinned by principles. The values which we hold define our world-view. The last few days have seen the mask slip for the Conservative Party and the arrogant, yahoo, old boys’ club mentality that they have desperately tried to distance themselves from returned to centre stage.

The election race has barely begun, and we have already seen Conservative Party candidates taking deplorable moral stances and engaging in dubious backtracking.

A day-one resignation marked the beginning of their election campaign this week.

The Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns was forced to stand down when he lied about ‘categorically’ having no prior knowledge of a former aide’s role in collapsing a rape trial.

This deplorable behaviour exposes the lengths to which the Conservative Party will go in order to cover their tracks, not only demonstrating a flagrant disregard for our justice system, but also a disturbing lack of morality, let alone empathy.

My only hope is that his resignation brings some comfort to the victim. But a fundamental question still remains: if it was bad enough for Mr Cairns to resign as Secretary of State, why does he think himself fit to stand again for public office?

Mr Cairns’ resignation follows Jacob Rees-Mogg’s horrendous comments regarding the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Mr Rees-Mogg alleged that leaving the building was the ‘common sense thing to do’.

From these comments we can only conclude that Mr Rees-Mogg believes the advice of either the Fire Brigade lacked common sense, or the victims of fire themselves did.

This not only shows a fundamental lack of empathy on Mr Rees-Mogg’s part, but also calls into question his views on public services such as the Fire Brigade, seemingly presuming he is above the advice of those trusted with protecting us in dangerous situations. Or possibly that those who follow the advice of these services have no one to blame but themselves.

His equally repugnant Tory colleague, Andrew Bridgen, proceeded to exacerbate the situation when he leapt to defend Mr Rees-Mogg, claiming the comments were a ‘by-product of what Jacob is’.

These comments reflect precisely what ‘Jacob’ believes he is – a man whose over-inflated sense of intellect and authority makes him believe he is above any of the trials faced by those of us who weren’t born-to-rule.

Mr Rees-Mogg later stated that he was ‘profoundly sorry’ for the comments and that he would have in fact ‘listened to the fire brigade’s advice’. However, I’m sure these words ring hollow for those who witnessed the horrors of Grenfell first hand, especially when coming from a man so far removed from the harsh reality of the situation.

The actions of these two men not only showcases their incompetent and negligent attitude, but also draws attention to a much greater issue at the heart of the Conservative Party: a reckless disregard for those they hurt. An entrenched belief in victim blaming. A party so enamoured of the old boys’ network mentality of ‘anything goes’ that they are not only permitting but encouraging damaging and disgraceful behaviour toward the public. A party whose interests are solely their own, and to hell with who they hurt in the process.

These are values we cannot allow to find their way back into our politics.

So, slogans and Facebook adverts aside, this Tory party is far from modern and relevant. More back to the past than forward to the future.

It is a leap to past principles that even if they were not eradicated from our politics, parties should be embarrassed to harbour.

The grown-up principled politics of my party, Plaid Cymru, in coming to an agreement with two other opposition parties to field one pro-Remain candidate in key seats offers a stark contrast.

We have put our countries before parties, where others are putting their parties before all else. In the case of the Conservative party, it could even be argued that they are putting themselves before their party.

This is a guest post from Rt Hon Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster Leader and the party’s candidate in Dwyfor Meirionnydd.

New Environment Bill to ensure we are the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it

Vicky Ford MPThis is a guest post from Vicky Ford, Conservative MP for Chelmsford and a member of the Science and Technology Committee.

As an MP, I have taken particular interest in the damaging impact of plastic waste, particularly on developing countries and the marine environment. I am delighted that the Environment Bill contains a range of ambitious measures that should help to drastically reduce our plastic waste.

In the UK we have already set a world-leading net zero target and supported record levels of investment in renewables, especially offshore wind where we are a world leader. We have decarbonised faster than any other major economy and have already reduced climate emissions by 25% since 2010. The UK is also leading the way in the phase out of coal fired power stations and reducing maritime emissions.

The UK has doubled international climate funding to £11.6 billion, and successfully bid to host the UN Climate summit next year in Glasgow. This Climate Summit provides us with a huge opportunity to accelerate global action on climate change. However, there is always more to do.

The Government has published a 25-year Environment Plan, which is being enshrined in the Environment Bill. This landmark Bill was published as part of the Queen’s Speech. It is a central part in the Government delivering a step-change in environmental protection and recovery. It will also support the legislation to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 by minimising our waste, cleaning our air and water, and restoring habitats to allow plants and wildlife to thrive. The Bill has been warmly welcomed by Environmental campaigners.

The Bill will establish a new system of green governance and accountability, creating a world-leading environmental watchdog in the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP), and enshrining Environmental Principles in law, which will embed environmental values at the heart of Government policy making. To ensure the UK continues to drive forward ambitious action to tackle climate change, legislation will be brought within the enforcement remit of the OEP. The Bill will also implement a new statutory cycle of target setting, monitoring, planning and reporting to help deliver significant, long-term environmental improvement. This will include Environmental Improvement Plans (EIPs), the first being the 25-year Environment Plan.

The Bill will drive a major shift in minimising waste and moving towards a more circular economic model. It will introduce measures based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, create a simplified approach to recycling, and tackle waste crime. Producers will be responsible for the full net costs of managing their products at end of life, encouraging them to design their products with re-use and recycling in mind. This will result in more durable, repairable and recyclable products. To tackle plastic pollution, the Environment Bill will enable the creation of new charges for other single-use plastic items, similar to the carrier bag charge, which will incentivise a shift towards the use of more reusable items. The Government is also taking powers to establish deposit return schemes that will further incentivise consumers to reduce litter and recycle more.

The Bill will enable greater local action on air pollution, better enabling us to tackle emissions from burning coal and wood; and bring forward powers for Government to mandate recalls of vehicles and machinery when they do not meet relevant legal emission standards. The Environment Bill makes a clear commitment to set a legally binding target for the pollutant with the most significant impact on human health, fine particulate matter.

The Bill will introduce additional requirements for water company planning for future water supply and wastewater and drainage networks, enabling more resilient solutions to drought and flooding. In a changing climate, these measures will ensure the water regulator has the powers it needs to respond to changing priorities. The Bill enhances flood and coastal erosion risk management, allowing for the expansion of existing internal drainage boards or the creation of new ones where there is local appetite to do so. The Government is also reforming elements of abstraction licensing to link it more tightly to our goal of restoring water bodies to as close to natural state as possible and reducing substances which are potentially harmful to surface waters and groundwater. The Environment Bill will also make it possible to keep the legislation up to date on chemicals.

The Environment Bill supports and enables action to create or restore wildlife rich habitats to enable wildlife to recover and thrive. It will ensure that new developments enhance biodiversity and help deliver thriving natural spaces for communities. This will also support certainty in the planning system and therefore the delivery of new housing, while retaining and providing habitats that can enhance biodiversity.

Alongside the Bill, the Government response will publish the consultation on protecting and enhancing England’s trees and woodland, covering measures to increase the transparency and accountability in the process of felling street trees.

The Environment Bill will enable our country to make big steps towards delivering the goal that this will be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it. It is a tremendous opportunity and I hope that you will agree that we should grasp it with both hands.

Frequent-Flyer

Is it time to ban frequent flyer schemes to tackle the climate emergency?

This is a guest post from Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (Jenny Jones) a Green Party member of the House of Lords, who has written about her parliamentary question in the House of Lords on ‘Plans to ban or restrict frequent flyer “airmiles” schemes’.

Reducing aviation emissions is one of the big political headaches. People will recycle; catch the train rather than drive; eat less meat and turn the thermostat down a notch, but ask them to stop flying and they don’t want to do it. I haven’t flown for years and have taken a pledge not to fly for the coming year. This meant I had to shelve my plans for a big US road trip. It has not been an easy decision, but given the climate emergency, it seems like the right one.

Given the melting ice caps and record-breaking temperatures around the globe, it is shocking that companies like Virgin are still offering a frequent flyer loyalty scheme that encourages more flights. This has caused the Government’s Committee on Climate Change to recommend that the practice is banned. I will be asking the Minister in the Lords whether they will act on this mildest of reforms.

Instead of giving incentives to fly more often, we should be reducing demand by introducing a frequent flyer tax where we target the rich 15% of the population who take 70% of the flights. Every year people would get an allowance of a single flight and the tax on subsequent flights would increase rapidly the more trips people took. As frequent flyers tend to be the wealthier members of our society, this seems the most egalitarian way of reducing emissions while allowing people to attend those special family events and get togethers that can be so precious.

This would inevitably mean that the Heathrow expansion is cancelled, along with a lot of other airport schemes designed to generate an increased demand for flights. If we are aiming for zero emissions by 2035, then we have to act urgently to curb aviation demand. I know that the Government target is 2050 and that many are still hopeful that the technological solutions of bio-fuels and electric planes can be developed, but we can’t plan on that basis. If the aviation industry is confident it can reduce emissions then get on with it. We can discuss any plans for expansion once they have got the technology working.

Nor can we continue with the illusion that the emissions from planes taking off, or landing, at Heathrow, are not our (UK) emissions. The lack of an international agreement means that greenhouse gases from aviation are not fully counted as part of the Government’s zero emission target. This sleight of hand has got to stop. Climate change could end our entire way of life. We either change rapidly now, or have change forced upon us.

Brexit

Boris Johnson: ‘A very good deal both for the EU and the UK’

A new Brexit deal has been agreed with the European Union only hours before the start of the EU Council meeting in Brussels.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted:

President Juncker added: ‘We now have a newly agreed Protocol that protects peace and stability on the island of Ireland and fully protects our Single Market. I hope that we can now bring this over the line and provide the certainty our citizens and businesses so deserve.’

The new Withdrawal Agreement says in specific relation to Northern Ireland that both sides are:
‘Determined that the application of this Protocol should impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities in both Ireland and Northern Ireland’

It also underlined ‘the firm commitment to no customs and regulatory checks or controls and related physical infrastructure at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland’.

There is a clear view from the EU that while many key figures in Brussels might regret the UK’s referendum decision in 2016, the time has now come to pass a Withdrawal Agreement and to move forward to the second stage of negotiating the UK’s future partnership with the EU.

In a joint press conference with President Juncker, Boris Johnson said: ‘I do think that this deal represents a very good deal both for the EU and the UK. It represents a reasonable, fair outcome and reflects the large amount of work that’s been undertaken by both sides.’

The PM was also keen to stress that today’s agreement does protect the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Johnson called on his fellow MPs in Westminster to: ‘come together to get Brexit done, to get this excellent deal over the line and to deliver Brexit without any more delay so that we can focus on the priorities of the British people.’

He added that the UK was keen to leave the EU on good terms: ‘We are a quintessential European country. Solid European friends, neighbours and supporters.’

For many, the risk of the EU lowering environmental standards and workers’ rights has been a concern addressed by the ‘Level playing field for open and fair competition’. This is crucial to securing the votes of as many Labour MPs as possible, who will presumably have to vote against their party whip in order to support the deal.

This aspect has been moved from the legally binding withdrawal agreement to the non-legally binding political declaration. This might be a major stumbling block to securing the votes of Labour MPs in leave-voting seats, who have expressed a desire to leave the EU with a deal swiftly. Labour’s Seb Dance MEP said moving the level playing field measures is ‘as sure a sign as any, Johnson has no intention of honouring them’.

After days of intense talks, the Conservative Party’s confidence and supply partners, the Democratic Unionist Party, have not actually signed up to this latest deal. Some wonder if they will change their view before Saturday’s crucial votes or if the PM feels he has sufficient MPs on side, not to need the ten DUP votes. Equally will they abstain or vote against the deal? This will have a significant impact on the final result. On 30 March 2019 in Theresa May’s final attempt to get her Brexit deal passed by MPs, only four MPs abstained, as well as the MPs who never take part in votes like the Speaker, his deputies and the seven Sinn Fein MPs.

It is also worth reflecting on where the UK is heading if MPs reject a deal for the fourth time on Saturday. It seems the EU is minded not to offer the UK a further extension so in reality the votes on Saturday will be all the more crucial if voting against the deal will mean MPs are bring a no-deal exit a step closer. Equally MPs have voted for the motion on Saturday to be amendable, so it is expected that there will be another opportunity for MPs to vote on whether or not to have a second EU referendum.

Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘As it stands we cannot support this deal and we will oppose it in parliament on Saturday’, and there are reports that Labour will whip its MPs to back a second referendum option on Saturday.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has said that the PM is in a ‘desperate situation’ and that this new deal is similar to Theresa May’s Brexit deal but that it is ‘going to be worse for the economy’.

Nigel Farage is not supporting this new deal, he said: ‘It’s just not Brexit. We will never be able to properly break free of the EU if we sign up to this’.

Equally with a Queen’s Speech vote looming next week, which without a majority the Government is likely to lose, it is unclear how close the country could be to a general election campaign starting and whether this deal is actually an attempt to bring about a general election, according to the Guardian’s Brexit correspondent Lisa O’Carroll.

Boris Johnson CPC19

‘Get Brexit Done’: the Conservative Party Conference 2019

The Conservative Conference will probably be judged by party insiders to have been a success. Certainly, the feedback from delegates in the bars and fringe meetings in Manchester was one of optimism and a determination to get Brexit delivered by the end of October.

The stories about Boris Johnson’s private life, either relating to Jennifer Arcuri or allegations by the journalist Charlotte Edwardes that he had squeezed her thigh at a Spectator lunch in 1999, seemed to have very little cut-through with Conservative party members and activists. They queued around the block to hear his first leader’s speech and it was well received in the conference hall, even though there was surprise from the press pack that not a single new policy was actually announced, with journalist Gaby Hinsliff calling it ‘a triumph of rhetoric over reality’.

It is likely that any new policy ideas are being saved for the inevitable General Election campaign or they will be unveiled in the Queen’s Speech on 14 October.

Nonetheless the Prime Minister set out his vision for the UK post-Brexit with his characteristic optimism. His concluded with: ‘This country has long been a pioneer. We inaugurated the steam age, the atomic age, the age of the genome. We led the way in parliamentary democracy, in female emancipation. And when the whole world had succumbed to a different fashion, this country and this party pioneered ideas of free markets and privatisation that spread across the planet.

‘Every one of them was controversial, every one of them was difficult, but we have always had the courage to be original, to do things differently, and now we are about to take another giant step to do something no one thought we could do.

‘To reboot our politics, to relaunch ourselves into the world, and to dedicate ourselves again to that simple proposition that we are here to serve the democratic will of the British people.

‘And if we do that with optimism and confidence then I tell you we will not go wrong. Let’s get on with sensible moderate one nation but tax-cutting Tory government, and figuratively if not literally, let us send Jeremy Corbyn into orbit where he belongs.

‘Let’s get Brexit done. Let’s bring our country together.’

The conference also gave Mr Johnson’s newly appointed cabinet ministers opportunities to speak from the main stage and many were impressed with Sajid Javid’s authentic greeting to his mother, who was in the audience to see his first conference speech as Chancellor.

He spoke briefly in Punjabi as he addressed his mother who was in the audience attending her first ever Conservative conference. He said she had been proud when the first Asians moved into Coronation Street in Manchester 20 years ago, but now his family were the first Asians to move into Downing Street.

Another proud British Asian, Home Secretary Priti Patel also delivered a powerful address during the four-day conference, which made it clear how important restoring a sense of law and order will be to this Government, building on the Prime Minister’s ambition to recruit an additional 20,000 new police officers over the next five years.

The Home Secretary set out her ambition to end the free movement of people once and for all.

She concluded her speech with this rallying cry: ‘This party, our Conservative party, is backing those who put their lives on the line for our national security.

‘So, as we renew our place as the party of law and order in Britain, let the message go out from this hall today: To the British people – we hear you; to the police service – we back you; and to the criminals, I simply say this – we are coming after you.’

Away from the conference hall, Vuelio hosted a panel session with Prospect magazine on how social media is changing the relationships between MPs and the public, where Nicky Morgan admitted to no longer reading her messages or notifications due to online abuse.

In another fringe meeting, the Chancellor hinted that he is prepared to look at scrapping or reforming inheritance tax as he ‘understands the arguments against that tax’. Principally, these are taxing the value of someone’s money, property and possessions upon their death, when they have potentially already paid tax on it during their lifetime.

Also briefly dominating the conference media coverage on Tuesday was the altercation that took place in the International Lounge within the conference centre’s secure zone involving a senior backbench Conservative MP.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown was asked to leave the conference after he tried to enter a room with a guest without the relevant pass. He described the incident as ‘a minor verbal misunderstanding’.

The fracas resulted in a lockdown of part of the Manchester Central Convention Centre. The MP later apologised unreservedly, and a Conservative party spokesperson said: ‘The incident was totally unacceptable’.

Within hours of the conference concluding, the media discussion was dominated not by the PM’s speech, but by the release of his latest proposals to leave the EU with a deal. We await to see how they proceed and when MPs might get a vote on these proposals, possibly before or more likely after the EU Council meeting with a potential crunch Saturday sitting on 19 October.

While this is also the final day for a formal extension to be made to the EU to ensure the UK doesn’t leave on a no-deal basis, we are very unclear as to how the Government will proceed with this given they repeat that they will comply with the law but also that the Prime Minster has absolutely no intention of asking for such an extension.

The Vuelio team spent the week in Manchester and have put together a Canvas highlighting key speeches, fringe coverage and the top media reaction.

Prospect panel

Is social media changing the relationship between MPs and the public for good or bad?

On Monday, Vuelio co-hosted a panel debate with Prospect magazine at the Conservative Party Conference on how social media is changing the relationship between MPs and the public.

The panel session was chaired by Stephanie Boland, head of digital at Prospect magazine and she was joined by Nicky Morgan MP, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; Damian Collins MP, chair of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee; Matt Warman MP, parliamentary under secretary of state for Digital and Broadband; Marie Le Conte, political freelance journalist; and Vuelio’s Kelly Scott, head of political and stakeholder strategy.

The session followed research that Vuelio commissioned from MPs across the House of Commons to understand the importance of social media in public engagement. The findings showed that 81% of MPs believe that public attitude has changed for the worse because of social media and 76% believe social media has made it difficult for the public to source credible information.

The panel session was wide ranging, with discussion covering abuse on social media and how to regulate this, the need for a global set of standards for social media, how we protect vulnerable people in a digital age and microtargeting.

When asked specifically about microtargeting on social media, Collins said: ‘Our electoral law should be established by parliament not Mark Zuckerberg’. He argued that all political advertising had to be clearly indicated, as this is not always the case with some campaign groups.

Warman pointed out that when it comes to microtargeting, ‘we’ve had [microtargeting] as long as we’ve had advertising’, and that we need to be realistic about what this means.

When it comes to managing and tackling abuse on social media, the panel had a mix of advice. Morgan admitted that she no longer looks at her notifications and messages on Twitter and said that the noisy abusers have drowned out those with genuine right and need to contact her, while Warman admitted that he still responds to pretty much everyone on Facebook and is currently trying to work out how to back out of this arrangement.

Vulnerable people are particularly susceptible to harmful images and as Scott highlighted, ‘there are whole groups of people who can’t use traditional forms of media’, which is why technology has to be the long answer when it comes to protecting these groups and making social media accessible and safe for all.

The panel all agreed that social media is now a fixed part of the political landscape with Le Conte commenting, ‘political discourse used to be tied to what happens in the Commons, now MPs end up arguing with journalists, each other and everyone else about the topic of the day and this never stops’.

Morgan reminded the audience that it is important to remember that ‘the whole of the public is not represented on Twitter or Facebook’, reflecting our research that face to face meetings are still considered the most important way to engage with constituents.

Politics of social media

MPs and the public: is social media changing the relationship for good or bad?

Vuelio is hosting a fringe event at Conservative party conference to discuss the very timely question of what impact social media is having on the relationship between voters and politicians.

Given the last three years of UK politics, there can be no doubt we live in uncertain political times, and it is very clear that social media is playing an increasingly central role in politics, at every level.

With an early general election now inevitable, we know that social media will be a key tool during that campaign for all parties, given it dominated the last two elections and the EU referendum.

A growing proportion of voters also rely on it as a source for news and information, as well as a place for them to post their own opinions on stories.

Vuelio wanted to better understand what impact this was having so commissioned a survey of MPs, completed in July, into their perception of the difference social media is making to the political discourse.

The results present a number of surprising headlines:

  • Four in five MPs (81%) believing ‘public attitudes had been changed for the worse’ because of social media.
  • Two in five (42%) MPs believe social media has changed the policy making process for the worse
  • A third (36%) believe it has changed public understanding of policy for the worse.

But it is not all bad news.

In our poll, MPs acknowledge that social media is now one of the most effective ways to reach constituents and gauge their opinions, and social channels make it possible for them to reach a far broader number of voters who won’t engage through print, meetings or traditional campaigning.

The importance of social media in sharing information and gaining insight and opinion is not changing and likely to only become more important in the future.

Technology has a fundamental role to play by providing MPs with the monitoring, evaluation and engagement tools they need to engage more effectively with their voters on social media.

If you are attending the Conservative Party Conference, please come along to our event:

 

MPs and the public: is social media changing the relationship for good or bad?

Date: Monday 30 September

Time: 12.45 – 2pm

Venue: Central 6, Manchester Central

 

Speakers include:

  • Nicky Morgan MP – Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
  • Damian Collins MP – Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee
  • Marie Le Conte – Political Freelance Journalist
  • Matt Warman MP – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Digital and Broadband (DCMS)

 

We will be tweeting throughout the event, follow us @Vuelio_Politics and join in using the hashtag #ClarityinConfusion.

Labour Conference

A deputy leader coup, Brexit position and Supreme Court decision: Labour Party Conference 2019

The Labour conference in Brighton was overshadowed by three factors: an attempted coup on the eve of conference to abolish the post of Deputy Leader; a fraught debate over the party’s Brexit position in the upcoming election; and, most spectacularly, the Supreme Court decision on Tuesday morning that ruled the Government’s prorogation of parliament was void and of no effect.

This unanimous judgement by the 11 Supreme Court Justices had a serious impact on the duration of the Labour conference, as it meant that the leader’s speech was brought forward a day to Tuesday afternoon.

Jeremy Corbyn’s speech began with a call for the Prime Minister to resign following the Supreme Court ruling. He said: ‘Let me send this message to Boris Johnson: if you still lead your party into an election, we know your campaign will be swimming in cash.

‘But we’ve got something you haven’t – people in their hundreds of thousands rooted in all communities and all age groups across Britain and we’ll meet you head on with the biggest people-powered campaign this country has ever seen. And if we win it will be the people who win’.

Corbyn promised a radical programme, not least the nationalisation of mail, rail, national grid and water. He also pledged to make research funding conditional on firms providing cheaper drugs and the establishment of a publicly-run firm to produce generic medicines. This followed a long running campaign to ensure the drug Orkambi is available on the NHS for sufferers of Cystic Fibrosis and other conditions.

Many MPs then left Brighton one day early to ensure they were able to sit in the Commons from 11.30am on Wednesday.

This last minute change to the agenda meant that Deputy Leader Tom Watson waived his deputy leader’s speech slot and even though he was apparently offered a chance to speak on Wednesday, he declined, tweeting: ‘I’ll have to save the speech until the next conference.’

The Momentum-led attempt to abolish Tom Watson’s position as deputy leader, was designed to remove him from post after policy differences with Jeremy Corbyn as well as his position on Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn ensured that this row did not completely dominate the conference and stepped in, personally proposing a review of the role rather than an outright vote on immediate removal of it.

The conference itself gave Labour the opportunity to set out a bold programme for Government including John McDonnell’s pledge that Labour would implement at 32-hour working week within the next decade: ‘It will be a shorter working week with no loss of pay’.

He added that a Working Time Commission would be set up to give people more power over their working lives.

The Shadow Chancellor added that the main challenge for an incoming Labour Government would be to ‘rebuild local democracy, rebuild those local council services decimated by the Conservatives and, yes, the Lib Dems as well when they were in Government.’

He also pledged to fund personal care, free at the point of use in England, to be funded through a fair taxation system.

Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, used her speech to attack Boris Johnson who she shadowed during his tenure as Foreign Secretary: ‘In my entire time in parliament I have never shadowed anyone so lazy, so incompetent, so deceitful and reckless. So utterly unsuitable for the job of Prime Minister’.

Among other key note speakers, Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said that an incoming Labour Government would usher in ‘a new era of public luxury’ after decades of deindustrialisation. She promised additional investment in offshore wind farms and electric car production.

Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman’s speech covered food waste, food banks and improving the UK’s animal welfare standards. She said: ‘Today, I am announcing that the next Labour Government will introduce a Right to Food embedded in UK law, underpinned by an over-arching national food strategy. We will introduce a Fair Food Act.’

Much attention was given to a motion passed by conference delegates to commit the party to integrate private schools into the state sector. While this motion wasn’t directly referred to by Jeremy Corbyn in his speech, it is more likely that independent schools would lose their charitable status, other public subsidies and tax privileges, if a Labour Government was elected.

The party’s Brexit position was thrashed out on Monday with a heated debate in the conference hall, and despite senior shadow Cabinet members John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer and others saying they would campaign to remain, delegates instead voted in favour of a motion proposing Labour stays neutral on Brexit in the upcoming general election with a special conference to debate the issue after the general election and before a second referendum has taken place. Senior Labour spokespeople and candidates were surprised by this result and many implied it would be difficult to defend and explain on the doorsteps in the general election, which lies ahead.

I suspect the Labour leadership will be pleased that the party can maintain some neutrality on Brexit in a general election campaign and aim to reunite the country once a new referendum has taken place, offering a credible leave option alongside Remain. Whether this compromise is enough to hold together the Labour family of leave voting heartlands in the north, midlands and south Wales as well as its metropolitan and diverse remain leaning seats, is still to be seen. Clearly the party hopes to limit the loss of Labour votes to either the explicitly pro remain Liberal Democrats or to the no-deal supporting Brexit party.

Jo Swinson Lib Dems

Preparing for Government or a Bournemouth echo chamber?

The Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth offered a warm and sunny start to the party conference season for journalists and public affairs folk. Lobby journalists were even spotted heading down to the beach in swimming shorts, while others took part in the traditional Glee Club sing song, which has to be seen to be believed.

For party activists it was brighter still. The party is in good heart with a general election looming, perhaps now only 12 weeks away. Conference was also attended by a record-breaking number of delegates (3,234) and Lib Dem membership now exceeds 120,000.

Jo Swinson, elected as the party’s first ever female leader in July, is already making a serious impact on UK politics. She declared in her speech: ‘There is no limit to my ambition for our party’ and argued that ‘People across Britain deserve a better choice than an entitled Etonian or a 1970s socialist’.

The recent string of MP defections to the party have largely been positively received. Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Sarah Wollaston, Angela Smith and Philip Lee all attended conference and were welcomed by members and their new parliamentary colleagues alike. The widely trailed big name defection announced by Jo Swinson on Saturday at the conference rally was Sam Gyimah, a former minister, PPS to David Cameron and, in the early stages of the Conservative leadership race, a candidate for the highest office in the land.

The party also welcomed Welsh Lib Dem leader Jane Dodds to its House of Commons benches, the first by-election gain from the Conservatives for 19 years, regaining the former Lib Dem seat of Brecon and Radnorshire in August and putting the party on the political map in Wales, having been narrowly wiped off it in 2017.

Conference debates were uncontroversial apart from the main motion on Brexit with the section calling for a Lib Dem majority Government to revoke Article 50 on its first day in office the most unpalatable for some. While the motion passed successfully, several prominent critics, including former MPs Simon Hughes and Andrew George, called it ‘controversial’ and ‘counterproductive and unworkable’. Andrew George is standing in St Ives in Cornwall where he seeks to overturn a Tory majority of 312 votes. He warned that the policy risked a Government run by Dominic Cummings portraying the Lib Dems as ‘undemocratic and illiberal’ and warned from past experience that the Conservatives were ‘past masters at being able to turn things into slogans and throw them back at us’.

None the less, the party is clearly confident that an unequivocal revoke stance in the upcoming election will ensure a substantial number of MPs are elected. As well as former Lib Dem held seats like Cheltenham, Winchester, Yeovil and North Cornwall; the party is eyeing up constituencies it has never held before but where polling points to a strong chance such as: St Albans, Cities of London and Westminster, Wimbledon and Vauxhall. The party is also heavily promoting its London Mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita, who is a former civil servant and fought the 2012 Mayoral election as an independent. Together with Jo Swinson and a large number of female candidates in winnable or held seats at the election, this is very different to the party that as recently as 2016 numbered only eight white male MPs.

So, with 18 MPs in the House of Commons, a record 16 MEPs elected to the party in the European elections in June, 50 Liberal Democrat council leaders or co-leaders now running local authorities, the party may be right to be optimistic ahead of the general election. The leadership is presenting Jo Swinson as the party’s candidate for Prime Minister and her conference speech was relatively light on policy announcements, but promised a wellbeing budget, additional spending for youthwork and mental health services. The only question remains, how a substantial number of Lib Dem MPs would seek to work with either larger party if called upon, given a coalition with either of them has effectively been ruled out already. Only time will tell.

MPs believe social media has a negative impact on politics

Research commissioned by Vuelio, the political and media software provider, has found that MPs believe social media has a negative impact on politics, with four in five (81%) of the 137 MPs surveyed believing public attitudes towards politicians have been changed for the worse as a result of social media. The research is released at a time of heightened speculation regarding an early general election. It is important to recognise the central role that social media is likely to play in any subsequent campaign, as a crucial communication tool for all of the main parties.

According to MPs, there are specific ways in which social media has damaged public engagement. Over three quarters (79%) believe social media has made it difficult for the public to source information from trustworthy sources and 78% believe it leads to people being overloaded with information. This impacts policy making, with two in five (42%) MPs believing social media has changed the policy making process for the worse, and a third (36%) believe it has changed public understanding of policy for the worse.

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While MPs believe, on balance, that social media has had negative impact on politics, they do recognise some positives. Almost half (47%) of MPs say it has improved the transparency of politics and around two in five (44%) say it has improved engagement between politicians and the public.

Commenting on the research, Joanna Arnold, CEO of Vuelio said: ‘Social media has ushered in a new era of political immediacy that is reshaping how politicians engage with the public. While recognising that social media has improved transparency, four in five MPs believe it has changed public attitudes towards politicians for the worse. The depth of concern that MPs have is a timely reminder of the risks of social media as well as the potential it has to transform political engagement.’

Max McEwan, Senior Consultant at ComRes said: ‘While politicians clearly have misgivings about the impact of social media on the political process, they are increasingly reliant on these new tools of communication. This is particularly true for MPs in marginal constituencies, for whom the research shows that social media is the most important channel when engaging with potential voters. We therefore stand poised to enter an election that could be decided based, in part, via a communication channel that MPs consider to have damaged the political process.’

Rachael Clamp Chart.PR, MCIPR, Chair of CIPR Public Affairs said: ‘This is fascinating research. A challenge for politicians and a pause for thought for anyone who wants to engage with them.

‘Social media has broken down barriers and removed some of the mystery surrounding the nature of our ‘them’ and ‘us’ politics. But the role of an MP has also become ambiguous. What some MPs say has driven engagement with constituents hasn’t resulted in better debate and is eroding traditional media channels. MPs are also making a distinction between how they engage with the public and how they engage with lobbyists, which is part of ethical lobbying practice.’

While MPs consider on balance that social media has had negative impact on politics, they recognise that it is around twice as important as securing editorial coverage in communicating with constituents (64% vs. 35%). Social media is considered only marginally less important as having face to face meetings with constituents (64% vs 70%). The importance of social media for constituent engagement increases among younger MPs with three quarters (74%) of MPs born since 1970 saying social media is an important communication channel for engaging with constituents compared to half (49%) of those born in the middle decade of the last century (1950-1959).

Labour MPs are most likely to consider social media as important to engagement compared with Conservative MPs (75% vs 57%). When it comes to reaching stakeholders working in policy or the media, MPs consider activities in parliament, such as parliamentary debates and APPG sessions as significantly more important (60%) opposed to less than half that figure (25%) choosing social media.

This research was commissioned by Vuelio to understand the changing relationship between MPs, the press, editorial and social media. ComRes surveyed 137 MPs (51 Conservative, 67 Labour, nine SNP and 10 others) using a combination of paper and online surveys. The survey was conducted between 11 June and 12 August 2019. Data have been weighted by party and region to be representative of the House of Commons.