Ali Dunworth

‘We need to give more coverage to lesser-known businesses, chefs, and cuisines’: Food & drink freelance journalist Ali Dunworth

Looking to secure media coverage for your food and drink brand or clients? Freelance journalist Ali Dunworth has 20 years of work experience in the hospitality industry, and has spent the last decade writing freelance for titles such as the Irish Times and Sunday Times Ireland.

Read on for insight from Ali on how the food and drink scene has changed and what journalists in the sector need from PRs now, what the typical day for a freelance journalist looks like and what PRs should be doing (and not doing) when getting in contact.

The life of a freelance writer can be varied, what does a typical day or week look like for you?

It’s different every day but usually, I divide it into two. Mornings are when I’m focused, so I start with a quick walk to wake up and then straight into a few hours of concentrated writing with plenty of cups of tea. In the afternoon, I’m more easily distracted so that’s a time for lists, emails, phone calls and research.

What are the current challenges facing the food & drink industry?

The food and drink scene in Ireland has changed so much over the last few decades, particularly in Dublin, where it has become much more multicultural. However, this diversity is often not reflected in our media and food writing.

Non-European cuisines feel marginalised, they are not featured as prominently in lists or reviews. They are not given the same recognition or written about in the same way as those more familiar to us, and I’ve been guilty of this myself. I do think the tide is turning on this slowly but I believe as food writers, we need to make a concerted effort to broaden our horizons and give more coverage to lesser-known businesses, chefs, and cuisines.

Misinformation is on the rise – what can journalists and PRs do to stop this?

I think a lot of misinformation comes from lazy cut-and-paste situations. Picking up the phone or contacting someone directly via DM to double-check stuff should be the standard, not just replicating information found online.

Which parts of your work can PRs help you with, and how do you prefer for them to contact you?

Email is always preferred. It’s frustrating to get DMs on social media from PRs when my email is linked in my bio, or easy to find with a quick Google. Also, PRs should keep up-to-date on where you are writing. Some still contact me about a website I haven’t written for in years or maybe they don’t know about my Substack.

Ali’s first book ‘A Compendium of Irish Pints’ has been published by Nine Bean Rows.

Connect with Ali, and other UK and international journalists, via the Vuelio Media Database.

Green Claims Code

Webinar – Navigating the Green Claims Code: How to avoid the pitfalls of greenwashing

As modern consumers have become more eco-conscious and ethically aware, journalists are prepared to uncover any misalignment between company claims and ESG credentials.

In this climate of increased accountability for company communications, how can PR teams ensure their sustainability messaging is compliant and that all claims are completely above-board?

Join our next webinar ‘Navigating the Green Claims Code: How to avoid the pitfalls of greenwashing‘ at 2pm on 17 July to hear The Grocer’s editor-in-chief Adam Leyland discuss this from the point of view of the media.

The session will cover:
– Current and incoming regulations from groups including the CMA that comms teams need to know about
– How to avoid greenwashing and greenhushing missteps
– Ways to highlight company ESG profiles in the media and with audiences

Can’t join us live? Register here and we’ll send you the recording.

Want more on the responsibilities of PR and comms when it comes to sustainability messaging? Download our Vuelio white paper ‘The perception of PR in sustainability communications: How to avoid greenwashing and be an advocate for change‘.

Journalist Enquiry Service overview July 2024

Political commentators, destination experts, and sports professionals: What the media are looking for in July

Want to get your clients featured in the media in July? While the General Election has been the media’s focus for the last six weeks – and will be a priority for a while yet – there are plenty of other opportunities for coverage, and the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service is a good gauge for what is trending. Here is what journalists have been requesting throughout June, and what we predict their focus will be in July.

General Election fallout

Unsurprisingly, ‘election’ became a popular keyword on the Journalist Enquiry Service, appearing in 2% of all enquiries in May, growing to 2.5% in June.

Journalists focused on gathering interviews, and the viewpoints of CEOs and leaders from different sectors, including technology, retail, and business. There have also been requests for information on tactical voting, analysis of the manifestos, and for an expert to comment on election marketing and advertising.

Going forward? Journalists will most likely be looking for expert comment on what to expect from the new Government, the impact on the public, and the economy. The Times, The Independent, Reuters, and ITV News all sent requests concerning the election in June, giving an opportunity to feature you or your client in the national news now.

Summer holidays and gardening remain popular

‘Summer’ was the top keyword on the Journalist Enquiry Service for a second month in a row, as it featured in 9.5% of all requests. This is also an 8% increase compared to this time last year, maybe a sign that we’re in for some better weather as well? ‘Holidays’ cropped up in just over 3% of the enquiries in June this year. ‘Gardening’ proved even more popular as it appeared in 5.5%, and this is a 51% increase compared to June 2023.

Requests around ‘summer’ varied widely last month with everything from fashion to health to skincare to food and drink. The enquiries about ‘holidays’ tended to look more for travel experts and information on places or activities for the school summer holidays. Journalists sending requests about ‘gardening’ were primarily looking for experts to give tips and advice.

Going forward? Journalists will be looking for gardening experts and travel experts/information on destinations, so have these clients ready to engage with these media coverage opportunities.The nature of summer requests are harder to predict, but fashion experts could be needed to comment on the best clothing to wear and health advice/information on what to do to stay cool during warmer temperatures. Journalists from The Guardian, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, Homes & Gardens, and Woman’s Own all sent requests on these three topics last month.

Other opportunities for PRs in July and beyond

It’s just a couple of weeks until the Olympics starts in Paris and in June, just under 1% of all enquiries featured ‘Olympics’. This will receive a lot more traction this month as we approach the games, with journalists looking for former athletes and sports professionals to interview. ‘Euro’s’ has also featured as a keyword and if England continue to progress in the tournament, journalists will likely look for information on the best places to watch the matches, as well as the impact it could have on the economy. Both of these events, plus Wimbledon as well, means sports spokespeople will be in high demand from journalists.

There are several food and drink related days this month including World Chocolate Day (7 July), National Hot Dog Day (19 July) and the whole of July is National Ice Cream Month. Journalists could be looking for food experts to give related recipes and advice. Finally, while school will only just be finishing, the media will begin in July to look for information on back to school items. This could be for uniform, stationery, lunch boxes, and more. This will gain in popularity throughout July and into August, so have the information you need prepared to send to journalists and get media coverage in both national press and consumer media.

To connect with the media on these topics, and much more, check out the Journalist Enquiry Service and the Vuelio Media Database.

Find out more how Vuelio can help you gain and track your coverage in the media here.

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.

Retail Week event

How to raise your ESG profile to reporters and consumers in the retail sector

A strong ESG strategy can strengthen your stakeholder relationships across all audiences, from consumers, to the media. But which sustainability stories will grab the attention of journalists, their readers, and secure customer loyalty for your brand?

Retail Week managing editor Stephen Eddie and data and insights director Lisa Byfield-Green led Vuelio event ‘Raising your ESG profile: Insights and strategies for success’ on Wednesday evening, 20 June, at Vinoteca City.

Topics covered during the session included which stories the public are more likely to engage with when it comes to ESG; what journalists want to write about; and exactly how much of an impact personal values have on purchasing decisions and brand buy-in.

What ESG stories do consumers want to know about?

To provide context on what content audiences want to see on sustainability, Stephen and Lisa pointed out the importance of first understanding their buying habits. In 2024, it’s complicated:

Context on consumer habits – the bad…

Are consumers’ own ethics as solid as those they demand from retailers? Not quite.

‘We might want to do the right thing as consumers, but affordability is an unavoidable issue,’ said Lisa. ‘Due to the cost-of-living crisis, price takes precedence.’

Lisa Byfield-Green, Retail Week

Stephen also highlighted the ‘say/do’ disconnect in consumer behaviour. Vinted and Shein – two companies at different ends of the sustainability scale – are both incredibly popular with consumers. Strange, considering the modern focus on climate change? Not so much, said Stephen:

‘Price and value still often trump values’.

…and the good

While financial insecurity has pushed the popularity of fast fashion chains up over the last few years, it has also had positive impacts on carbon-reducing consumer behaviour:

‘The cost-of-living crisis has made us more sustainable, with the rise of capsule wardrobes, buying accessories instead of a whole new outfit, shopping on Vinted. Consumers are thinking more about the lifecycle of products now,’ said Lisa.

Put your best people forward

‘Authenticity is vital, and consumers – and reporters – have a nose for when something is inauthentic,’ said Stephen.

‘People like people – offer media interviews. They do well for Retail Week, and on social media. Who in your business can tell your story well? Put them forward for articles, and awards.’

Stephen Eddie, Retail Week

‘Your colleagues and customers will be more engaging to the audience than announcements about your policies. Have spokespeople ready who can cut through the jargon.’

The challenges, alongside the successes

‘There is complexity around how to measure ESG KPIs,’ said Lisa.

‘A lot of businesses are still in that journey. If you are – communicate that to customers; they’ll want to know about it.’

While retailers proudly announce their achievement of B Corp status – brands who have this include Fat Face, Aesop, and The White Company – few admit failing to secure it. Stephen posed that this would be an interesting story for readers – what will the retailer do next to secure the certification?

‘It’s powerful to know what progress is being made,’ added Lisa. ‘People want to hear about it. Don’t wait until you have all the answers – share the little steps.’

Other stories the public will want to read about… but you won’t want to share…

‘Greenwashing has made retailers nervous to make commitments,’ shared Lisa.

A consequence of the rise of greenwash-shaming in the press and from consumers is an accompanying rise in greenhushing – retailers quietly deleting ESG promises from their websites when goals haven’t been met.

Transparency is how to secure loyalty and trust – Lisa highlighted Nobody’s Child’s canny choice to share sourcing and supply chain details for its products:

‘The brand is already ahead of incoming legislation around this. It will drive loyalty, that it’s a sustainable business. It’s good marketing’.

What is Retail Week interested in sharing with its readers?

Unusual stories

An example from Stephen – House of Hackney’s decision to legally appoint ‘Mother Nature’ and ‘Future Generations’ to its board of directors secured the brand a Q&A in Retail Week. The unusual and unexpected will grab the attention of reporters, and their readers.

First movers

‘As ever, the newer something is, the more newsworthy it is,’ said Stephen.

‘Being a first mover means getting a reputation for being a leader in the industry. Reporters will want to follow the next step you take.’

Retailer team-ups

‘Establish partnerships if you share suppliers already – no one is competing when it comes to global warming,’ Lisa said, using the June 2023 teaming of B&Q, Screwfix, Bunnings, and The Home Depot to reduce Scope 3 emissions as an example of an interesting story, and an important collaboration.

‘If you can’t do it yourself, be part of a team – it will have more impact,’ added Stephen.

Contributions for sections outside of the news pages

‘It’s not just about the news,’ said Stephen.

‘Contribute to columns – but don’t be too salesy. Offer interviews, chances for us to sit down with a CEO – don’t gate-keep the talent.’

‘Case studies, reports, and people lists are other great ways to tell your story, and they have a great tail – readers will go back to them.’

 

Get in touch to learn how the Vuelio Media Database and ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service can help you connect with retail journalists across broadcast, national and regional press, as well as consumer and trade publications.

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.

Newsrewired panel 2024

The rise of AI in journalism and its impact on PR

Could the use of AI have an impact on the relationship between journalists and PRs?

This year’s Newsrewired conference featured several panels discussing AI and the benefits it can bring to journalism. Here is how journalists are using AI already, and what this could mean for PR.

Fact-checking and misinformation

The rise of misinformation is a continuing problem for journalists to contend with. Charlotte Maher, social media editor at Bellingcat, explained its impact on politics:

‘In regards to deep fakes in election periods, something that we’ve seen – which is a very worrying trend – is the rise in deep fake audio. Video and imagery – there’s a lot of tools out there and more data to analyse in the video and images. With audio, it’s a lot harder.’

To combat this, various AI tools and programmes have been and continue to be developed to aid journalists fact-checking information and identifying manipulated images or repurposed content. Charlotte Maher recommended GitHub as a platform, full of open source, easy to access tools.

Impact on PRs: Journalists are now more cautious when putting content into print or online. To be seen as trustworthy and reliable to the media, be ready to back up sources or statistics included in press releases to set yourself apart.

Being able to give journalists an exclusive case study or information will be more likely to result in coverage. Repurposed or recycled material is not as useful to journalists, as it can include misinformation.

Winning back time

Regional publisher Newsquest has developed an in-house tool to draft articles based on trusted information from verified sources. However, there is always a human at the beginning and end of the news cycle. Jody Doherty-Cove, head of editorial AI at Newsquest, spoke about how this benefits the editorial process:

‘Around 3,500 AI assisted news articles are published across Newsquest each month, and we’re reinvesting that won-back time into our newsrooms, allowing journalists to get back out into their communities and focusing on specialisms, like getting back into court’.

Impact on PRs: Regional and local editorial teams have been getting smaller and smaller in the past few years. Journalists at this level have less time to engage with PRs as a result.

If other publishers follow Newsquest’s example, and win back more time for reporters to get out to cover stories, this could mean more engagement with PRs, and an increase in coverage of community news initiatives, as well as local projects and events.

Help with vertical video

Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are becoming increasingly popular with younger audiences as a way to consume news. However, there are still comparatively few journalists using these social media sites as a way to promote their journalism.

Sophia Smith-Galer, a freelance journalist who has previously worked for the BBC and Vice, is a pioneer of TikTok journalism, with over 500,000 followers on the platform, plus over 250,000 on Instagram. Using this expertise, Sophie trained an AI tool (called Sophina) to help write viral video scripts for journalists:

‘Current AI tools don’t do what we want them to do. We don’t know the training data, for example, on ChatGPT. I wanted to build an ethical tool where you knew the knowledge base was being used consensually.’

Impact on PRs: An increasing number of journalists will be using TikTok and Instagram in the future and will need press materials to work in a vertical video format.

Make sure what you’re offering journalists is adaptable to fit into various formats. As well as how it could work in print and online, think how it could appear in a TikTok video or an Instagram reel. This is particularly important for product placement or general product review articles you’re aiming to feature in.

Connect with journalists directly via the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service and Vuelio Media Database.

Want to know more about pitching to the media? Download the Vuelio white paper ‘How to pitch to journalists’, covering national press, consumer media, trade outlets, and freelancers.

Second General Election debate 2024

From Mordaunt vs Rayner clash to Farage winning popularity poll: Impact of the second TV debate

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

Representatives from seven parties took to the stage for Friday 7 June’s BBC Election Debate 2024. Following on from ITV’s broadcast of Sunak vs Starmer’s debate the previous week, which topics grabbed the attention of the viewers and sparked political media reports this time around?

We analysed social and news in the UK General Election 2024 conversation across X, TikTok, Threads, Facebook, blogs, forums, online news, print news, TV, radio, and podcasts, from Friday 7 June 7:30pm, to Monday 10 June.

Did the Conservative’s Penny Mordaunt, Labour’s Angela Rayner, Liberal Democrats’ Daisy Cooper, Scottish National Party’s Stephen Flynn, Green Party’s Carla Denyer, Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorwerth, and Reform UK’s Nigel Farage’s time on TV shift the needle on the conversation?

Tax, health and foreign affairs – Most popular topics before and after Friday’s debate

Top mentioned topics

Taking the spotlight for many write-ups in the press and reaction on social media following the debate were the clashes between deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner and Commons leader Penny Mordaunt, who had been placed in close proximity.

Key moments from Friday: The clash over Mordaunt’s choice to repeat Conservative claims that Labour would raise taxes by £2,000; Mordaunt’s repeated apologies for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s early departure from the D-Day ceremony; and Reform leader Nigel Farage’s strong criticism of Sunak, branding him ‘unpatriotic’ and a ‘complete and utter disgrace’. Farage himself did not escape harsh words, being described as a ‘clown personality’ by Rayner.

Overall, the BBC debate didn’t make a significant splash when it comes to pushing the directions of press coverage and online conversations. The main difference in trending topics across both when looking at pre- and post- Friday’s debate is for discussion of tax.

Tax saw the highest increase (+7.5%) among the topics we tracked compared to share of voice before Friday’s televised debate.

Mordaunt was criticised by many across social media for returning to the well of that controversial £2k tax claim that Sunak had dug in the first debate:

Lisa Pattern tweet

Reports from Sky News, BBC, and The Guardian concerning Labour’s mention of ‘no tax hikes’  were highly shared.

Another conversation that increased following the second debate – the topic of the NHS.

Analysis shows this was driven by Farage’s statement during the debate that the NHS should be scrapped in its current form. This comment continues to drive discussion in the press and online, as it faces criticism from left-leaning audiences:

Jon Jill tweet

Which of the two TV debates so far has driven the most coverage and conversation?

ITV vs BBC volume comparison

Analysis of the 24-hour periods following each debate shows that it was 6 June’s ITV broadcast that has had the most impact on the conversation and coverage, driving reports and shares. The reason for this could be two-fold – the first debate of its kind for this General Election drew more curiosity, and featured the only two party leaders realistically positioned to be UK Prime Minister post election.

But what do the polls say?

 

Following the BBC debate, a poll from More in Common found that Farage possibly came out on top; with 25% thinking the Reform leader had won the debate; 19% saying Angela Rayner; 14% saying none of the above; 11% for the Green Party’s Carla Denyer; 10% for the Scottish Nationalist Party’s Stephen Flynn; 7% for Penny Mordaunt; 5% for the Liberal Democrat’s Daisy Cooper; and 2% for Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorwerth.

As the media, and voters, await the release of each party’s manifestos this week – much mooted by each speaker throughout both TV tussles – debate as fierce as those televised so far continues online and in the press.

Stay informed with the latest news on the upcoming General Election by signing up to our Vuelio General Election Updates.

How to get PR coverage in June 2024 and beyond

Travel experts, election comment and festival essentials: How to get coverage in the press in June

Want to get media coverage in June? The next month will be a busy one for journalists, with General Election build up, Glastonbury, Wimbledon, the Euros to cover.

The ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service gives a good indicator of what topics and areas the media are particularly interested in and what they will need from PRs. Here are trends from May, and what we expect to be popular in June and beyond.

Summer season is here

While it isn’t officially summer yet, journalists have been keen to cover it with over 8% of the total requests last month containing the word ‘summer’. The enquiries have varied quite widely in topic but many have been around ‘holidays’, with that also appearing in 3% of requests in May.

‘BBQ’ has proved popular, too, with the word appearing in 2% of enquiries. The start of summer also marks ‘festival’ season with 1.5% of requests in May looking for information and essential products to take camping.

Going forward? While ‘Summer’ is broad as a keyword, we know that ‘holidays’ will continue to perform well as the Travel category peaks for requests in June. Journalists will want comments from travel experts. Summer fashion, beauty and health will also prove popular, so get information or experts ready and you could feature in The Guardian, Women’s Fitness, Fabulous, The i paper, Ideal Home, Pick Me Up! and the MailOnline.

UK General Election takes centre stage

While much of the UK press were expecting an Autumn election, the surprise announcement in May didn’t stop journalists sending requests to PRs related to the news –  ‘Election’ appeared in 2% of the total enquiries last month.

Initial journalist requests sought ‘business leaders’ thoughts on the UK election’ and ‘comment from logistics expert on how the General Election could impact the UK logistics and supply chain sector’.

Going forward? With less than a month until the General Election, journalists will increasingly use the service to get comments from different sectors for how it will impact them. This represents a great opportunity to get CEOs or industry leaders featured in the media. The Times, Sunday Mirror, The Independent, and Reuters have all had journalists send requests around the election already.

Interest in gardening and AI still high as sport gains more traction

‘Gardening’ and ‘AI’ have both been consistently popular on the Journalist Enquiry Service for several months now and that didn’t change in May. ‘Gardening’ appeared in 5% of the total requests last month and ‘AI’ occurred in just over 3%.

With a big summer of sport ahead, including the Euros, Wimbledon and the Olympics, the category increased in use by journalists by 12% compared to April. ‘Euros’ and ‘football’ combined appeared in 1% of the requests last month.

Going forward? Garden requests are likely to remain high in June with the more summery weather (we hope) the Home & Garden category received 7% more requests in May this year compared to 2023. AI has seen an even bigger increase, with 17% more enquiries last month than this time last year. Journalists are looking to connect with experts in both of these areas. In regards to sport, requests tend to be for places to watch sporting events, or products to work alongside it.

Other opportunities for PRs in June and beyond

As June is Pride month in the UK, journalists will likely be looking for events and what’s on in certain cities to celebrate. Expect ‘LGBTQ’ to crop up in a lot of requests from the media, too. Aside from the two big music festivals in June, Taylor Swift is also coming to the UK and journalists have already been sending requests around this, mainly for personal case studies.

It’s Men’s Health Week from 14-20 June, so get ready for the opportunities to get health and medical experts featured in the media. There is also Clean Air Day on 20 June, providing a chance to get environmental experts quoted in the press.

To connect with the media on these topics, and much more, check out the Journalist Enquiry Service and the Vuelio Media Database.

Find out more how Vuelio can help you gain and track your coverage in the media here.

Katherine Hignett Health Journalist

How to connect with health journalists in the post-pandemic era 

Just as the healthcare sector was forever changed by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, so too was how the media reports on the topics of health, medicine, and treatment.

What does this mean for PRs aiming to connect with health journalists now?

Forbes.com senior contributor Katherine Hignett led Vuelio event ‘Truth and impact: Health journalism in the post-pandemic era’ on Wednesday evening, 29 May, at Vinoteca City to share her experiences and insight.

Topics covered – how health journalists became a vital force in newsrooms across the world; the challenges of sourcing trustworthy experts; and the long-term impacts still being felt in the media today.

How the pandemic changed health journalism

Extra pressures
Health journalism already comes with unique demands – ‘It’s very technical, and has regulatory frameworks other sectors don’t,’ Katherine explained – but the start of COVID-19 only brought more challenges…

Culture wars
‘Disinformation is a huge issue on social media now, and it gave us more work to do during the pandemic – debunking and extra fact-checking as part of every report. Topics that were politically inert were now potentially culturally sensitive.’

Katherine explained the impact of the rise in anti-vax sentiment, conspiracy theories, and misinformation on medications that could supposedly stop the spread.

‘When fact-checking stories, we had to personally deal with conspiracy theorists and anti-science sentiment. We got some nasty stuff from strangers over the internet. Some of these things are still with us today’.

Increased responsibility
‘Before the pandemic, the closer a story was to politics, political journalists would pick up the story. But suddenly, the expertise we had as health journalists was really important to those stories. We were suddenly among the most important journalists in the room’.

New sources
With all of the bad, came some good:

‘It was suddenly easier to get information from sources. NHS workers weren’t so open to talk to journalists before, but then, even though managers would try to stop sources in back offices from leaking information, people did it.

‘We were given amazing data on staff levels, PPE. We didn’t have capacity to cover it all.’

How to work with health journalists today

‘Covid is still something we cover everyday, even if it’s indirectly covered,’ said Katherine.

The legacy of the pandemic is also felt in how journalists source, fact-check, write, and share stories. This also impacts how they work with PRs.

Do extra checks on your experts
‘It’s more difficult to figure out who to trust when it comes to experts now,’ explained Katherine.

‘The pandemic was really good training for journalists on how to work with experts. Just because someone wears a white coat, doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about.’

‘We often speak to them about research, and for commentary for articles. Sometimes the press can over-egg and oversell scientific findings, so genuine experts are really important.’

What is a sign of a trustworthy expert for health journalists? University affiliations. Katherine also pointed out pHd research as an interesting starting point for stories, and a way to find and connect with new experts.

Provide sources for stories
As people the world over have made efforts to return to some form of normality, so too has the status quo on sources:

‘Sadly, the sources and tips have gone back to “normal” now; it’s more tricky,’ shared Katherine.

While Katherine herself has a consumer and national focus in her work, she highlighted trade journalism’s deep connections with useful sources:

‘The trade press are really good at finding stories we wouldn’t find in consumer and on national titles, because they have access to contacts we don’t.

‘Journalists working on consumer media rely a lot on trade press, but also on releases and contacts from charities.’

What Katherine is interested in for her own reporting – drug shortages on a national scale, and health stories that reveal information that could impact society.

‘As a country, we are sicker than we were before Covid. It had a big impact on drug shortages, and exacerbated existing global issues. Many are still waiting for care that was cancelled during the pandemic. People are getting sicker and relying on medication – more pain, and more drugs, while waiting for surgery.

‘For journalists, this means there are more opportunities to hold people to account. It’s an important and fascinating area.’

Katherine Hignett is a senior contributor to Forbes.com on healthcare and health policy, and freelance journalist for titles such as Metro.co.uk and Newsweek. Katherine is a former correspondent for award-winning health policy publication the Health Service Journal, and was recognised by PressGazette for her investigative work exposing PPE shortages in hospitals during the pandemic.

To connect with health journalists working across broadcast, national and regional press, consumer and trade publications, the Vuelio Media Database and ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service can help. 

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.

Find out more about Vuelio’s solutions for public affairs and politics.

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.

 

For more on UK politics as the race to the General Election heats up, sign up for the Vuelio General Election Bulletin as well as our weekly Point of Order newsletter.

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.