Balance for Better: Women in Sport


Balance for Better: Women in Sport

Balance for Better: Women in Sport

Today is International Women’s Day, where the theme is ‘Balance for Better’. It provides an opportunity to talk about the progress we have made in working to achieve gender balance, as well as a chance to reflect on the challenges that still lie ahead. Our Researcher, Sophia, explores the gender balance in sport, highlighting problems in the way women’s sport is reported in the media, and what we can do to tackle them.

Where are we at?

First, we should note that great progress has been made in the world of women’s sport globally. Representation in high positions has improved. The number of women on International Olympic Committee (IOC) Commissions has been increased to almost 43% of the total membership since 2013.[1] A growing support for women’s sport is also reflected in our population. According to the Women’s Sports Trust, 59% of people in the UK have an active interest in women’s sport – a potential market of 24 million people.[2] Women's sport is on the rise compared with years gone by.

This is starting to be reflected in the media. Alex Scott made history as the first female pundit in the Sky studio on Super Sunday last year, where she reported on premier league fixtures alongside Graeme Souness and Jamie Carragher. While she had been a pitchside analyst in the past, having a woman in the studio was unheard of. She said of her success as a female pundit: “I want people – boys and girls – to be sat at home watching me alongside the likes of Rio Ferdinand or Frank Lampard, thinking that it’s normal, that we all know what we’re talking about, and that they’re not judging me at home just because I’m a female.”[3] You and I both, Alex. But it remains that women are still not playing and talking about sport on an equal footing to men.

Drip drip drip

One problem is the way we speak about women’s sport. Often it’s a subtle drip drip drip that influences our perceptions and can have a significant impact. For instance, men’s sport is largely considered the default ‘sport’, with pundits most often referring to “football” and then “women’s football”. I’m no expert but women’s football is just as much ‘football’ as men’s football. They both play by the same rules and require the same commitment.[4] Then there are the not-so-subtle commentators. Simon Kelner, the former editor of the Independent, said that women talking about Football World Cup games “is like getting a netball player to discuss major league basketball”. Not helpful. Jason Cundy also attracted widespread criticism for his comments on hearing Vicki Sparks commentate on the World Cup last year, complaining it was “a tough listen. I prefer to hear a male voice. For 90 minutes listening to a high-pitched tone isn't what I want to hear.”

Aesthetics or athletics?

Perhaps the worst and most enduring practice of commentators is the focusing on appearance over ability. Why are we talking about the length of Heather Watson’s skirt, rather than the possibility she might win the UK women’s first gold medal in tennis since 1908? Why does commentary focus so disproportionately on women’s appearance and personal lives in sport rather than the quality of their performance? The double standards and sexual undertones in the way women’s sports are reported is a dis-service to the sport being played, as well as the individuals playing.


But maybe the current narrative around women’s sport is just a symptom of a wider problem of culture? For many women the ‘lad-culture’ of football is very off-putting and makes it seem like it’s not ‘meant for them’. It’s not hard to see where this comes from. It’s reinforced very early on in the playground that netball is for girls and football is for boys. In fact, by the age of 10, 95% of boys will be playing football, compared to only 41% of girls of the same age. We can’t expect adult sport fans to dramatically change their view of men’s and women’s sports teams when it runs counter to everything they experienced growing up. When Girl Guides did their Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2018, one young respondent said: “I think girls’ lives would be better if girls felt more encouraged to do sports and ‘male’ subjects in school.” We cannot stress enough the importance of starting the process of encouraging girls into sport early.

What next?

Given all this, what can we do? In a conversation that so often relies on vague conclusions about “society” and “equality”, having tangible actions that can make a positive difference is important. Here’s a few ways we can take small steps towards a big goal (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Firstly, we can’t underestimate how important it is to work alongside men, rather than opposite them. Not just because shutting out 50% of the human population makes absolutely no sense, but because men suffer from gender inequality too. Men in sport can play an incredibly important role in calling out sexism where the voice of a woman sadly just wouldn’t be as effective. Sir Andy Murray is a wonderful example of this. Two years ago, Murray was praised for correcting a journalist who said Sam Querrey was the first American to reach a grand slam semi-final since 2009. Murry responded: “Male player,” highlighting that Serena Williams had won a fair few majors in that period.

Secondly, we can build on successful instances where both men’s and women’s sports have happened side by side. In 2016 the Men's and Women's World Twenty20 was held simultaneously in India. In fact, the final took place on the same day and at the same ground. The result was greater publicity and interest in the women's game. Whilst some may argue that such a format makes the women's game a sideshow to the "main event" of the men's tournament, that is not the result in tennis or athletics. A Jessica Ennis-Hill title is as widely reported and known about as a Mo Farah one.

It is a similar story with rugby. The Six Nations has both a men’s and women's tournament running concurrently. Often the women's match is played at Twickenham straight after the men, or alternatively takes place across the road at the Twickenham Stoop on the Friday night before. This raises awareness of the women's rugby and allows fans to be introduced to the women's game. My local club Harlequins include their women's team on their results page, in their social media posts and competitions. As far as they are concerned, they are one club with two teams.

Another way balance can be achieved in sport is through brand investment. Advertising and sponsorship are crucial, not just through funding but in the message projected to women that sport is for them too. The commercial male focus puts a lot of women off and brands are often hesitant to invest in women’s sport because they don’t feel that they’re reaching a large enough audience. But more brands need to break the cycle and tap into a growing market of women.

Some progress has been made here; only yesterday Lucozade announced they will be moving into sponsorship of women’s football for the first time ever ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019. This follows Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ ad series, featuring Serena Williams calling out double-standards on how female athletes are described when showing emotion. The ad closes with: “If they want to call you crazy, fine. Show them what crazy can do.”

This is the way forward: equal treatment and partnership, including, not excluding, men in the debate. Celebrating the progress made thus far, but mindful of our steps yet to come.




[4] Cambridge University Press have analysed millions of words relating to men and women and how they are described in language associated with the Olympic sports.





It’s that time of year again where the Gender Pay Gap dominates the headlines. In March last year 7,375 UK stories ran with “Pay Gap” in their title. New research from Opinium shows 64% of Brits have heard about the Gender Pay Gap in the last 6 months. With last year penned the “grace period” for firms, this year looks set to be double the scrutiny for those finding themselves under the spotlight. With less than a month to go until the reporting deadline our new Consultant, Bethan Phillips, examines what’s been creeping out of the woodwork.


16% of firms, nearly 2,000 companies, have released their gender pay gap data for a second time. And so far in 2019 there have been 1,130 stories with “Pay Gap” in the headline. BBC analysis in February showed at the time of publication the median gap (that is the difference in pay between the middle-ranking woman and the middle-ranking man) in Britain has lessened - it is now 8.4%, down from 9.7% last year. Hurrah? Alas, not quite. In 4 out of 10 companies, the gap is getting worse.

Towards the end of last year, in the midst of Brexit chaos, some firms released their gender pay gap results for 2018- including HSBC and 18 Government Departments. At nearly a third of government departments the gender pay gap has widened over the past 12 months, despite previous pledges to reduce it.

Guardian GPG infographic.png

The biggest rise in the median pay gap was reported by the DCMS, where the median gap nearly trebled from 8.2% to 22.9% in 2018. The main reason cited for this increase was a “loyalty penalty”. Whereby progressive policies such as flexi working, targeting working parents, encourage women to stay on in their roles. Only for them to be “screwed on pay” because by being promoted internally they are limited by civil service policy on internal pay increases. However, men who were hired externally at a director level were (surprise surprise) recruited on much higher salaries than their female equivalents.

HSBC might have thought they’d escaped media scrutiny when the press didn’t initially pick up their increase in gender pay gap. Roll on 2019 and a flurry of articles branding HSBC the “worst bank” for the gender pay gap surfaced. Their gender pay gap grew to 61% in 2018, compared to 59% a year earlier. Safe to say- HSBC’s new year wasn’t off to the best start.

HSBC gender pay gap.PNG

Another pay gap offender was the energy giant Npower, whose median gender pay gap has grown from 13% to 18%. This was in part attributed to more female than male employees opting for a salary sacrifice benefits scheme. These schemes were hailed “a positive step towards the company being more family friendly”. There appears to be a recurring correlation between family friendly policies and the gender pay gap, with women suffering the financial consequences. But it also goes to show that Gender Pay Gap reporting is just one crude metric which doesn’t tell the full story behind the number.


With the second year of Gender Pay Gap reporting well underway, conversations around consumers and potential recruits boycotting brands and businesses because of their gender pay gap are growing. Research from The Equality and Human Rights Commission shows candidates are putting more pressure on companies to show they are pushing diversity and gender equality – with two-thirds of women taking a company’s gender pay gap into consideration. At a panel discussion on The Gender Pay Gap, hosted by Lansons, Opinium and PRCA, Bibi Hilton MD at Golin suggested we will see an increase in consumers boycotting brands with a gender pay gap. An opinion echoed by Allyson Stewart-Allen, CEO of International Marketing Partners. Reputations are certainly at risk, but will consumers actually boycott these businesses? We’re not sure that consumers are really ready to put principle above pricing yet, but we’ll be delighted to be proven wrong on this one!  


There are no silver bullets when it comes to fixing the gender pay gap, so we will no doubt see these worsening results continuing to dominate the headlines. Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of Fawcett Society, is urging businesses to draw up long term action plans. She believes they need to illustrate a dedication to making change by producing a 3-5 year strategic plan on how they will improve their gap. A piece of advice reverberated by Chloe Chambraud Director at BITC Gender Equality at the PRCA Gender Pay Gap panel discussion. The pressure is on for the Government to require firms to have a real action plan to address their pay gaps and consequences for those that don’t.


Would I lie to you?


Would I lie to you?

Our Researcher Toni Heijbroek promises to stick to the facts in her latest blog, when pondering on the state of our public psyche and the findings from this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer.

Who do you trust? Why do you trust them? These questions permeate our lives from the workplace to our weekend conversations in pub corners. But the consequences for business and comms are far greater than trusting your mate to get the round correct.

For 18 years, headlines from the Edelman Trust Barometer have provided insight into the state of trust in our international communities. With 33,000 respondents worldwide, it is the mother of all surveys. It’s highlighted shifts in the way we, as global citizens, view the world and the institutions in it. In 2017, trust was in crisis. 2018 was coined the year for the ‘Battle of Truth.’ And the 2019 results are in... but what do they actually mean for politics, media and comms?


This year has seen ‘trust inequality’ return to record highs. As part of their barometer, Edelman have calculated the average percent of trust placed in NGOs, business, government and media by two groups of society. The ‘informed public’, the top 16% of the global population holding the top quarter of global household income, who went to university and the ‘mass public’. The 84% of people around the world who aren’t so lucky.

This increase in ‘trust inequality’ means the gap between our global population’s ‘informed public’ and ‘mass population’ has widened.

This tells us that, unsurprisingly, as a global society we are becoming more polarised over whom we trust and why. We, as Brits, are in an even more dire state. Our ‘informed public’ sits happily in a state of ‘trust’ at 64 points, with our ‘mass population’ 24 points lower in a state of active distrust. We are a nation divided along a number of fault lines.

Protesters at the #MeToo survivors’ march : thousands march in LA as sexual misconduct allegations continue

Protesters at the #MeToo survivors’ march : thousands march in LA as sexual misconduct allegations continue

Take politics, for example. In a post-referendum environment, it will hardly come as a shock that things are not looking rosy for our political elite. But 3 in 5 UK citizens believe Government doesn’t listen to “people like them”, regardless of their leaning in the 2016 referendum. And half of us believe the socio-political system is broken. For better or worse, you need look no further than Parliament’s new Independent Group of MPs, or TIGgers, to see that this disillusionment with politics is echoing in the halls of Westminster. 

We are also divided along gendered lines. Gender Pay Gap reporting and the #MeToo movement are indicative that inequalities and injustices are not going away. Our collective desire for change has never been greater, fuelled by a mutual feeling that governments and elected officials just don’t get it. 


This collective urge for change means our desire for fact finding has sky rocketed. Our engagement in the news agenda is up, the disengaged are becoming more engaged, and more and more people are amplifying the news agenda through their own personal social channels or blogs.

PR professionals everywhere can sleep easy, as this means our market is growing. As more people engage with and augment news, there is the ever increasing opportunity for our work to affect more and more people. Our scope for impact is on the up. 

Yet with power, comes great responsibility. Awareness of scary algorithms designed to perpetuate echo chambers of news online are coming under fire. And two thirds of us worry that the news we consume may be weaponised and fake.


If you are reading this from the relative comfort of your ergonomic desk chair, take a moment with me. Do you trust your boss?

Turns out, 73% of us in the UK do.

Our gradual reordering of trust has landed “My Employer” with the top job. They are considered more trustworthy than NGOs, governments and the media. And they hold this position because in our polarising world, we look to relationships that are close at hand.

Your employer is much more tangible than government, for example. The talking heads in Central Lobby on the Ten O’Clock News are a far cry away from who you see across the office on a Monday morning.

These relationships make us feel more empowered. They are more controllable.

Surprisingly, this also rings true for those who are more traditionally considered disenfranchised. Even the majority of those who believe the system is failing them trust their employers.

From the Edelman Trust Barometer: For each one, respondents were asked to indicate how much they trust an institution to do what is right, using a nine-point scale where one means that you “do not trust them at all” and nine means that you “trust them a great deal.” “Your employer” was a category for those who are employed, but not self employed.

From the Edelman Trust Barometer: For each one, respondents were asked to indicate how much they trust an institution to do what is right, using a nine-point scale where one means that you “do not trust them at all” and nine means that you “trust them a great deal.” “Your employer” was a category for those who are employed, but not self employed.


However we are not allowing the top cats to rest on their laurels. Globally, three quarters of us say that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for the Government to impose it. This means that we are increasingly expecting employers to be at the forefront of issues like gendered pay, prejudice and discrimination, and even the environment.

Similarly, 7 in 10 of us think it is “critically important” for CEOs to respond to challenging times. This means we want our business leaders to take a stance on political events and national crises. Board rooms across the country: take note.


As we look to our employers more and more as trusted partners, the role of internal comms gets ever more important. If we trust our businesses so much more than our governments, and our media outlets, why aren’t we all utilising internal comms as part of our campaigning?

The year of ‘Trust at Work’ shows the increasing necessity of successful internal comms. Employers need to be vocal on change that is happening in their businesses and in the wider community. They need to start and continue meaningful conversations that support workplace progression. They need to run open and honest internal comms campaigns that nourish this growing trust.

Put simply, employees are putting their trust in the workplace, which means we need to trust them with our campaigns.


The Independent Group: A Bold But Empty Gesture?


The Independent Group: A Bold But Empty Gesture?

While both Labour and Tory defectors in the new Independent Group appear seemingly united, underpinning their rationales are two very different parties, with very different problems. New Atlas researcher Sophia looks at whether the TIGers can mobilise the centre ground and offer more than an anti-Brexit movement, or whether their inevitable differences will be too strong to overcome.




The creation of the Independent Group is understandable but also puzzling, as Britain’s two main parties find themselves in very different circumstances. While Labour has been consumed with allegations of antisemitism and bullying, many have been left wondering why three Tories have left a party that is trying to fulfil its manifesto pledge of pursuing Brexit.


If you separate the Independent Group’s policies beyond Brexit you will still find, at heart, Labour and Conservative MPs. Despite both main parties being split, they are of course ideologically separate. Umunna still supports greater public spending, and Soubry still supports the austerity agenda driven by the Conservative Government. While ideological differences with their native parties have brought them together, ideological differences may yet tear them apart as buried beneath the surface lie very different views on the role of the individual and the role of the state.




So can the Independent Group unite around more than disillusionment with the leading parties? More than slowing -even preventing- Brexit? Their statement of independence is worryingly empty: void of distinct policies and consisting more of vague statements that nobody could really disagree with. On the other hand, (highlighted here in a previous Atlas blog), a moderate (even if somewhat vague in TIG’s case) middle ground for the politically homeless is welcome at a time when politicians (and people) are so deeply divided.




Last week a YouGov poll placed the Independent Group at 18 percent, despite their lack of manifesto. Although the usual caveats around the reliability of polling applies, to put this in some context, Cameron called a referendum when the UK Independence Party polling at just 10%. This latest polling suggests that the electorate to some extent shares TIGer’s disillusionment with the main parties and simply favour a change -any change- from May’s shambolic handling of Brexit and the hard-left of Corbyn.


These considerations are now more poignant as the Group's character shifts from an SDP-esque Labour splinter movement, to a political grouping with the potential for electoral influence. The First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system has historically smothered small parties before they even get started, and this will surely be no different. Once the novelty of their creation has worn off, whether they have the potential for electoral success is yet to be seen.





One option on the table is to facilitate some form of merge with the Lib Dems, however this comes with its own baggage and further dilutes the possibility for consensus as a third party enters the mix. The extent of agreement within the Group on Lib Dem involvement is already contentious, with some avoiding the question and some seemingly suggesting they’re all welcome.


Regardless of how you look at it, it’s bold. To cross the benches and collaborate with your opposition on forming a new parliamentary group takes some guts. But once the novelty wears off, will they unite and change political history, or be remembered as an idealistic but ultimately hollow faction? We will be watching with interest.


No such thing as bad publicity?


No such thing as bad publicity?

Gillette Logo.png

An unusual suspect for controversy by all accounts, Gillette certainly kicked 2019 off with a bang. Their advert, ‘We Believe: The Best Men Can Be’, sought to combat toxic masculinity by asking men to call out the detrimental and damaging behaviours of their peers.

Our intern, Neil McAvoy, examines the recent advert causing quite a stir.

So, why the fuss?

To many the advert is uncontroversial. The statement that men no longer must fall into behaviours that, while deemed ‘masculine’, have been problematic and unhealthy for men and women alike is surely one to be welcomed?

Gillete Ad, Pro Response 1.png
Gillette Ad, Pro Response 2.png

If only this was where the story ended …


As if to confirm the existence of a problem within the psyche of a noisy portion of the advert’s male audience, a fierce and relatively widespread backlash ensued. At the time of writing, the short film version has around 25M views, 678K likes and 1.2M dislikes.

Gillette Ad, Neg Response 1.png
Gillette Ad, Piers Morgan Response.png

While the advert is certainly not without its faults (few ever are!), it’s hard to, in good conscience, disagree with the message that bullying, harassment and workplace sexism aren’t aspects of society that should be allowed to endure. Nor is the advert wrong in suggesting that these behaviours, at least the latter two, are disproportionally experienced by women. The assertion that men need to act more often to prevent the spread of these behaviours is also accurate. While these truths are hard to deny, they were lost on many men who watched the advert.

As the advert’s reception demonstrates, Gillette is also correct to think that these messages have yet to resonate with the parts of society they need to most. Whether a 30 (or 90) second Gillette advert is either the effective or appropriate vehicle to accomplish this is another matter.


If companies are going to provide this type of social commentary in their adverts at all, should Gillette be the one to do so?

On this issue, rationally, yes, they probably should. Gillette is one of the world’s largest marketers to men. Its (potential) influence is huge.

They are also donating $1m annually into US non-profits which align with their recently demonstrated ethos. Additionally, Procter and Gamble, Gillette’s corporate overlords, have run similarly motivated adverts on other companies they own in the past. Whether this is for their own gain or society’s, I’ll leave you to decide.

Always, Throw Like a Girl Ad.gif


Firstly, when most watch the advert, they don’t see this context. Instead, many protectively see the ‘feminisation’ of a male world they have grown accustomed to, feel instantly uncomfortable and react defensively. Others, rightly or wrongly, perceive the advert to stink of virtue signalling.

The generally poor execution of the advert doesn’t help either. The acting is far from ground-breaking. Shock horror, I know. The several heavily exaggerated stereotypes and caricatures featured make it challenging for the advert to convey sincerity. A line of men stood BBQ’ing is tricky to take seriously, no matter the context. This trivialises the issue and, while the message remains the same, makes it more difficult for the advert to achieve its goal of changing minds.

Gillette, Men BBQing.png

The short and simple requirements of an advert don’t lend themselves well to a convincing comment on one of society’s longest-running problems. Resultantly, it oversimplifies an issue which, whether you like it or not, can’t be resolved without sensitivity and the appreciation of nuance. It uses the example of two young boys play-fighting to represent toxic masculinity. This is neither accurate or helpful.

While short and sweet adverts work relatively well when selling products or experiences, they work less so when trying to change men’s minds and misplaced senses of identity. This has caused many men to miss the point of the advert, unable to see the benefits both men and women will receive from such a change and merely perceiving an attack on ‘masculinity’.


Perhaps Gillette’s foray into the realm of social commentary will add itself to a list of examples that prove there is such a thing as bad publicity. While certainly raising the company’s profile, the advert has created serious uncertainty for Gillette’s brand reputation and sales. It may have also further entrenched the type of men it was trying to reach into their defence of the more unpalatable and disruptive aspects of masculinity. Through gargantuan publicity, Gillette has risked deteriorating the circumstances of each of the matters it set out to better. Bad publicity does exist.

Whatever your view, it’s probably worth remembering that it was just an advert. A reality which seems to have been lost on many.

Gillette Ad, JamesO'Brien.png





As the year draws to an end, here at Atlas we’ve been reflecting on our top 12 moments that mattered in 2018; the good, the bad and the ugly.

Salisbury poisoning

4th March 2018

On Sunday 4th March Salisbury, a relatively unheard-of city famed for its Anglican Cathedral, hit headlines around the globe, as the setting for a Le Carré style attempted espionage. In the early afternoon Mr Skripal and his daughter Julia were discovered unconscious on a bench in Salisbury. The city went into lock down and the press went mad; who was behind the poisoning, Putin or rouge Russian security agents? Since then we’ve learnt the pair were poisoned by military-grade Novichok nerve agent.  There were two other innocent people who later came into contact with the perfume bottle, used to contain the nerve agent, one of whom died. The two Russian suspects have been identified as officers in Russian military intelligence.

Did you know…The head of the British Army has declared Russia a "far greater threat" to the UK's national security than the Islamic State group.


Gender Pay Gap headlines

Gender Pay Gap headlines

Gender Pay Gap Crescendo 

April 5th 2018

The Gender Pay Gap filled the headlines in the lead up to April 5th, with barely a day going by without the media putting a company and their data in the spotlight. Despite people frequently conflating equal pay and the gender pay gap, it was encouraging to see the message break through that more needed to be done to support the progression of women across all industries. By April 2018 positive stories and calls to action, such as EasyJet’s efforts, were gaining as much attention as the scandals and outrage. A lack of workplace equality isn’t a ‘girls job’ to fix, and as men become more aware of the problem, having to address the stark statistics, they too can help.

 Whilst over 10,000 companies and public sector organisations revealed their pay gap data this year, one got more criticism than any other - the BBC. The ONS puts the UK’s average median pay gap at 17.9%  so the BBC’s gap of 9.7% is significantly below that, and better than the majority of other UK  media organisations. However, it’s PR woes were compounded when former China Editor, Carrie Gracie won an equal pay claim against the corporation. She later donated all of her back pay to the Fawcett Society to support other women fighting legal cases.

Did you know…There were 7,375 pay gap stories in UK media during March, five times more than in the previous month. And there were 10,891 employment tribunal claims from April- June in 2018, up 13% on the same period in 2017.

Mark Zuckerberg at Congress

Mark Zuckerberg at Congress

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, grilled on live TV by Congress over data misuse

10th April 2018

It was the most oddly riveting TV watching the gawky tech billionaire, who still wouldn’t look out of place on a college campus, getting grilled over the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal. Having refused numerous times to testify (UK Parliament didn’t get a look-in), politicians wanted blood. The out of touch questions and gnashing teeth of lawmakers jarred with the nervous yet robotic calm of the overly prepared CEO. The hours of scrutiny revealed snippets on Facebook’s battle with regulation, it’s business model and vulnerabilities over election interference and fake news. For many though, the real insight was as much about getting a peek of the man-child who grew an empire that defined a generation of social media users and is unrivalled in its global influence.

Did you know… Mark Zuckerberg was questioned by over 100 politicians for almost 10 hours.

Windrush protesters

Windrush protesters

The Windrush Scandal

29th April 2018

The Windrush scandal hit the headlines, triggering social outcry and political outrage as it revealed elderly people of Caribbean heritage had been wrongly detained, denied legal rights and threated with deportation. Once the story broke, the Government argued they did not consider the Windrush generation to be here illegally, despite the ‘hostile environment’ they had been forced to endure. Following weeks of uproar about the Government’s treatment of the Windrush generation, on the 29th April the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, resigned. Tragically, this will never compensate the families of the 11 people deported from their home who passed away overseas, or those who lost jobs and driving licenses when their indefinite leave to remain was withdrawn.

Did you knowSam Beaver King, one of the passengers on board the first Windrush journey later became the first black Mayor of the London Borough of Southwark in 1983. He also had an influential role in the first Caribbean carnival which is what we now know as Notting Hill Carnival.

Prince Harry and Megan Markle exchange vows

Prince Harry and Megan Markle exchange vows

The Royal Wedding

19th May 2018

On a glorious sunny Saturday in May, almost 2 billion people tuned in to watch Prince Harry marry his American girlfriend Megan Markle. Yes, almost 2 billion. Their ‘I Dos’ were heard across countries, continents and cultures. Their every movement and fashion decision analysed by royalists and republicans alike. It marked an important moment of diversification for the royal family, as they welcomed a mixed-race American divorcee with a high flying career and a longstanding commitment to activism into their ranks. And the reverberations of their big day are still being felt. Google has revealed that Megan Markle was the ‘most searched for person’ of 2018 and the royal wedding itself was the most searched story. Love them or loathe them, the royals are still undeniably top of our news agenda.

Did you know… Harry and Meghan read traditional vows from the Common Book of Prayer, though Meghan left out the word "obey" - just like Diana did.


Dacre Departs the Daily Mail

7th June 2018

In June this year, Paul Dacre, Editor of the Daily Mail since 1992, announced he was stepping down. Under Dacre’s leadership the paper was always at the forefront of political and public debate, from calling out Stephen Lawrence’s suspected murderers, to being on the side of the ‘free press’ during the phone hacking scandal and most recently, christening Remain supporters in Parliament the “enemies of the people” off the back of the Brexit vote. Love him or loathe him, Dacre has been the éminence grise of British politics for decades. In his absence, with huge pressure on traditional print, the question Geordie Greig his successor must answer is what lies ahead for Britain’s third most read newspaper.

Did you know The Daily Mail has 1.3 million readers and is the most read newspaper after the Sun with 1.5 million and the free Metro paper with 1.4 million.

Tense fans watching the penalty shoot out

Tense fans watching the penalty shoot out

England winning a penalty shoot-out in World Cup

3rd July 2018

The Women’s Commonwealth netball final win clinched the BBC Sports Moment of the Year Award. But surely, for football fans, England finally winning a penalty shoot-out for the first time since v Spain in Euro '96 was the moment of 2018?! It was the last 16 tie of the World Cup in Russia. England had done well to qualify out of their group and they were facing Columbia. A testy match ended in a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes and every England fan's worse dread was looming… Amazingly, despite Henderson's miss, the goalkeeper Jordan Pickford performed heroics and Eric Dier calmly slotted home the winning penalty for England to bury 22 years of penalty pain.

Did you know… More than 24million people in the UK watched the penalty shoot-out (not counting those who live-streamed it on the internet).


The new temperance

10th October 2018

Wave goodbye to Student Union £1 a pint nights, new research published in the journal BMC public health showed earlier this year that nearly 30% of 16-24 year olds do not drink, an increase from 18% in 2005. It seemed Generation Z was swiping left to drunken nights ‘out out’ in favour of looking picture perfect for their Instagram stories. Increased tuition fees, housing costs and mental health concerns could also be contributing to the increased sobriety. Binge drinking, much like smoking, is dropping out of fashion. But, with cocaine use rising sharply in the last year, is booze being replaced with risqué habits.

Did you know… Declining interest in alcohol among young people is a worldwide trend, according Dr James Nicholls, director of research and policy development at Alcohol Research UK.

Angela Merkel negotiates with Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Canada, in June 2018.

Angela Merkel negotiates with Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Canada, in June 2018.

Angela Merkel to step down

28th October 2018

With her announcement that she would step down as party chair, the Merkel era is drawing to a close.

Even her harshest critics can’t say that she had it easy. The collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Euro crisis, the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the shift in Germany's stance on nuclear power, the Greek bailout and then, of course, the Refugee crisis.

Frau Merkel will be remembered for her commitment to freedom, her profound response to Trump’s election as US President in 2016, her unique ability to get through to Putin, her unflinching desire to help…and, of course, for her love of the beautiful game.

‘Mutti’ will be admired and praised for her quiet confidence, but torn apart for her actions that led to the formation of the Alternative für Deutschland. Her successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, or AKK, has a lot of work to do both to reunite her party and the nation if she is to hold onto Merkel’s power base. Let’s see what 2019 brings.

Did you know… Potato soup is one of Angie’s dinner party staples.


US mid-terms

7 November 2018

Though the long-awaited ‘blue wave’ turned out to be more of a ripple, it was clear the morning after the mid-terms that the weight of political power in Washington had definitely shifted. It had been a night of many firsts. The first openly gay male governor took charge in Colorado, the first two Muslim women were elected to office, and the first woman under 30 years old was elected to the House. But despite all the reasons for Democrats to cheer, they had lost the expectation management game. The results also reiterated the deep divisions in US society – and the uphill struggle ahead as they look to 2020. 

Did you know… 529 vs. 312 is the number of women running for Congress in 2018 vs. 2016.



Michael Cohen’s Sentencing

12th of December 2018

In the final throes of 2018, Michael Cohen was found guilty of, among other crimes, tax evasion and campaign finance violations. President Trump’s former lawyer/fixer/Pitbull, having turned on his old master, was sentenced to 3 years in prison and hit with nearly $2,000,000 worth of fines. The cloud already hanging over the Trump Whitehouse darkened as the President became an alleged accessory to these crimes.

Cohen repudiated Trump’s self-confessed ignorance of Cohen’s payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, women who allegedly had past affairs with the now-President. This prompted Trump to label Cohen a ‘rat’ on twitter. Not the smartest analogy considering the circumstances. If he didn’t before, Trump now reeks of illegal wrongdoing and the office in which he works is the most noxious it’s been since Watergate. Talk about ‘cleaning the swamp’?

Did you know… According to the Washington Post, between taking office and September of 2018, Donald Trump made more than 5,000 false or misleading claims.


A vote of no confidence

12th December 2018

7:30am. The moment when Sir Graham Brady announced a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister had been triggered by the Conservative Party.

By 9:00pm it was all over. In a packed committee room full of MPs and journalists in scenes relayed across the world, Sir Graham Brady confirmed Theresa May retained the confidence of her party colleagues winning with 200 votes to 117.

This was the moment that the internal divisions within the Conservative Party and the Government reached a crescendo.  It was the culmination of a year where the Prime Minister has taken many hits but had managed to cling on.

Did you know… Between the announcement of the vote and the vote itself there were more than 90,000 tweets that included "the Conservative Party" and the prime minister's name as well as the hashtags #NoConfidence and #LeadershipChallenge.







“I haven’t got the foggiest idea”


“I haven’t got the foggiest idea”

Well the date has finally been set. Tuesday 11th December. Set your calendars. The Atlas Christmas Party is in the diary.

Oh, you thought I was talking about something else? That’s a little awkward!

Of course, the 11th December is also the date for the so-called ‘meaningful vote.’ At around 7pm MPs will vote on whether to approve Theresa May’s deal.

And then? Well that is a matter of considerable debate. This blog will attempt to assess what could come next.

So the vote?

Well if you take MPs at their word, the vote will be lost. 100 Tory MPs have said they will vote against the deal. And all the opposition parties have said they will vote against the deal. This means the Prime Minister (PM) does not have the votes.

Then the fun and games could really begin. Here are some potential options on what could follow:

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  1. The Prime Minister is removed

The rumour mill will go into hyperdrive if the Government lose the meaningful vote. Prepare for the prominent opinion that the Prime Minister and/or the Government is finished.

One thing you will hear a lot about is No Confidence Votes. Now, crucially a No Confidence Vote from Parliament is different to a No Confidence Vote from the Conservative Party. First let’s begin with a No Confidence Vote from Parliament. This requires a majority of MPs to vote they have no confidence in the Government. If this vote was lost, the Government would collapse, triggering a General Election. This is very rare in UK politics.

But the possibility has been enhanced by Labour Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer suggesting it is “inevitable Labour will press no confidence vote if the vote is lost.” The DUP, whose votes the Government rely on are also refusing to confirm whether they would back the Government. This would make the numbers very tight and the end result unpredictable.

Ok, so now a No-Confidence Vote from the Conservative Party. This has no legal impact on the Government and is a direct vote against the leader of the party. This is a simple majority vote but only Conservative MPs can take part. Should the Prime Minister lose she would be forced to resign. To trigger this, 48 Conservative MPs need to request a vote by submitting a letter (yes an actual printed letter). Rebels have launched efforts to reach this threshold before, but have failed. Following ‘the meaningful vote’ we expect there will be another sustained attempt. And in a more febrile mood the rebels stand a greater chance. Yet, the struggle to date to even reach 48 letters means their ability to marshal the 160 or so votes to carry a ‘no confidence’ challenge against the Theresa May is far from certain.

Our view is that the PM suffers a greater threat from the House than from her own party.

2.    The Prime Minister is sent back to Brussels

After the vote the PM will be summoned to the despatch box. The mood of the House will dictate what happens next. One option could be they instruct the Government to negotiate a new deal with Brussels. That is of course assuming Brussels is in any mood to renegotiate. Some have argued that the only way to win further concessions from the EU is to show that Parliament will not accept their current offer. We’re not so sure.

What direction further UK-EU Brexit talks take would have to be focused on what deal could secure the support of the House as the new deal would have to be put to yet another Parliamentary vote.

To this end, cross-party talks have begun over the so-called Norway plus option. This is viewed as a softer Brexit. This angers Eurosceptics as the UK would have to retain free movement but would be more attractive to opposition MPs. It is feasible to see a deal of this kind gaining a majority in the House after a first vote is lost.

Another option is a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit or a negotiated ‘No-Deal.’ Legally, if the vote is lost and no further legislation is passed this is where we are heading. This would please the Brexiteer wing but would worry many more in Parliament. We believe Parliament will find a way to stop this.

Our (current) view is that Norway plus is more likely than no-deal. But ask us again next week!

3.    Another Vote

Could the Government have to go back to the people? A General Election? Another referendum?

Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, a General Election (Labour’s preferred option) is hard to achieve without the support of the Government. A General Election could be triggered by the Government losing a vote of no confidence (as mentioned earlier). However, even in a divided Conservative Party, one thing that unites them is not wanting a General Election. Faced with the risk of Corbyn taking the reins in Number Ten, the tories will fight hard to avoid one.

On Monday, a petition carrying almost 1.5 million requesting a ‘people’s vote’ was delivered to Parliament. Despite the PM refusing to consider this option, momentum is growing. Former Universities Minister Sam Gyimah is the latest to voice his support. There is a debate over how you could turn any majority into the House into legislation to permit a second referendum though. Especially with a looming deadline and an unsupportive Government.

Our view is that the Government does not want to go back to the people. But in a Parliamentary stalemate this might be the last option standing.


Truthfully, no-one knows how this ends. There has been a lot of talk about a constitutional crisis. But, we just don’t know. We have never been here before. We are in uncharted territory.

So, as none of us are any the wiser, why not like us go out and enjoy the festivities. The matter of whether we still have a Government can always wait until the next morning!

We will leave you with the wisdom of BBC reporter Chris Mason, who when asked what could happen next candidly replied  “I haven’t got the foggiest.” Now there is a man who speaks for the nation.


Wur tearin’ the tartan - at the SNP conference

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Wur tearin’ the tartan - at the SNP conference

Atlas Director, Charlie Napier, reflects on his first ever SNP party conference.

Atlas Director, Charlie Napier, reflects on his first ever SNP party conference.

Since I first started in public affairs almost 20 years ago, I have been to the majority of Labour and Conservative party conferences. In recent years, I have sometimes dreaded the prospect, but, like many things in life, I come out the other side feeling pleased that I have been. Despite the hassle and expense, going to them normally feels worthwhile.

So with a certain amount of trepidation, this year I made my SNP debut. As it turns out, after the maelstrom of the ever growing Labour/Tory conferences it was almost a joy to be in a (very wet) Glasgow at a conference with a far more homespun feel to it. It felt much more relaxed and much less hectic than the other two. Despite the passionate rallying cries for independence and (mostly) against Brexit, it had the feel of a large family gathering, something which Nicola Sturgeon alluded to in her speech.

Non-political nerds will have to forgive me as I highlight the ‘interesting’ differences. For a start, as mentioned, the size. Official figures said 4,000 people attended – at times it felt more like 400 to me. The fringe programme was supremely modest (60 open ones) but no less engaging in subject matter. Needless to say the three Brexit fringes seemed to be by far the most popular. There were 40 exhibitors, most of whom were from the non-profit sector, and considering we had all the Scottish Government Ministers and Leader there, security was gloriously light. The relaxed one man bag checker, the lack of photo on the pass and all round low key security was a refreshing change from the scanners and endless queues at the Tory conference. Some may mock this light touch but it should be celebrated that Scotland seems to be generally immune to serious terrorist threats.

Other unusual things I noticed were: the one café in the conference area stopped serving tea or coffee during the speeches to make sure delegates didn’t dally around and actually went in to listen to the debates. The fringe meetings were strictly timetabled for three set periods during the day, so they too didn’t interrupt the main action. It really was empty outside the full hall when the key speeches were taking place.

And it seemed to work. Although the conference hall was big (so much so that I was easily able to get in to watch the Leader’s speech, which at the other two is a near impossibility unless you are a member and queue for ages), it was nearly always full. Contrast that with the Tory conference where the main hall was half empty and all the focus was on the fringe programme (one in particular).

To seasoned conference goers who, like me, believe all the action happens outside of the main hall, this was quite an extraordinary thing. I guess it is what conferences were like before the lobbyists and corporate interests over ran the two big ones. As a result though, anyone who did make the trek up north or across from Edinburgh was rewarded with decent conversations with MPs, MSPs and their staff.

The other aspect I found fascinating was the curious juxtaposition of the elected politicians when debating subjects. At an energy fringe I went to, we had Paul Wheelhouse, Scotland’s Energy Minister and Alan Brown, the SNP Westminster Energy spokesperson. Paul was full of the joys of the Scottish Government’s energy policy whereas Alan was bemoaning the situation in Westminster and how ineffective and full of hot air the Westminster Energy Ministers and their Shadows were.

It really brought home the contrast between SNP MPs and MSPs. To me, being an MP is the route to take if you want to make a serious change to the country – i.e. go on and get into Government and be actually running things. In Scotland, being an MSP is what fulfils this role. Being an SNP MP is like choosing a life of permanent rebellion, being a disrupter but never having any hope of actually holding the reigns of power. This stark difference was really brought home to me at the conference.

So although I have no strong feelings about Scottish matters (apart from some fishing ones), I really enjoyed the conference and from a professional point of view found it well worth the trip. It made me think perhaps I should join the London branch of the SNP…but then on my way back south I chatted to a delightful SNP member and realised that perhaps my views weren’t 100% aligned with their policies.




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The rise and rise of the female voice. Does anger = action?


The rise and rise of the female voice. Does anger = action?

Senior Consultant, Nina Dohmel-Macdonald, writes about her first ever party political conference and the rise of the female voice.

Senior Consultant, Nina Dohmel-Macdonald, writes about her first ever party political conference and the rise of the female voice.

I’ve thought about female anger a lot in recent weeks, particularly in the wake of that US Open final.  Without it, there would be no #MeToo. Without it, there would be no Amika George, fighting to stop any girl in the UK from missing school simply because she can’t afford sanitary products. Without it, I wouldn’t be asking friends and colleagues to stop saying ‘I’m not sure whether that’s been helpful’ every time I hear them finish a sentence with those words. I can’t imagine the countless articles, thought pieces and books on the subject will die down any time soon - especially given this weekend’s news that Mr Kavanaugh has become the new Supreme Court Justice.  

It’s worth looking back to 1991 when Anita Hill, a reserved law professor, testified to the Senate about her former boss, Clarence Thomas.  Despite his confirmation, her testimony electrified women in the US. She sparked an unprecedented political movement that lead to an increase in the number of women serving in Congress. The year that followed was christened ‘Year of Women’. Sound familiar? And maybe history will repeat itself in more ways than one.

There are 60% more potential candidates than there were in 2016 for America’s upcoming midterms. Eleven female nominees are running for governor and at least 185 for the House of Representatives. Record breaking numbers. There are also five woman vs. woman races. Another record. Women have won more primaries than ever before. Yes, there’s an argument that a large part of this is just lip service, as nearly half of those standing may lose in 'likely' or 'safe' Republican seats.  However, even with this being the case, I believe a record breaking number of female candidates still represents a reaction…a reaction to the thousands of stories that have come out in the wake of the Weinstein scandal, and Trump’s anti-feminist stance.

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Anger was certainly something I witnessed when I attended my first Party Conference – the Women’s Equality Party Conference - at the beginning of September.

Over the course of two days, so many issues were deliberated, discussed and debated.  Motions were passed and pulled apart.  Some of these stopped me in my tracks. Did you know that Westminster is proposing to write off £2.5bn of historic child support payments – most of which is owed to single mothers – simply because the cost of maintaining the records is too high? Or that this year the failure of evidence collection in just four rape cases has resulted in the review of all live cases, whilst the failure to convict thousands of rapists has had no effect on the system, at all? No? Me neither. 

I saw the obscure functionality of a political party, and just how long debates about seemingly straightforward motions can go on for. I left feeling inspired too. Yet my main take away was much bigger. Yes, without anger, there will be no change - we know that from both the present and the past. But what I’d hadn’t considered until then is that anger needs to be collective, not personal. Yes, we can do small things on our own. But anger is better when it’s a collective act, when everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and when it’s channelled in the right way. Only then can it be as galvanising and productive as we so desperately need it to be.


Tory Turmoil or Tory Triumph?


Tory Turmoil or Tory Triumph?

Researcher Mike Hough takes a before and after look at Conservative Party Conference 2018

Researcher Mike Hough takes a before and after look at Conservative Party Conference 2018

Well it cannot be worse than last year, can it? Who can forget last year’s Conservative Party conference, particularly coughing fits, P45 pranks and falling letters making it memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Not many expected May to last much longer after that. But despite constant talk of coups and resignations, the Prime Minister is still in place.

That is not the only thing that has stayed the same. Over the last year the party has remained divided over Brexit. The jostling behind Theresa May as candidates fight for a future leadership campaign has only intensified. The Prime Minister continue to battles with her party as major decisions present themselves.

Add to this a Labour conference that was expected to ignite over Brexit, deselections and anti-Semitism but passed by quite successfully. Despite these problems the Conservative Party, with a little help from the DUP, are still in power and in most polls they remain ahead.

Sunday sees the starts of this year’s conference, and here’s what we expect.

A beauty contest

As speculation persists that this will be Theresa May’s last conference as leader, the future contest to replace her will rise a few notches. Cabinet members, while strenuously denying it, will be campaigning.

The likes of Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Penny Mordaunt, (basically half the Cabinet) will all be using this conference to show they are the Tories next great hope. With members making the final decision, each potential candidate will be seeking to build their support base. Outside of this group, also keep an eye out for Tom Tugendhat and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Of course, there is one other, but we will come onto him later.

Brexit, Brexit and more Brexit

Brexit, the issue that stubbornly refuses to go away. Labour’s wrangling and disputes last week will seem like child’s play compared to the debates that will be ongoing at Tory conference. Is Chequers dead? Can Theresa May get any deal through Parliament? Will the wine be chilled?

The Prime Minister has shown no desire to ‘chuck Chequers.’ Despite the intense criticism from both Remainers and Leavers, May is sticking stubbornly to her plans. The end of conference will likely see a Prime Minister feeling battered and bruised, but, no more battered and bruised than from when she started the week.  There will be little change when it comes to the perennial B-word. The Prime Minister will know it is about getting through the four days in Birmingham before the virtually impossible process of securing a deal with Europe re-starts.

Boris Johnson

And then there is Boris. Boris will be the darling of the conference. Large crowds will follow him everywhere he goes. The media will hang on his every word and speculation will be rife about a future leadership challenge. Just as he likes it.

Whatever your view on his antics, there is also a serious conversation here. The former Foreign Secretary is front-runner to be the next leader (and de facto the next Prime Minister) and that means his actions are worth debating and discussing.

His plan published today for a ‘Better Brexit’ will form the basis of many of the Brexiteer arguments, as he leads the process to craft a narrative beyond Chequers. However, whether we will be any clearer on what the future holds for Boris by this time next week is anyone’s guess.

A rabbit from the hat?

Following some meaty policy announcements made at Labour conference, the Conservatives and the Prime Minister will be under pressure to respond. Former Skills Minister Rob Halfon has broken ranks to explicitly call for the Prime Minister to match the offer made by Labour to working people.

Party conferences have now become renowned for shock announcements. And the Prime Minister will be desperately wanting to push a few stories that aren’t about Brexit. Before last year’s speech went horribly wrong, Theresa May’s intent to adopt a more interventionist approach might have been what made the headlines. As it happens, her main announcement of an energy price cap has sailed through Parliament and will be in place before the winter. She needs to repeat that trick with added bells and whistles. Perhaps, there will be an announcement about workers on company boards after McDonnell’s pledge. After all that was a Theresa May idea in those heady pre-election days. Or maybe there’ll be an announcement designed to hit the rail companies or the big utilities organisations. Whatever it is, it needs to be radical and impactful.

Will things be any different come Wednesday?

We don’t think so. There will be drama and gossip, intrigue and debate. The Tories will still be divided on Europe and speculation will be rife about Theresa May’s leadership. Talk of a no confidence vote will reverberate around the conference hall. But she will not be challenged…

It will not be an easy conference for the Prime Minister but neither will it be terminal. Most will be steeling themselves for the true battle ahead, the battle for Brexit and the return to Westminster. The plot may thicken next week but the story will not close - these few days are only a sub-plot in a far bigger narrative.

Post hoc post script…

So, we are now a week post-conference. The dust is beginning to settle. What were the main takeaway’s and how did it compared to our expectations?

1. The beauty contest – As predicted the conference saw many potential candidates press their case. Javid and McVey went personal, Hunt went Brexity and Hancock went digital. But are we any clearer on who will be the next Tory leader or when this contest will begin. Not really!

2. Brexit – The issue bubbled away beneath the surface but did not quite ignite. The topic of the majority of fringe meetings, the trigger for a few drunken renditions of Jerusalem and God Save the Queen. Much will be read into the PM’s failure to mention Chequers in her conference speech. However, the real debate around Brexit will happen in the next few weeks. We will be far clearer in a month.

3. Boris Johnson – Yes, Boris is still the hero of the grassroots. His appearance at a fringe event was like no other. There were the traditional rhetorical flourishes and calls to Chuck Chequers. But, despite this, it is hard to argue his route to Number 10 became any smoother last week.

4. The rabbit from the hat – The PM’s speech exceeded expectations, albeit low ones. And that bunny? The announcement of the end of austerity and an unashamed attempt to reach centrist voters. This has been matched with an audacious article in the Labour supporting Observer this weekend. A PM repositioning herself?

Given all that is happening in politics, this conference is unlikely to last long in people’s memories. But with all that is on the PM’s plate, that might be no bad thing. And coming out of the week no worse than she started will probably be viewed as a success by her team.

Now, onto the simple process of negotiating a Brexit deal!


Labour conference 2018: ready to govern now?


Labour conference 2018: ready to govern now?

Atlas Partners Director, Charlie Napier, reflects on his time at Labour conference 2018…

Atlas Partners Director, Charlie Napier, reflects on his time at Labour conference 2018…

Well, in the end, conference 2018 for Labour did focus on the three predicted themes but only one of which had any impact beyond the political bubble. That of course was Brexit and despite seeming to tie themselves up in knots as to whether they would be open to having another in/out referendum, most members left conference feeling in a better place than perhaps they had been at the beginning of the week when it came to Brexit.

Remainers were encouraged by Keir Starmer’s open acceptance of a second referendum if Brexit negotiations fell apart and Leavers were pleased that that policy didn’t appear to become official. It certainly summed up Labour’s policy of obfuscation over Brexit which once again served them well as it managed to neither offend nor please anyone greatly. In the end the whole argument was trumped by Jeremy Corbyn’s offer to support the Government on Brexit if they could guarantee a customs union, ensure an open Irish border and keep to a bunch of promises on jobs and sustainability. Finally it seems that Labour had a clear position on Brexit albeit a near impossible one for Theresa May to deliver. A cunning ruse in that they have at least stated some sort of position but one which is also vacuous in its lack of deliverability.

The other two issues that we and most others had predicted would be central to conference was the row over anti-Semitism and internal party changes to enable the Left to maintain power. There was some focus on anti-Semitism but Corbyn’s condemnation seemed to broadly shut the issue down even though not everyone was convinced by its sincerity.  As for the internal changes, Tom Watson can feel pleased that his strong support for a second (female) deputy so unnerved the Left that they promptly withdrew the idea.

Overall, the whole conference seemed to work well for the leadership and the idea that the party is ‘ready to govern’ genuinely seems to have got cut-through. Corbyn’s visit to see Barnier the day after the conference was a masterstroke (despite a lack of Euros) as it gave them an extra day of largely approving headlines which focused on the professionalism of the party giving it that ready to govern feel.

Delegates and members, whether they agreed with the leadership or not, recognised that real policy which actually made sense to people was being proposed on an industrial scale. It was almost as if the longed-for general election was actually due to take place soon and the battle lines were being drawn. It seems to have rattled the Tories, many of whom have admitted that Labour’s policies and ideas appeal to more than just a minority of the population.

The party definitely smells blood as the Government attempts to get Brexit over the line, hurdle after hurdle. If this week’s Conservative gathering in Birmingham is as bad as last year and the subsequent Brexit negotiations and eventual vote in Parliament are lost then that pressure to have a general election, unlikely as it seems currently, will grow ever stronger and Labour will feel that they can turn the gains of 2017 into an outright victory. Of course, it’s all very well being prepared but unless the Conservatives do decide to commit a collective hara-kiri then a general election does seem a long way off and all the talk and look of being ready for govern will mean absolutely nothing.


What to expect from the 2018 Labour conference


What to expect from the 2018 Labour conference

Can you remember anything about last year’s Labour conference? No, nor can I because the following week Theresa May had a shocker of a conference which followed on from her shocker of an election campaign and that set the tone for the rest of 2017. As it happens, Jeremy Corbyn had a very good conference basking in the glory of the near general election miss, having various foes come to heel and Momentum rallying the troops for the battles ahead at their neighbouring conference. It seemed that all was relatively rosy in the Labour garden as they exploited Tory woes and Brexit punch ups and open divisions were hidden below the surface.

A year later, we seem to be in a slightly different place.  Despite the continuing Brexit divisions within the Conservative Party and ineffectiveness of the LibDems and SNP, Labour has not been able to exploit the state of their opposition over the Summer and internal divisions have re-surfaced in the most dramatic way.

The battle over control and indeed the soul of the party has intensified since last years conference and a confident Momentum has been turning the screw on the more moderate wing of the party. As a result, conversations about a break-away party have continued to emerge but tribal loyalties are preventing that from coming to fruition. However, this conference could be crunch time for the competing wings of the Labour Party.

The battle over mandatory re-selection of MPs may sound like dull internal housekeeping to outsiders but if the Left get their way, it could dramatically change the make-up and course of the Party. In case you haven’t been following it, the ruling committee of the Labour Party, the NEC, is now dominated by Momentum and Cobynista supporters who are busy figuring out ways to purge the moderates in the party or at the very least dilute their power. It is looking like they are slowly getting their way so ensuring that the chances of a break away party being formed looking increasingly likely.  

The issue that dominated the Summer for Labour was rows over anti-semitism. I won’t repeat the whole story of what happened, but although it has gone quieter of late, expect that the fall-out will continue with various sides looking to continue the arguments or seek revenge. That more than anything else will make the fringe programme more interesting than normal.

And then we come to the big one, the one that those in the country who are still awake may actually notice - Brexit. With the Tories tearing themselves apart over it, Labour’s own Brexit divisions have meant that they have been unable to seize the initiative and damage the Government over it. The leadership’s policy of not disturbing the Tories as they argue away seems to be effective in the short term but has unsettled Labour members (as well as the London Mayor and some unions) from all wings of the party who would like the party to jump off the fence. The caution of the Labour leadership is going to be challenged this week by the members but will it lead to a big policy change or will the leadership stay on the fence and stick to demanding a General Election?

So lots of fun and games ahead for the record numbers (at least since Jeremy took over) expected to attend. There will be a curious mix of even more Momentum/Corbynista members attending coupled with lots of corporates taking stands and sponsoring fringe events in case a Corbyn government comes sooner rather than later.

Can’t wait…


A People’s Vote will not deliver an exit from Brexit


A People’s Vote will not deliver an exit from Brexit

Atlas Director and former Lib Dem Special Adviser, Vanessa Pine, argues the Lib Dems must stop banging on about Brexit.

Atlas Director and former Lib Dem Special Adviser, Vanessa Pine, argues the Lib Dems must stop banging on about Brexit.

Following Lib Dem conference, a nagging thought that has been growing in the back of my mind is getting louder. The Lib Dems must stop banging on about Brexit.

I don’t mean they should not talk about it ever, but at the moment they are pushing “an exit from Brexit” to the exclusion of all else. The party has become dangerously myopic. As the applause in the conference hall and the proliferation of fetching blue berets with yellow felt stars demonstrates, an imaginary get out of jail free card and the idea of a People’s Vote is like catnip to activists and the new members who joined following the 2016 failure of Remain.


Two years ago, when I first had this debate with the party’s then Director of Comms, the Lib Dems were a lone voice calling for a referendum on the final deal. Since then the Electoral Commission has called the spending of the Leave campaign into question, senior Brexiteers admitted their campaign promises were false and politicians on all sides of Parliament have now lined up to say the so called “Chequers deal” is rubbish. And so, as Brexit reaches its crescendo over the next few months, the opportunity to win new centrist, pro-European supporters has become more acute.


In which case, it may seem counter-intuitive then to argue that it’s time for the Lib Dems to talk about other things. But there are two big reasons why, in my view. Firstly, because I do not think we can win a People’s Vote and secondly, because the party must not consign itself to becoming a reverse UKIP single-issue pressure group.


Be careful what you wish for

This week the official People’s Vote published thoughts on how a second European referendum – or a first referendum on the final deal – might be brought about. But they are focussed on process not persuasion. From the public messaging, it seems that little has been done within the Remain camps or the Lib Dems to address why we didn’t win the argument in June 2016. The message is still an uninspiring one of economic doom. The same project fear that failed to secure a win last time.  Back then, only this Gordon Brown video sought to make the emotional case for remaining in the European Union. At best, People’s Vote are now saying “its ok to change your mind” which still implies “but we think you were wrong before”. The hope and the change, which uplifts and inspires voters, was and still is all on the Leave side.


More than 50% of the seats where Lib Dems are the main opposition (18 of 35) voted to Leave by a majority. Setting aside a People’s Vote, the party cannot win Westminster seats again without the support of at least some of the Brexit coalition. Yet too often it talks to those voters without empathy. We reject legitimate concerns by lumping them in with racism and ignorance. Even those from within the party struggled to get a hearing on a controversial new immigration policy debated on Sunday morning, which was explicitly amended to reserve the right to call Brexit voters racists.


This failure to meet people where they are, may be because only three of the current MPs represent Brexit majority constituencies. Partly because it gets so little media coverage, the Lib Dem narrative and policy offer fails to address legitimate concerns about standards of living, cuts to precious services and rising pressure on those services from immigration. Those on the doorsteps of St Ives, North Devon, Hazel Grove, Winchester, and Wells must “Demand Better” than that. Telling more than half your voters “you’re wrong” and – if there is ever a single moment in time when Brexit can be proven to be bad – “we told you so” – seems unlikely to change their minds. The polling evidence that voters on either side have changed their minds is patchy at best.


I believe this double failure of messaging and empathy means, even if the long shot comes off, the Lib Dems and other remainers would lose a People’s Vote. And by a wider margin. Leave would argue compellingly to people who have been left behind by austerity, that metropolitan liberal elites are still talking down to them, telling them they know best and blind to their concerns. “They are ignoring your wishes and trying to get off on a technicality, Go tell them again louder…” is far more likely to get voters off sofas and down to the polling station.


One trick pony

Losing a People’s Vote would take the issue of our European relationship off the table for a generation at least, if not for good. And as the AV referendum shows, the Lib Dems love a lost cause, in fact they revel in the nerdiness of technical merits over the practical feasibility. Post-Brexit, the Lib Dem leadership will face huge internal pressure to become the party of return. That identity crisis could consign the Lib Dems to perpetual political obscurity.


The party urgently needs to broaden the conversations it is having with voters. New liberal answers to people’s day to day problems are needed. Under Vince’s leadership foundations have been laid - the so called “ideas factory” is open, cranking out policy suggestions on taxation, health, housing, AI and tech. His attempts to make the party fit for purpose may yet bear fruit. And it is to his credit that he has shown vision for the movement beyond his own tenure. He is in politics to do something not be something. But having signalled his intention to step down, the party, the Westminster Village and the voters will have to look to the prospective candidates who might replace him to meet this challenge.


Lame Duck: would a new name and a new leader revive the Lib Dems?


Lame Duck: would a new name and a new leader revive the Lib Dems?

With the hard left tightening its grip on Labour and the hard right dictating to a Conservative Prime Minister, there are millions of voters in the centre ground of British politics looking for a moderate, progressive party to call home. As Brexit reaches a crescendo this autumn, Atlas Director Vanessa Pine argues this should present a huge opportunity for the Lib Dems.


A little over a year into the job, the question for Vince Cable as he addresses the party’s annual gathering in Brighton is why those voters are not already flocking to the #libdemfightback? My erstwhile boss was the only person willing to put himself forward as leader after Tim Farron resigned in June 2017. Despite the coronation, Vince got a pretty poor inheritance from his predecessor. The party infrastructure was hollowed out, its volunteers and coffers drained by the defeat of the General Election. From when I first started volunteering in 2005, we’ve dropped from 62 to 12 MPs in Parliament. The party has spent the last seven years in single figures and endured a steady loss of council seats. To borrow a phrase from Sky’s Adam Boulton the “grassroots are parched.”


But this May, the Lib Dems secured their best local election results for 15 years. The current expectation is that 2019 will deliver more. The post-referendum membership surge continues to hold above 100,000. Two years ago, the Lib Dems ploughed a lonely furrow, calling for a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal. That call is now being embraced by people up and down the country and a growing number of politicians from other parties – most recently the Women’s Equality Party and Conservatives for a People’s vote.


Self-inflicted wounds…


It’s not clear why then, with things finally starting to move in the right direction, the Lib Dem Leader has chosen this moment to kick off a “going out in a blaze of glory” tour. His well-intentioned answer to the centre ground opportunity has been to suggest reforms to broaden the party into a movement, welcoming talent and support from outside. But a proposal to allow non-MPs to lead the party was read as implicit criticism of the talents of the current crop of MPs. There have been other needlessly self-inflicted wounds – not necessarily of his making – a no show at key Brexit vote, briefing a leadership speech weeks in advance that naturally gave rise to resignation speculation. This week even going as far as accepting the suggestion that the party could adopt a new name. It is to his credit that he has shown vision for the movement beyond his own tenure. But Vince has appeared a little too keen to embrace the idea of a “new” centrist party, to the detriment of his own.


Having announced his impending departure, the Lib Dem leader has made himself “an irrelevant lame duck” in the eyes of the lobby journalists. Those who are fed up with the Westminster Village soap opera may well say, who cares? Why do we pander to the myopic concerns of the dead tree media anyway? The practical answer is that harnessing their interest is vital if the party is to get the cut through it so desperately needs to support its campaigns. There is frustration at every level over the lack of the media coverage for Lib Dem stories, from the hard-working press team, to the activists and the armchair members.


Yet, the party has consistently underfunded its digital and social campaigning function, so it can’t match Corbyn’s efforts to bypass the so-called ‘MSM’ and speak directly to its base. Ten years ago, Facebook was a niche start-up, now over a quarter (26%) of the world’s population use it daily. YouTube gets more hits than Google. Video is king. And the Lib Dems are facing this digital age with an analogue leader. But this challenge goes far beyond the leadership. Lib Dems, always famed for their pavement bashing grassroots army, now need a digital one to match.  We should recruit and train volunteers who can weave politics and policy into visual stories. A dramatic investment in digital campaigning capacity is needed to spread the party’s messages beyond Brexit.


This weekend, party members from across the UK descend on Brighton for their annual conference. They will discuss reforms and policies that should help generate the boldly liberal ideas that, just might, engage those centrist, progressive, moderate voters that we need to win. I will be there too, hoping something can yet be done to save the Lib Dems from themselves. But it could be worse, instead of heading to the beach at Brighton I could be arriving in Liverpool as members of the Labour Party will be next week, facing a far bigger crisis of confidence in the leadership and direction of my tribe.





Tribalism and politics. A story as old as time itself. Since we first stood upright, we have split into tribes. What drives this and why in our modern interconnected world is our politics so tribal?

Our researcher Mike Hough looks at where tribalism originates from and whether this is a good thing.


At their most basic tribes are groups of people brought together by common goals or ideals. You name it; we will split into tribes about it! Politics is just one example.

Tribes exhibit group mentality and rally against criticism of their tribe and its beliefs. They can be defensive and tend to fight back against attacks from those outside their tribe or those who express a different opinion.

Sounds nothing like our politics, or any other aspect of our daily life, right?

American biologist and Pulitzer Prize winner E.O.Wilson put it like this “The answer is that everyone, no exception, must have a tribe, an alliance with which to jockey for power and territory, to demonize the enemy, to organize rallies and raise flags.”

It takes only five minutes over our office team break to show this behaviour in action. It might be the part of country you come from (Northerners are more friendly than Southerners allegedly); the supermarket you shop in (it has to be Sainsbury’s); the cordial you drink (I hear the only option is Ribena); the food you eat (does anyone really like marmite?) or even something more mundane (or vital?) like the football team you support.

We all belong to a number of tribes.

Where is your allegiance?

Where is your allegiance?


And so to our political tribes. Labour or Tory; Brexit or Remain; diehard deliverer or floating voter; Republican or Democrat. But, you don’t need to dig down that much further to find tribes within these tribes.

Corbynistas and Blairites in the Labour Party. Brexiteers and Remainers in the Tory party. Orange Bookers and Social Liberals in the Lib Dems. This is merely scratching the surface. (Trust me, this could go on forever!).

Tribalism is everywhere. Sometimes it is more overt than at other times. But, even when not being played out in public, it is always there, bubbling away below the surface.

Chuka Umunna MP from the Remain Tribe and Jacob Rees-Mogg MP from the Brexit Tribe

Chuka Umunna MP from the Remain Tribe and Jacob Rees-Mogg MP from the Brexit Tribe


“To run an effective political party you need a degree of tribalism, it’s the glue that holds everyone together.” (The Late Rt Hon Charles Kennedy, Former Leader of the Liberal Democrats)

From a party political perspective, tribalism can be effective. Group behaviour and group think is useful for party management. It ensures MPs are motivated to vote in the right way and make the right interventions.

MPs have long worked on the basis that above all the party comes first. Ultimately that is where their loyalty lies. There may be different notions of the party, but the party is where the loyalty is. It runs deep. It is why despite any misgivings MPs cannot walk away.

The party comes first!


Yet, there are problems. It discourages people working together. It discourages cross-party thinking. It encourages politicians to reject arguments not based on their thinking but on who has proposed the argument. Often it can get quite nasty.

Surely that cannot be healthy? A grown up pluralistic democracy takes ideas from across the political sphere and at its best takes from different political philosophies. Tribalism makes that harder. It makes politics far less attractive to those not part of the tribes. It puts off the 97% who don’t belong to any party at all.

So what do we do going forward?


Tribalism is not all bad. It is good to have a sense of loyalty. It can stand in the way of progress if it is not your progress. It can reject perfectly sensible arguments and can defend undefendable policies. That isn’t good.

Tribal behaviour is part of human nature, but that doesn’t mean we can’t curb its worst excesses. By recognising these excesses, we can check them and prevent them from dominating. That would look like progress.

And maybe, just maybe we could all get along a little better.


England will still be England


England will still be England

Nothing’s changed. Despite the heaving pubs and bars, the red-cross clad paraphernalia and the extra 500,000 pints of beer drunk (or spilt), football hasn’t come home.


A long, hot summer


A long, hot summer

Theresa May and her team in Number 10 are no strangers to political turbulence and firefighting. But by any measure the last three weeks have been amongst the most difficult since Theresa May entered Downing Street.

It was all looking so good

Although it seems a lifetime ago now, the marathon 12-hour Cabinet meeting at Chequers on 6 July produced what the Prime Minister described as a “collective position for the future of [the] negotiations with the EU”.

Despite all the talk of Ministerial walk-outs, WhatsApp tantrums and even David Cameron stepping in to placate Boris Johnson, it appeared Theresa May had managed to get her Cabinet to agree on a united approach to Britain’s future relationship with the EU. While the document continued to “fudge” certain issues and amounted to a “soft” Brexit, it seemed it was enough to satisfy the different Brexit factions within the Cabinet.

The wheels start to come off

As soon as the details of the Chequers agreement were published, leading Brexiteer Conservative MPs began to line up to express their disquiet and opposition to the plans including Jacob Rees-Mogg, standard bearer for the Brexiteers. Suspicions were raised further when neither David Davis nor Boris appeared over the weekend to endorse the plan.

Then late Sunday night, a little over 48 hours after the Chequers summit, David Davis and his junior minister Steve Baker announced they had resigned, stating they did not believe in the Chequers deal.

Number 10 now held its breath, waiting to see whether other Brexiteer Ministers would walk, with all eyes on the man opposite Number 10 in the Foreign Office.

The blond bombshell explodes

The PM and her team didn’t have to wait long. On Monday afternoon, Boris Johnson announced he too was resigning, claiming the Chequers compromise amounted to a “semi Brexit”. Although he said he was “sad” to be resigning he did manage to arrange for a photographer to be there as he signed his resignation letter.

As before when faced with trouble, Theresa May hunkered down and tried to carry on. Although, cheered when she   entered the Commons chamber moments after Boris had announced his resignation, she drew laughs and jeers when she referred to the “robust exchange of views” going on within her Party. The same afternoon, replacements were found in the form of Dominic Raab for DxEU and Jeremy Hunt for the Foreign Office.

With neither Johnson nor Davis calling for Theresa May to go, Number 10 was hoping that things might calm down.

Enter the Donald


However, just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse, enter Donald Trump. Having arrived in the UK, things started well with the President treated to a lavish banquet at Blenheim Palace.

However, that same evening the details of an interview given to The Sun emerged in which he praised Boris Johnson, said the Chequers deal would kill off a US-UK trade deal and complained Theresa May hadn’t taken his advice on how to handle Brexit talks.

The next day’s press conference at Chequers between the two was an awkward affair. Despite the President’s best attempts to back track on his earlier comments, Theresa May still had to endure Trump praising Boris Johnson as a potential future Prime Minister.

Over to Parliament

Despite all of this, Theresa May’s problems were not over as she started last week facing the prospect of defeat in Parliament and a possible Confidence vote.

The debate before the crucial vote on Tuesday was extraordinary. Deep divisions within the Conservative Party were on display in the chamber with “remain” MPs such as Anna Soubry viciously attacking fellow hard Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs and vice versa.

The Whips piled on the pressure, warning potential rebels a defeat for the Government could mean Corbyn in Downing Street. In the end the Government scraped through with a majority of just six.

What happens now

The last three weeks have demonstrated that Theresa May presides over a Conservative Party in a state of near civil war, with divisions deepening daily. However, as one senior Tory backbencher said recently, Theresa May is protected by having the “best Chief Whip ever… called Jeremy Corbyn”.

Certainly, the threat of a Corbyn Government is enough to scare many Conservatives into towing the line and May also benefits from the fact Brexiteers know there is no majority in Parliament for their vision of Brexit.

Therefore, not for the first time, Theresa May’s position is protected by the lack of a viable alternative.

Now that Parliament has risen, the Prime Minister and her team will be pleased to have survived the last few weeks and will be hoping things quieten down over the summer as they seek to turn around opinion over the Chequers proposals. Expect to see a succession of Cabinet Ministers hitting the airwaves over the summer, trying to show united support for the proposals.

While there is undoubtedly deep unhappiness in the Conservative Party, especially in local associations, the summer should be relatively quieter for Theresa May.

What will Autumn bring?

In many ways what happens in the Autumn depends on the EU and their attitude to the Chequers deal, which will become clearer over the coming weeks as discussions between both sides continue. 

If Michel Barnier, as predicted, demands further compromises the pressure from Brexiteers on Theresa May and the Government to say no and threaten a ‘no deal’ scenario will grow.

While Theresa May could agree to give further ground, the anger this would unleash amongst the Brexiteers is likely to be impossible to contain, resulting in a leadership challenge.

There also remains further difficult votes on Brexit-related legislation and the prospect of the Conservative Party Conference, where all eyes will be on the pretenders to the leadership, in particular Boris Johnson.

Without doubt, the Autumn will test the Prime Minister’s survival skills to the limit. Long, hot days lie ahead.


Time to prang out over PR?


Time to prang out over PR?

[prang out]

British Love Island

Verb: To worry, stress and behave erratically

It’s that time of year again. The sun is shining, the scantily clad millennials have taken centre stage - Love Island fever is gripping the nation. Whether the show is your type on paper or not, its success has sent waves of admiration and despair through the media landscape. This year’s BARB Viewing Report found that the reality show was the most watched live programme in 2017. It beat football matches, dramas, films, and prospective leaders of our country arguing on television. And it tells us something about the way we consume media.



It’s no surprise that Deloitte’s TMT team are predicting traditional TV viewing by 18-24 year old’s to further decline in 2018. Ofcom’s Media Nations report echoes this, finding that 16-34 year old’s now watch an average of one hour of YouTube per day on devices other than their TV sets. We now have the ability to pick and choose what we consume, where, and for how long. Despite this, live broadcasts and events are expected to continue to thrive in our evermore diverse digital environment. In a world of on-demand media consumption, the BARB statistics on live programmes confirms what we love the most: reality TV, debates, football games, the Grand Prix – they keep us part of a wider, cross-media conversation that we make time for. For better or for worse, live broadcasts help us avoid the rising creep of ‘fomo’, the fear of missing out.

This is symbiotically linked to a diversification of the devices we choose to use to catch the programmes we love. (Alongside a fair share of generational despair and general snobbery.) 



According to BARB, for the 2017 Love Island series, almost a quarter of all live and on-demand viewing was done via a non-TV device. And two thirds of those devices were either a smartphone or tablet. We are living in a world of diverse media consumption. Our content is getting increasingly mobile, and it’s changing our expectations of media as well as the way we interact with it.



This is echoed in our consumption on the internet. In their Media Use and Attitudes Report 2018, Ofcom found that 9 in 10 adults are online. No shocks there, but adults now spend more time online in locations that aren’t their home, workplace, or place of education, and the number of people using their smartphones to go online is up to 70 per cent vs. 66 per cent two years ago (Ofcom). As anyone who’s bumped into a scrolling commuter on a pavement or platform will know, mobile data consumption had coincided with the apparent death of spatial awareness.

Should we be surprised that TV is still the first port of call for news? Whilst Reuter’s Digital News Report found that BBC News, The Guardian and the Daily Mail are the big fish of the online news world, Ofcom’s findings state that television is still the first place that internet users go to for types of news that are important to them. Especially when they are looking for impartiality (66 percent), breaking news (62 percent), or news that provides digestible key facts (59 percent). As ever, it is in the Beeb we trust…so you can sleep easy at night, Huw.




Of course, social media should not be overlooked in this conversation. Ofcom’s report highlights that social media is most popular for those seeking an “alternative viewpoint” on the news, despite users being less likely to say they often see views that they disagree with online. What’s more, concerns about risks posed by the content we read on the internet are increasing, particularly the risks it poses to others or to society. Are we waking up and smelling the coffee of ‘fake news’? Or is our national paranoia simply increasing? It is certainly interesting that Ofcom notes the importance of critical skills in our evermore digital world to discern what is real and what is fake. “People need the skills to question and make judgements about their online environment” writes Ofcom – a hangover from a tumultuous 2016 US election, overt Russian use of propaganda, and the rise of “alternative facts” perhaps?



Critics forever theorise about the dystopian future headed for the social media generation. 🤷 However it appears that even everyday grammers and tweeters are becoming more aware of the downsides of social media. A third of people have said that they would like to cut down on the time they spend online. Importantly, nearly half of those asked said they had seen hateful content online in the past year. Whether you’re glued to your screens or not, operators are responding to these concerns. Earlier this month, Apple unveiled its new ‘digital wellbeing’ tool which allows social media fans to set limits on the browsing time for certain apps in a bid aims to reduce screen time. Instagram have also recently confirmed the development of a Usage Insights feature that is set to track the time grammers spend taking pictures of food, beaches, themselves, the dog’s dinner, alongside measures announced earlier in the year to combat bullying comments. Instapests of all kinds, take note.

It’s clear that we are using more and more streaming and on-demand services, see social media as an increasingly viable source of news however “alternative”, and have access to creative opportunities in an interconnected world. However it is important to remember that the internet is not ubiquitous. Consumption of media is not the same for everyone and there are still discrepancies by age and socio-economic group. There are still those who are not online at all and older people remain less likely to be ordering a online grocery delivery whilst dancing to beats from Spotify.



Our media landscape is diversifying. How we consume media is diversifying. The PR of the future needs to be just as diverse. The aim of any PR campaign or any humble press release is to be read, shared and heard.  How media is “consumed” should be at the heart of any strategy. Campaigns can harness the fear of missing out to their advantage, by making content that people want to share. We need to create content that can span the entirety of the media landscape, that fits naturally into channels and devices, with stories that people just don’t want to miss. PRs shouldn’t be pranging just yet…



Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018

Ofcom Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2018

Ofcom Media Nations: UK

Deloitte UK Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2018

BARB Viewing Report 2018


82% of people clicked on this link


82% of people clicked on this link

 An excerpt of a Facebook status shared by influential right-wing actor Scott Baio. All the claims are incorrect. The status was shared more than 28,000 times.

 An excerpt of a Facebook status shared by influential right-wing actor Scott Baio. All the claims are incorrect. The status was shared more than 28,000 times.


For as long as human beings have told each other stories, fake news has existed; Roman emperors, Greek politicians and Egyptian pharaohs all disseminated fake news about their enemies. Leaders could choose to a variety of methods; commission poems, use powerful rhetoric, erect a symbolic statue. As the saying goes, “a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has got its pants on”.


Figure 2 Statue of Augustus. The Roman emperor used fake news to help him legitimise his war against Anthony and Cleopatra, turning it from being a civil war to a defence of the Republic.

Propaganda is a tried and tested tool in the arsenal of political campaigning and international cyber-warfare. The term “fake news” has been popularised over the last two years, with a 365% increase in usage from 2016 to 2017. Collins Dictionary made it their Word of the Year in 2017. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign flourished on the back of conspiracy theories and fake news generated and shared across social media in 2016. Hungary’s Viktor Orbán utilised disinformation around illegal immigration to help him secure another term as Prime Minister this year. In Myanmar, fake news was used to stoke tensions and incite violence against religious minorities. All three relied heavily on Facebook as a vehicle for spreading their message, ideas, and beliefs. 

It’s not hard to see why. Every second, five new Facebook profiles are created, adding to the two billion already in existence. Every minute, 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses updated, and 136,000 photos uploaded. Every day, 4.75 billion pieces of content – news stories, articles, viral videos – are shared across the platform. The amount of raw data Facebook needs to process and regulate (filtering posts that break the law) each 24-hour cycle is vast. On top of this, Facebook then personalises each newsfeed to each user, considering over 1,000 variables per post to make it as engaging as possible for the users. Eventually, around 300 posts are selected and placed in a user’s Newsfeed each day.

Screenshot (15).png

Figure 3 Most popular fake election stories in the United States in 2016, by Facebook engagement (in thousands)

It took Trump’s Presidential campaign and allegations of Russian interference, along with incoming legislation in Europe threatening fines for extremist content, to jolt Facebook into action. The increasingly partisan nature of the American political landscape proved a fertile breeding ground for fake news articles to be shared, commented on and spread far and wide. More than two thirds of American adults use Facebook to get at least some of their news, compared to a quarter of Brits. Furthermore, as Facebook tailored its algorithms to try and keep users on the site, it pushed and recommended related articles, regardless of the authenticity of the site it was taking them from. Conspiracy websites like infowars, which continues to preach that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged, began prominently featuring on Newsfeeds after breaking events took place.

Trump Fake NEws MEME.jpg

Figure 4 An example of a fake news story shared by far-right site Your News Wire

Clearly, Facebook had a problem. However, tackling the spread of fake news on the site raised ethical questions for management. Accused for a long time of already having an anti-Conservative leaning, the leadership team struggled with the ethics of determining what exactly fake news was, and if it was their job to limit the freedom of expression of its user. Whilst ‘Ranking’ news sites has been floated as the latest possible answer, the company seems to only want to utilise this as a last resort.

Facebook initially decided to tackle the spread of fake news articles across the site by introducing ‘Disputed Flags’. The idea was simple; when a user saw an article on their feed, it would have a small flag next to it. Red flags would indicate an article that had been disputed by at least two independent fact checkers, and therefore a user would know that the article in question was likely to be fake news. In theory, this would stop users from being fooled by fake news sites posing as genuine established media companies. Unfortunately, Facebook failed to comprehend human nature. Red flags next to articles actually made it more likely for users to click on the link, and in some cases reinforced the pre-conceived beliefs of the user.

Facebook next toyed with the idea of minimizing attachments from untrustworthy sites in the newsfeed. Links shared by users from ‘untrustworthy’ sites would not include image previews, in theory making them less visually attractive and therefore less likely to be clicked on by someone’s Facebook friends. The jury is still out as to how successful this has been. 

At the beginning of this month, Facebook entered its most recent chapter in its war against the spread of fake news – it eliminated the sidebar of trending articles. A long-contested feature, the sidebar accounted for only 1.5% of clicks throughs to publishers but often contained inflammatory or inaccurate news reports. Examples in the past included strange headlines such as “DEEZ NUTS” and “LADY GAGA – Photos appear to show singer falling to ground while getting in her convertible”. In the states, Conservatives launched a campaign against the trending sidebar, accusing it of having a deep seated liberal bias, a claim Facebook was forced to refute. In the United Kingdom, Nigel Farage accused the company of censoring conservative viewpoints, citing a drop in engagement on his page. In a statement, Facebook’s Head of News Products Alex Hardiman credited a change in consumer habits to the removal of the trending section, saying: “We’ve seen that the way people consume news on Facebook is changing to be primarily on mobile and increasingly through news video. So we’re exploring new ways to help people stay informed about timely, breaking news that matters to them, while making sure the news they see on Facebook is from trustworthy and quality sources”. The company also released this cutesy video explaining how they would be using new algorithms to try and predict what news stories a user wants to read, based of a variety of factors.

Perhaps greatest hurdle when it comes to the spread and dissemination of fake news across the site is its complicit userbase. Facebook’s fastest growing audience are 55+ years old. Since 2012, this group has grown by 46% while the younger generations either leave the site or refuse to sign up in the first place. Unfortunately, the older generation tend to be the least internet-literate. Unlike younger, more internet savvy generations, they haven’t grown up with instant access to information from across the world at their fingertips. A reddit group called r/oldpeoplefacebook that shares screenshots of old people’s internet mishaps has a dedicated following of over half a million people.

Meet Daniel’s mum Lorna…

Facebook old people.png

Facebook can continue to roll out measures that aim to reduce the spread of fake news across the site. It can minimize links and bump articles down the order to manipulate newsfeeds. But at the end of the day, the user base will decide what content is shared or not shared. Ultimately, as multiple studies have highlighted, users are more likely to share, interact with and react to stories that engage with them emotionally. 62% of users will click on a news article shared by a friend on Facebook. Depressingly, a recent study found 59% of people share stories without ever clicking beyond the headline. And if these stories happen to be poorly-sourced or ill-judged fake news? So be it.

So what does this mean from a communications perspective? Primarily, two things. The first is that Facebook is now more than ever a pay-to-play platform for brands and companies. For your page updates to reach current and potential followers, even clickbait headlines are unlikely to be seen unless you are paying to promote your posts; long gone are the days of organic reach. The second point is that Facebook is currently looking to prioritise human-on-human interaction. To this end, posts shared by other users will be far more likely to appear in the feeds of their friends than a post from a page they ‘liked’ two years ago. Every positive interaction with your page is therefore crucial – meaningful engagement and discussion that keeps people coming back will be rewarded in the newsfeed and keep surfacing up top. Our advice? Quality over quantity is the key to success.


Print media isn’t dead – but what does the future hold?


Print media isn’t dead – but what does the future hold?

In her first blog post for Atlas Partners, Nina Doehmel-Macdonald, explores how the increasing fragmentation of media impacts the world of PR (and why there’s cause to celebrate).


A merger between Trinity Mirror and Northern & Shell Media is on the cards. If approved, the move will mean that a single entity will own and operate almost half of the country’s newspapers. In terms of circulation, the new group would also become the second largest national newspaper organisation, with a 28% share*.

The merger is currently being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority – a step which many consider justified given the ongoing debate around freedom of opinion and expression. Of course, the announcement in February this year isn’t the only thing that’s keeping the nation’s print pages in flux. A month doesn’t go by without another print title shutting shop. The Independent, Company, Glamour, Interview Magazine and NME have all moved online in the last two years. Whilst their audiences differed, they shared the fact that their print operations were no longer commercially viable.

By contrast, edgier, cause-specific and niche titles are seeing growth. Newsstands are full of beautifully designed pop culture titles like Purple and Pop Magazine, and Balance, a lifestyle magazine, launched both online and in print in 2016 in a response to our national ‘wellbeing’ obsession.

Political and current affairs titles including Private Eye and The Economist have both recently enjoyed a sales boost, and we’ve heard rumours that The Guardian’s circulation is on the up since it adopted the Berliner format last year.

Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer found that whilst people are consuming less media (with some actively avoiding it altogether), there has been a vast increase in trust in traditional media** in the UK.  Maybe our need for something substantial, researched and more trustworthy is what we hanker after to balance out the fear of fake news. Perhaps the proliferation of the 24/7 news-cycle means we’re all craving a corner and a screen-free twenty minutes to read something that has more longevity than a simple tweet or the latest ‘breaking news’ update from BBC Online.

Of course, there’s a space and need for an online world – that goes without saying. However, it was The Mail on Sunday which first broke the news that Megan Markle’s father had staged photographs a week before the Royal Wedding, not the title’s infamous, celebrity-fuelled ‘sidebar of shame’. KFC published its apology only in the print versions of the Metro and The Sun, in an attempt to manage the fallout that followed what can only be summarised as ‘the great clucking chicken crisis’ in February.

Politically, print publications continue to have the biggest impact. We’ve been in the room when a Secretary of State reviews the morning papers so have first-hand experience of how public opinion and media editorial shape political debate. The Daily Mail is considered the most influential – politicians are terrified of being lambasted in the nation’s second biggest seller. Tim Shipman, political editor of The Sunday Times and a former Mail journalist summed it up nicely: "There isn't a prime minister over the last 30 years who hasn't been looking over their shoulder wondering what Paul Dacre thought of them."

In an increasingly polarised age of ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ and ‘left’ versus ‘right’, we need a plurality of views that challenge and push our thinking. Our self-selected newsfeeds aren’t healthy. We can’t continue to shut out voices, simply because we don’t agree with them. We’re lucky to have such an array of daily opinions and I’m certain that the next few months and years will see more publishers continue to try different business models to ensure that our valued dailies survive. I also expect alternative news sites to continue popping up left, right and centre.

So what does this mean for the PR industry? We already lose out to our marketer colleagues when it comes to measuring tangible impact, and the growing fragmentation of communications channels is unlikely to help this (…I’ll save that topic for another blog post). The cycle of change won’t slow down any time soon. We have to consider the communications mix as a whole and look at every story on a case-by-case basis. We need to make the most of the hundreds of new channels but not forget about the more established, traditional routes to our audiences.

Above all, however, we need to capitalise on and celebrate our most significant skill – our nimbleness. The nature of our world means that we’re ready to stop and start at a moment’s notice, react quickly and instantly decide whether to make the next move or hold off. The media’s recent fragmentation has forced us to hone our nimble minds even further. As a result, we change, adapt and adopt new ways of working to navigate the increasingly fragmented waters successfully. Flexing our nimble muscles means that we will continue to share the stories that we’re employed to tell, regardless of where the media tide turns.


*based on circulation figures for 2017 among national titles, including daily and Sunday titles

**defined as mainstream media sources that are available in print or broadcast format, such as newspapers, magazines, television news and radio news.