It’s been a week of media chaos for some well-known brands, Atlas Consultant Bethan Phillips talks us through McDonald’s ‘straw gate’ and EasyJet’s ‘backless seat’ and reflects on the crisis comms gem that was KFC’s FCK bucket!


Earlier this week global fast food chain McDonald's received a plethora of unwanted (but arguably well-deserved) headlines after The Sun leaked an internal memo revealing their new cardboard straws (brought in to replace the recyclable paper straws, that replaced their plastic ones) are non-recyclable. Journalists criticised the move as “green washing”,“a silly stunt”,“bad policy making” and the Former Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey questioned whether it was in fact just a “monumental cock up”. Either way, it’s been a bad week for McDonald’s street cred.

mcdonalds straws.JPG

Despite being ahead of its competitors when it comes to buying local produce (they only use British and Irish beef for their patties and potatoes for their chips - and have done for years) McDonalds seems to have leapt on the green bandwagon without considering the implications. Wouldn’t it have been impressive if instead of creating cardboard straws that can’t be recycled, McDonalds made their takeaway packaging compostable?

It is of course important to listen to your customers concerns (in this case that the old recyclable paper straws got too soft) but sometimes a short-term technical fix can have negative consequences on a brands reputation. It’s so important for the communications, CSR and technical teams to be aligned, ensuring mistakes like these don’t happen. I’ve always admired McDonalds campaigns and polices around literacy and welfare and I hope ‘straw gate’ is just a glitch on their pathway to more progressive environmental policies.


Next up finding them themselves on a sticky wicket with the media, is EasyJet and their “backless seat” which took social media by storm. For those that missed it, a passenger on board an EasyJet flight tweeted a photo of a customer sat on a backless seat, the EasyJet twitter account asked the passenger to remove the photo and Twitter went wild. EasyJet then confirmed in a separate tweet that once the plane was fully boarded the woman was moved to a different seat.

Transparency from brands could not be more important at the moment, so asking a customer to take down a photo or remove a tweet is a social media no no. It is of course understandable that brands need to defend themselves against fake news, but there is a time and a place for it and it’s safe to say this what not it. Sweeping something under the carpet is never a good tactic- brands need to be open and honest about mishaps like these and show what they are doing to fix the problem.



All these blunders got me thinking about the media mayhem of times gone by and the KFC FCK bucket in 2018 came to mind as an example of how to excellently handle a corporate and operational crisis with the media. Despite 750 KFC restaurants temporarily shutting (after a serious logistical problems with their new distributor, DHL) 19,000 staff members being affected, 321 media enquiries and 1,000 pieces of coverage - KFC eventually got its customers back on side and their media campaign won a Cannes Lions award.

Speaking at Cision’s CommsCon last year, Head of Brand Engagement at KFC UK and Ireland Jenny Packwood explained the key lesson KFC learnt was the importance of maintaining brand identity and style of voice. Instead of responding to the crisis with a corporate hat on, they positioned themselves as human and honest, admitting they’d screwed up.

Jenny shared how she broke the communications team into two; one team was focused on the creative ideas and the other on safety checking messaging and managing the huge inflow of media requests. Instead of letting social media dominate the dialogue around the crisis (as it did with EasyJet) KFC used social media as a channel for proactive communications, allowing them to take back control.

Back in the driving sit after testing their humorous and human messaging on social media, KFC and their agency partners launched a paid media campaign (print only) bravely apologising for their mistake- with the now infamous FCK bucket. Packwood said the FCK bucket “gave us a way of saying sorry in a bold and human way, and in a way that felt true to our brand.” Whilst each brand voice is different and I’m by no means suggesting McDonalds or EasyJet should create their own versions of the FCK bucket, there is something to be learnt here about brands (in the face of a media crisis) being more honest and human with customers.






OK, so it’s August. The holiday season is here. The Ashes is upon us. The new football season is merely days away. New winners of Love Island have been crowned (no, me neither). And Parliament is in recess.

But alas, politics is not taking a break. The election of Boris Johnson, poll bounce and all, as Prime Minister has led to fresh talk of an imminent General Election. As we pack up our buckets and spades and head to the nearest beach in what is becoming an annual occurrence, Senior Researcher Mike Hough dissects whether there is any substance in these rumours, and whether we should all be planning our canvassing routes.


Arithmetic, mainly. Yes that subject you studied all those years ago at school but never thought would really come in handy. Former President Lyndon B Johnson said: “the first rule of politics was to be able to count.”

Well, if you do your counting, the numbers are not on Boris Johnson’s side. The Prime Minister has a working majority of just one. That includes the fragile alliance with the DUP. And some disgruntled ex-Ministers following last week’s brutal reshuffle. We’re looking at you Messrs Hammond, Gauke and Stewart. These are not sustainable numbers to govern with. A new Prime Minister boosted by a poll bounce (some recent polls now show the Tories with a 10% lead) could seek to go to the country to improve this arithmetic. The appointment of the controversial Leave campaigner Dom Cummings (famously played by Benedict Cumberbatch in Channel 4’s drama Brexit: The Uncivil War) and punchy campaigning ministers like Dom Raab and Priti Patel has played into this narrative. But, it is not always that straightforward. Just ask Theresa!



So, there are really two options for getting to a General Election. First, the pre-emptive strike by team Johnson and second, Parliament taking him there kicking and screaming.

Let’s first consider the preemptive move. Team Johnson is adamant they do not want a General Election before Brexit is delivered. Any General Election before then spells danger for the Tories. The party was heavily punished in the European Elections and could face a similar drubbing again with voters furious at their failure to deliver Brexit.

The Government has been putting out a series of suspiciously ‘retail’ politics style announcements (see extra funding for NHS). It appears to be setting its sights on a 2020 Spring Election. The argument for a Spring 2020 election goes something like this… By the Spring, Boris will have ‘delivered’ Brexit. The Brexit vote will have returned to the Tory Party. And the party will be on course for a majority. Especially with Remain support so fragmented.

But will they even get to this stage? They could come a cropper before then via the second option, a vote of No Confidence in the Government from Parliament. This would occur when No Deal becomes the likely outcome and all other options are exhausted. For this vote to be successful (even a successful vote might not prevent No Deal according to recent leaked legal advice), a ‘Remain Alliance’ of rebel Tories, ChangeUK, Lib Dems, SNP and Corbyn’s Labour would all have to group together. A few Tories (Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke) have recently indicated they *might* be prepared to do this.

OK, so here is the really nerdy part. The mechanics of such a vote. If a vote of No Confidence is passed, there is then a 14 day period, within which a new Government has to be formed. In this instance, maybe a Government of National Unity? Any such new Government would have to pass a confidence motion. However more likely is that a new Government is not formed or cannot pass such a vote and then we would have a General Election. Probably at the end of October or the beginning of November

So potentially a General Election in the Winter or …


There is of course one other way to break the impasse. A second referendum. A confirmatory vote. A People’s Vote. Or whatever the focus groups are suggesting is an appropriate name these days.

Two problems. Arithmetic (yes, again) and timing. There are not the numbers in Parliament for a new vote. 25 Labour backbenchers have already written to Jeremy Corbyn suggesting they cannot support this position. The perceived wisdom is that behind the scenes, the numbers are greater as well. That means you need churn from the Tory side. Although some are moving in that direction, it looks like nowhere near enough. We do not see this changing in the near future in this Parliament, regardless of what the more enthusiastic backers of this proposal say publicly. We would make the same argument for any pro-revoke case.

Timing. The law is clear at present. We are leaving the European Union on the 31st October. In order to secure a new referendum, fresh legislation would be needed. It is unlikely this would come from this Government. Therefore you would need a new Government. This would only be achieved through a General Election. The only prospect for a second referendum is after a General Election and under a new Parliament and Prime Minister and the road does not look long enough for all that to happen before Halloween.

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I know. What everybody (or at least normal people and not us political nerds) wants is for politics to calm down. There is no overwhelming desire for a General Election in the country. The country wants a break from politics. However, that does not mean it will happen.

The numbers in Parliament are not sustainable. The situation cannot keep going on like this. A Prime Minister determined to deliver Brexit, even a No Deal Brexit, but a Parliament that appears set against it. And the European Union who insist the negotiation is over?

Look out for new polling cards pretty soon, we think!


Jo Swinson’s Summer Reading List


Jo Swinson’s Summer Reading List

Recess has begun, Red Box is taking a break, and Jeremy Corbyn is off on his rally tour; it must be summer. Every year, Conservative MP Keith Simpson publishes a summer reading list for MPs so while Boris tours the Union, and Phil plots with Keir, we thought we’d put out some personalised suggestions for reading material. Jo Swinson hasn’t got much on her plate, what with being the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats, mother to two children, and all-round hard worker. So, in a bid to save her some time, we thought we’d put together some reading suggestions for those long commutes from Westminster to her constituency in East Dunbartonshire.

The Lib Dems have taken Brecon (just). A victory which further suggests the #LibDemFightBack might be real, even if (say it quietly) the Brexit Party did a stellar job of splitting the Leave vote. In the end, it was the non-aggression pact wot won it! And it might be in the future, too. A leaked People’s Vote document shows plans for the biggest campaign of tactical voting ever planned. However, making this work nationally without losing party identity is a challenge the Lib Dems know well. It will certainly be a challenge. And potentially soon. With the Brexit Party lining up candidates for a general election, battle will commence far beyond the hills of Brecon. Uniting the country is a tough ask. Just ask Theresa May. Or Jeremy Corbyn. Or David Cameron. Or, maybe don’t. Instead, read How To Be Right In A World Gone Wrong (2018) and find out from LBC’s James O’Brien since he seems to be constantly coordinating and moderating the whole motley lot of us on his radio show.


Brexit will eventually end though (can you hear the desperation?) and, when it does, This Changes Everything (2014) by Naomi Klein should be everybody’s guide to the climate emergency. Recently, 71% of us chose the climate as a more pressing issue than Brexit (tough choice, I know). Jo already does a rather champion job of talking about rewiring our economy to work for both people and planet – radical, eh? – so Klein’s hefty tome will be more of some light brushing up on facts and figures. Still, her childhood hero Anita Roddick would be proud. It’s a chance too for the Lib Dems to find common cause with the Greens again and cancel out some of that division at the polls, but sorry Jeremy, not with you. After all, with the Brexit Party and Conservatives acting like coy dance partners, and Labour still sat on the edge of the room waiting to be asked, who knew electoral pacts could be so much fun? 

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Gauging the mood in Westminster might be the easier part. Labour accused Swinson of “childish and irresponsible game playing” when she tabled her symbolic motion of no confidence recently. So maybe she could brush up on how they did it back in the day by way of This House (2012) by James Graham. Strictly a play, it covers Labour’s 1974-9 administration, facing first a hung parliament and then a slender majority; remind you of anyone? As LBJ so famously said, practitioners of politics ‘need to be able to count’.

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Talk of the whips and politics’ daily machinations might bring back memories of the *shudder* Coalition. If the Lib Dems want to leave it behind then After the Coalition: A Conservative Agenda for Britain (2011) by Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore, and Liz Truss will provide some handy reading seeing as four of the authors are now all in the Cabinet. Peak Bullshit (2017) by Evan Davis might provide a few hints and tips on how Swinson can wheel and deal her way through all those questions about her role in austerity too.

But where’s my optimism I hear you cry? Where’s the boosterism? We must look forward, be positive! Just in case, though…As leader of a minor party, it’s good to know how to fail, and Fintan O’Toole’s Heroic Failure: Brexit and the politics of pain (2018) provides some history lessons too on our ‘hugely successful empire’, much like that aforementioned hugely successful coalition... A primer on English nationalism, it will be mighty useful for door-knocking with those voters to whom nationhood truly is important. Johnson might be busy trampling over Irish and Scottish feelings (read: whipping them up) but Swinson has form in meeting nationalist sentiment head-on and argues strongly that the Lib Dems offer voters a double dose of Remain – once for Europe, and once for the Union. Come on, we’re not done with all that medieval talk of vassalage just yet, are we?

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Finally, Swinson could do worse than leafing through Be More Pirate (2018), a book on rewriting the outdated rules of the 21st century. Swinson certainly has the wind in her sails when it comes to challenging the traditional image of our political leaders. Author, Sam Conniff, says the book is ‘about fearlessly challenging the broken systems that benefit the few and, in their place, delivering new ideas that serve the many.’  Sounds pretty Lib Dem to me. And if you’re a pirate, you need a crew, right Heidi?

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Swinson has rightly said she will not put any limit on her party’s ambition. And why should she? The worst that can happen already has and the party’s recent resurgence means the Lib Dem MPs can no longer car-pool home together in an Uber. That said, challenges remain, not least what’s next for the party if the results are disappointing, or if an election throws up the question once more of coalition and compromise? As Donald Rumsfield said:

“First rule of politics: you can’t win unless you’re on the ballot. If you run, you may lose. And if you tie, you do not win.”


What does the election of Ursula von der Leyen mean for the future of the EU?


What does the election of Ursula von der Leyen mean for the future of the EU?

Atlas Partners’ resident Brexiteer Sophia Stileman gives us her take on the new European Commission President, and what she means for the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Recently it was confirmed that Ursula von der Leyen had been elected to the top job of EU Commission President. She was selected from a secret ballot and won a narrow majority of votes from MEPs, standing unopposed. Another triumph for EU transparency. But where did her journey start, and what does she represent for the EU?

From Family Affairs to the Ministry of Defence

Von der Leyen’s entry into the German Government came when she served in Merkel’s first administration as Minister for Family Affairs. Both in this role, and later as Labour Minister, she made significant and, in my view, very positive reforms. Her introduction of parental allowances for fathers, improvements to access to child-care, as well as campaigns for a statutory quota for women on company boards were all bold moves consideringthe opposition that she faced from the more conservative CDU members.[1]

Her good work earned her a promotion and since 2013 she has been German Defence Minister. However, her time in this role has seen her become deeply unpopular in her home country, with allegations of mismanagement and overspending already seeing her dubbed ‘the Chris Grayling of German politics’.

And now, she has been welcomed into by far her most prestigious role yet: The President of the European Commission.

The implications for Leave

Her election will no doubt have a significant impact on the UK’s relationship with the EU. My concerns with this election have been mostly centred on the President-elect’s intentions to reform the undemocratic aspects of the Union. In the case of Ms von der Leyen, I’m not so hopeful.

Quite the opposite, in fact: I can see her strengthening the argument for our exit. Everything about her election –from running unopposed to her federalist policy priorities– showcases the key reasons why the Union is so often criticised. So why is this?

For the first time in its history, the EU abandoned spitzenkandidaten, the convention that a President will be sourced from the majority party winning the European elections. It’s regarded rightly as a way to ensure that the President represents the majority of elected MEPs sitting in the Parliament and is often cited in arguments for the representative value of the Union as a whole. Ms von der Leyen’s success embodies a clear break away from this tradition. The largest Party in the EU Parliament is the EPP (European People’s Party) for which Manfred Weber was the candidate. Von der Leyen’s CDU Party only gained 29 seats. The same number, I might add, as the Brexit Party.

Given the prominent role that fears over the erosion of national democracy within the EU played in why 17.4 million ticked the ‘Leave’ box in 2016, one might assume the next Commission President would at least appear to want to address this. But this doesn’t seem to factor in Ursula’s agenda, or those who selected her to stand.

The United States (of Europe)

She has described herself as a supporter of a “United States of Europe”, which includes the rumoured establishment of a European army, something laughed off by officials for years until now. She also controversially wants to end national vetoes in energy, climate, and most importantly foreign policy decisions. Plans to reduce corporate tax competition within the European bloc by restricting the freedom of member states to determine their own rates also featured in her election proposals.[2] These are areas that in my view should be left down to the nation state to preside over.

My own conclusion is that the EU has no intention of reforming. It clearly hasn’t taken on board the UK’s (and many other states’) worries over its democratic processes and growing political reach. The oft-cited optimists’ argument of ‘reform from within’ is looking more tired than ever before, and it’s time we accept it’s not happening any time soon.


Could you back Boris?


Could you back Boris?

Here at Atlas we take our roles as professional contrarians very seriously. We like to discuss and debate and present alternative arguments. Which brings me on to the topic for this blog. The case for Boris.

In the office, despite a range of views on Brexit, we do not have many natural Boris supporters (or if we do they are staying very quiet!). However this is the man that is highly likely to be our next Prime Minister. He is a politician who does have an audience. So Researcher Mike Hough has taken on the job of looking at why Boris is so popular with MPs and the Tory membership and how he can make a positive difference at home and abroad.


On the 20th June 2019 it was confirmed that Tory MPs had selected Boris Johnson as one of their final two candidates for the leadership. A staggering 160 MPs opted for Boris in the final ballot, more than half of the Conservative Parliamentary Party. With support from all wings of a warring party. Quite a result.

This is actually quite a turnaround. Boris has not always been hugely popular with Conservative MPs. So what has changed? Well, rightly or wrongly he is seen as a winner. He won in London. Twice. Securing voters the Tories don’t normally get. He was instrumental in Leave’s victory in the EU referendum. Including convincing voters in Labour Leave heartlands. To many in the party he is the Heineken candidate, reaching parts of the electorate no-one else can. Although a newly published YouGov poll has challenged the idea that Boris would instantly improve the Tories electoral fortunes.

Then there is Brexit. From a Conservative point of view he was on the right side. He believes in Brexit and has buckets of charisma and charm. He comes across as someone who doesn’t simply want to put up with Brexit but actually believes in it. For a party that is haemorrhaging votes to the Brexit Party, this is not inconsequential. The MPs also know that the members love him and, with reselections ongoing, are keen not to annoy their grassroots.

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As many pundits point out, when a new Prime Minister is elected the parliamentary maths will not change. The numbers still won’t be there for the so-called ‘Hard Brexit’ that Boris and his acolytes seemingly desire. But this in some ways does miss the point.

Legally the default option is for Britain to leave the EU on the 31st October. Now, when Theresa May was in charge, no-one really truly believed Britain would leave without a deal. This changes under Boris. Boris certainly does not have the same qualms about No Deal. And Parliament is running out of ways to prevent this option as highlighted by the Institute for Government.

It is looking like the only way Parliament can stop a No Deal outcome is likely through a vote of No Confidence. Will enough Tory rebels back this? And will it end their career if they do? It is not yet clear. The other alternative is backing a deal, whatever this deal may look like. This means the chances of Boris taking Britain out of the EU on the 31st is significant. Being the man who championed Brexit, any Brexit he delivers will be popular with a significant portion of the public.


Of course there are two sides in this negotiation. A fact we all too readily forget. From November we have a new Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen and a new President-elect of the European Council. Despite this, Brussels language about Brexit has stayed the same. That is to be expected. But the truth is very simple; they want this to be over. They believe negotiations have concluded and want to move onto other areas. Yet many feel a Prime Minister insistent on No Deal could scare Brussels into concessions.

This brings us to the most contentious issue. The backstop. This is the only issue stopping a deal getting through Parliament and the next stage of negotiations beginning. Now, the EU rightly will not sacrifice the needs of a current member (Ireland) for the sake of Brexit. But neither do they want No Deal.

So what is the solution? Well it isn’t easy. However with a leader who is serious about No Deal and the clock ticking down, the desire to find a mutually beneficial solution will surely increase. The example of Greece shows the EU can work quickly when needed. So, a sceptic might suggest we are heading to a solution where both sides can save face and claim victory. Something that I believe is now commonly referred to as a “fudge”.


Well, truthfully, I am not. But many both in Parliament and the public are. They believe Boris is the man who will take us out of the EU. They believe a renewed focus on No Deal will concentrate minds enough in Brussels to find a solution to the backstop. And if not we will leave on the 31st October 2019. They believe we should be more optimistic about the opportunities that Brexit can provide.

If you are a member of the metropolitan elite or simply a resident of the Westminster village, you may not come across many who think like this. But they do exist. In their millions. And they should be listened to and respected. And who knows, ultimately they could be proved correct. Because in this moment in time you would be foolish to predict anything in politics.


GDP: Grossly Dated Practice


GDP: Grossly Dated Practice

While the rest of the country is occupied with her successor, Theresa May has been trying to push through some concrete policy in her final month as Prime Minister, including a new mental health plan and promises to tackle poor-quality housing. The UK has a national well-being dashboard yet we continue to prioritise endless economic growth, often at the cost of our personal and environmental health. This begs the question, what does growth mean to the UK? Is it time for a more civilised kind of growth? New Research Intern Sophie Brownlee investigates. 

A Wellbeing Budget 

In May, New Zealand became the first country committed to introducing a wellbeing budget. They’re not the first, however, to look at alternative methods of measuring growth. Surprisingly perhaps, the Kingdom of Bhutan was the first, coining the phrase ‘gross national happiness’ in 1972. Yet Bhutan remains apparently unhappy, ranking 96 places below the world’s happiest country, Finland. Happiness is highly subjective, though. What matters is where our focus lies. Measuring GDP is not the problem, it’s the end goals it causes us to focus on.  

Whilst GDP is viewed as the gold standard in measuring economic growth it is increasingly viewed as not fit for the 21st century. It doesn’t consider environmental degradation or sustainability and tends to measure success on monetary terms alone. A country is surely so much more than its economy. We don’t judge a child’s growth on their savings account or income but on their educational achievements, the development of their interpersonal skills, and their physical growth. Can reorienting government policy to meet measurable wellbeing targets satisfy GDP diehards as well as communicating to citizens the values that a particular nation believes in? 

The Policy Conundrum 

By placing wellbeing measures at the heart of policy government could change the way it communicates with its citizens. On the other hand, with Bhutan languishing in the happiness polls, we cannot ignore the contribution economic growth makes to wellbeing. 

The problem is that social indicators can easily be branded as woolly. Bhutan’s GNH Index includes domains such as ‘community vitality’ and ‘cultural diversity and resilience’, which are arguably difficult to measure. Equally, New Zealand’s plan includes ‘non-traditional’ indicators such as perceived environmental quality and sense of belonging. One might wonder whether it’s better to improve the actual quality of your environment; it doesn’t do much for our health if pollution levels are just perceived to be getting better. 

The way around these criticisms is identifying what constitutes holistic growth, and what can be measured. GDP has its uses, but it should not set the political direction for a world grappling with issues like climate change or whether the jobs we’re creating are sustainable. The Guardian’s Upside feature rosily suggested, albeit rather tongue-in-cheek, about measuring the number of trees planted; difficult, perhaps, but building a policy panel that incorporates such measures need not be impossible and may in fact be necessary.  

Practical Politics 

The term ‘wellbeing agenda’ is more frequently being thrown around in both the professional and public policy space, highlighting the rising tide of people who want to see a more well-rounded definition of ‘growth’. New Zealand’s budget includes half a billion for the ‘missing middle’ – those with mild to moderate anxiety and depressive disorders – as well as a record investment in preventing family and sexual violence. These are issues that affect not only peoples’ lives and health but their productivity. Focusing growth on a human level should only benefit economic growth in the long term.

According to the UK’s wellbeing dashboard our mental health, levels of loneliness, satisfaction with accommodation, and feelings of depression/anxiety are all stagnating. To quote the F-1 driver Alex Dias Riberio, ‘unhappy is he who depends on success to be happy’. 

Britain does indeed appear unhappy. Divided on Brexit, distracted by leadership contests, and grappling with our place in the world, a ‘wellbeing budget’ might seem the last of our worries but it could be the perfect answer to social reconciliation. It offers us the opportunity to ask, what would we change? What do we value? And what do we want to communicate to others that we define as ‘growth’ and ‘success’? Nobody said changing an entrenched system would be easy. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. 


From Government to Gilead


From Government to Gilead

On Sunday during an interview with Sky, Conservative MP and Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt shared his “personal views” on the abortion time limit; halve it from the current 24 weeks down to 12 weeks. With the latest odds suggesting Hunt is in with a shot of becoming PM, Bethan Phillips, a consultant at Atlas, explains why she thinks his comments  shouldn’t be brushed aside.

Both Hunt and key supporter Amber Rudd MP have assured us he would not be challenging the abortion time limit, should he become PM. But can we believe this reassurance, lest we forget Hunt used his vote to challenge a woman’s right to an abortion in 2008, attempting to halve the time limit then. Even if he vows not to seek to reduce women’s reproductive rights, should he become PM, chances are he wouldn’t be at the forefront of liberating them either.

Jeremy Hunt MP on Sky News

Jeremy Hunt MP on Sky News

Despite being the Secretary of State for Health for six years, Hunt appears to have learnt very little about why women have abortions, if he thinks halving the time limit will stop women needing them after 12 weeks. 90% of abortions in the UK take place before 13 weeks, so you might ask why is the 10% so worth defending? Quite aside from the belief that it is a woman, with the advice (if required) of her doctor, who is best placed to make these decisions, not a politician. There are many varied, and often sad, reasons why women choose to terminate their pregnancies after 12 weeks including:

  • They didn’t know they were pregnant until after 12 weeks because of the contraception they were using

  • Problems with their pregnancy were not spotted until further into their second trimester and deciding to terminate their wanted pregnancy can take time

  • They are young and have hidden their pregnancy from family and friends

  • They are a victim of domestic abuse and were only able to safely escape the relationship when the pregnancy was past 12 weeks

  • Their lives may have changed in a very short space of time with a job loss, eviction or death of a partner, meaning they have to terminate a much-wanted pregnancy

For campaigners on this issue, it’s disappointing the Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt and former Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP have continued to back Hunt, despite his extreme views on abortion. Thankfully his views are not shared by all his parliamentary colleagues or rival leadership contenders. The current Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock introduced a new government plan that allows women in England to take an early abortion pill at home-a plan Hunt refused to approve whilst Secretary of State for Health. There is also currently cross-party support to decriminalise abortion in the UK and for legal abortion to be provided in Northern Ireland.

MP’s on the Amnesty International march for reproductive rights in Northern Ireland

MP’s on the Amnesty International march for reproductive rights in Northern Ireland

So far, the leadership contenders have all remained silent on this and you may well be thinking ‘calm down dear’ is Tory party policy for this and most issues pertinent to women. But it matters that we protect hard fought rights from erosion. Just look at the restrictions to women’s reproductive rights that are happening across the pond in the USA, most recently when 22 male Senators in Alabama passed a bill banning women from obtaining an abortion, including in cases of rape or incest.

If, like me, you believe in a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, you can support NowforNI, the campaign to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland and across the UK. If you are a member of the Conservative party, you can ask this question of your leadership contenders. Because whilst we look on in shared horror at what is happening in the States and feel frustrated by Hunt’s comments, on average 28 women a week are travelling from Northern Ireland to England for abortion care they are denied at home. Wouldn’t it be inspiring if one of the Conservative leader contenders promised free, safe and legal abortion care for the Women in Northern Ireland- where’s Justin Trudeau when you need him?!

Justin Trudeau reacts to the changes in abortion law in the USA

Justin Trudeau reacts to the changes in abortion law in the USA


 Navigating the jargon jungle: is it really worthwhile?


Navigating the jargon jungle: is it really worthwhile?

Jargon: Special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand.


The PR newbie – Chantel-Mariee Lewis, Research Intern

Starting as a research intern I thought I had a fairly good understanding of what PR was. I previously volunteered at a small PR company, handling social media and events but this would be my first time in an integrated comms agency. I quickly learned that alongside the initial tasks that come with starting any new role, there was also the unspoken assignment that everyone forgot to mention - learn the local language.

My first day in the office was like my first day in a new country. Decoding the jargon and acronyms that were being thrown around in team meetings and in emails was an endless challenge. What was the ‘national press’ and why did it differ to ‘trade press’? Who was KPI, and why were we hitting him?! And when I agreed to my first ‘sell-in’ to pitch a story, I thought it would be something much more complex than making a round of calls to journalists trying to get them to write an article.

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I was told to look through the ‘media list’ which was far more than just a list of names. It was actually a carefully constructed list of journalists specific to this story. In Cision’s 2019 State of the Media report, 75% of journalists said that fewer than 25% of the pitches they receive are relevant. The subtle targeting of the list is actually what leads to the possible success of the story.

My first sell-in taught me that jargon is also used when communicating with journalists. A quick Google search of the word ‘embargo’ showed me it was all about the banning of ships leaving and entering a port – something I swiftly learnt was not relevant to my news story. Instead, the journalist was simply asking for the date the story could be published. Now, how serious the consequences are of the embargo being broken; I still don’t know - could we sue?

Nine months down the line, I understand how it’s so easy to slip into the routine of using jargon. It may be 1.75 seconds quicker to ask if a project is needed by ‘COP’ today. But are these 1.75 seconds really needed?


The PR veteran – Sarah Evans, Consultant

I hate jargon, I find it confusing and isolating. But sadly, I’ve come to realise that jargon is not that easy to avoid.

PR has its own jargon which can lure you into a false sense of security as you pretend to sound super smart as you bang on about ‘engagement plans’ and ‘toolkits’; when really all I mean is ‘ways to get people interested in the story’ or ‘what talking points to remember’.

Our job as communicators is to make sure our audience understand what we are talking about. For example, it’s being able to explain the difference between the online TV show “The Fox Problem” and the physical ‘fox problem’, of urban foxes causing chaos in cities - a valuable lesson I learnt as a young AE that I’d rather not go in to! The point is, we need to get our message across clearly and effectively, but that can be made all the more difficult when you’re also navigating your way through a jargon minefield. Is the interview going to take place ‘DTL’, will it be a ‘pre-rec’, will I need to give them an ‘off-the-record’ briefing etc? But before we even get to the pitching stage, as consultants we need to make sure our clients understand what our recommendations are.

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Often, our client contact will be the in-house comms lead, who has as much, if not more, PR experience as we do, but that’s not always the case. Our day-to-day contact is not always someone who has a history in PR and therefore may not necessarily understand things that we would consider the basics. We can never assume they know the difference between an ‘exclusive’ or ‘general release’ nor the importance of an embargo or a briefing doc vs a briefing event. The last thing you need is to confuse your client more by sending them an email asking if they’re free for a ‘DTL’, ‘pre-rec’ interview and if they could please let you know by ‘COP’ as the opportunity aligns with the existing ‘LTDP’.  When you indulge in too much jargon, it can be a dangerous game to assume your client always knows what you’re talking about.

Being surrounded by jargon means it can be difficult to escape it but working with interns and people who are new to PR is a great way to challenge yourself and pull yourself out of the PR jargon pit. For me, I think it makes me a better communicator. It forces me to take ownership of the language I use and to not hide behind a jargonistic veil. It challenges me to think about what other words I can use to describe what I’m doing and take the time to explain what I really mean when I talk about a ‘media strategy’ and what goes into it.

Not all jargon is bad, and I would argue that some of it is necessary and can even be a bit fun - ‘Prush’, anyone? AKA the PR adrenaline rush that comes with landing a piece of coverage, for those of you who were wondering…

But I do think it’s important you are aware of what words you choose and don’t just use jargon for the sake of trying to sound smart, because more often than not it will have the opposite effect.



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So, here’s our jargon buster for old hands and newbies alike…

Briefing doc: A document designed to prepare the client ahead of an interview which usually contains the objectives of the interview, the suggested talking points and some likely questions.

Briefing event: An event that is arranged to brief people on a piece of research, or policy ask that the client is promoting.

COP: Close of play AKA end of the day (something I discovered was not that well known, after I received a very confused email back from a client one afternoon)

DTL: Down the line (NB, most definitely not to be confused with DTF)

Embargo: A date by which a press release or statement can be made public

Engagement Plan: This document usually contains story ideas and suggestions for how to get the media, politicians or other relevant groups and individuals interested in the work your client is doing.

EOW: End of week (again, not something that well known, which was also only realised after I received another confused email back from a client)

Exclusive: When a story is offered to one particular journalist or publication ahead of anyone else.

  • Pros: It is (almost) guaranteed coverage.

  • Cons: It can result in other publications not wanting to cover it.  

General release: When a story is sent to numerous publications and journalists at the same time, to encourage as much coverage and publicity as possible.

KPI: Key performance indicators. Targets which are set at the beginning of a campaign, for example achieving one MP meeting per month or securing one piece of national coverage per month.

LTDP: Long term delivery plan

Media list: Usually an excel sheet that contains suggested journalists to contact for a particular story.

National press: Media publications or outlets that are available across the country. For example, the ITV, The Guardian or BBC Radio 4.

The Noddies: Filming a presenter nodding along to questions a producer has actually asked earlier.  

OB: Outside broadcast (as in recording something physically outside)

Off the record: Sharing information with a journalist that they are not allowed to publish or attribute to the source.

On background: Sharing information with a journalist that they are allowed to publish but not attribute to the source.

Pitch: The ‘sales’ process of suggesting or offering a story to a journalist on the phone or in an email.

Pre-rec: Pre-recorded interview

Prush: PR adrenaline rush. The feeling PR people get when a piece of coverage lands, or when a journalist has agreed to cover your story after you have been pitching for hours/days.

Sell-in: The process of calling and emailing journalists to encourage them to cover your story.

Toolkit: The document that contains the key talking points for a campaign and all additional information, for example sources of information and background context/thinking.

Trade press: The media outlets that are subject specific, for example they only cover stories that are about printing or dogs or property law, for example.





So the European Elections are all over, and I have good news for you. Your side has won. Whichever side you are on. If you just add A+B to C and forget about D then quite clearly there is a majority for whatever your preferred outcome is. Remainers and Leavers can both rejoice...

Joking aside, now that the dust has settled, one of our resident election nerds Researcher Mike Hough digests the results; who had a good night; what happens next and whether we can really read anything into the results.



Firstly we have to start with Nige and his shiny new party. The Brexit Party topped the poll with 32% and finished highest in nine of the twelve regions. For the second consecutive European elections, Farage has won. Not bad for a party that was only officially set up six weeks ago. Their strong performance will have worried both Tory and Labour headquarters. Good job there isn’t a tight by-election coming up in a Brexit facing seat anytime soon. We’re looking at you this Thursday Peterborough.

The #LibDemfightback is now a very real thing. Coming fresh off successful local elections, the Lib Dems finished second securing an impressive 20% of the vote. They even beat the Labour Party in London. The Lib Dems have successfully managed to position themselves as the main outlet for frustrated Remainers. Despite this (Vince also resigned on Friday, but if you blinked you probably missed it!), the prospect of further growth is tantalising and will likely dominate their forthcoming leadership contest. It is no wonder the Lib Dems feel like they are back.

Lastly, it was a good night for the independence leaning parties in Scotland and Wales. The SNP scooped up a substantial 38%; a big increase on their performance in 2014. With continued talk of an imminent new independence referendum, the SNP’s momentum shows no sign of fading. In Wales, Plaid Cymru has been enjoying something of a recent revival. Despite finishing behind the Brexit Party, Plaid successfully outpolled Labour. Don’t underestimate how much of a big deal this is for Welsh politics. No Welsh independence referendum looks likely, but all routes to  Labour electoral victory run through Wales and this is looking less and less probable..



It is crucial to avoid drawing too wide a conclusion from the Euro Election results. Not too much. Turnout was only 37.6%. Fewer than two in five turned out to vote, compared to the 68.8% turnout at the General Election and the 72.2% turnout at the EU referendum. To many voters, it was seen as a free hit so trying to extrapolate what would happen at a future election or referendum from these results is not sensible. But most pundits had a go anyway.

One conclusion we would draw is that these results show a country that remains polarised. Yes, that polarised word again. The success of the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems and their differing positions show both Remainers and Leavers continue to be passionate about their cause. The results also indicate that adopting a strong position, be it a No-deal Brexit or a second referendum is electorally fruitful. Constructive ambiguity is no longer the way forward. Expect both Labour and the Tories to take note.



The immediate response from the Tories will be framed by their imminent leadership contest. At the time of writing we have 13 (yes, 13) runners and riders. With the haemorrhaging of the Tory vote to the Brexit Party, a lot of candidates will compete to sound the toughest on Brexit and leaving the EU (with honourable exception, Sam Gyimah). We expect that whoever the new Tory leader turns out to be will adopt a far tougher stance on Brexit and could even favour a No Deal (e.g Johnson, McVey, Raab). Quite whether this is feasible with the current parliamentary maths is another question.

In the shade from all this heat and light remain the Labour Party who had a disastrous night. Since the results have been counted the push from senior Labour figures has been for the party to take a stronger pro-Remain position. To date, Corbyn has held off but as more and more senior figures within his party publicly contemplate it, the pressure may become too great. It cannot become too long before Labour officially becomes an all-singing, all-dancing backer of another referendum. This will please Alistair Campbell, even if his expulsion from the Labour Party won’t. It may also signal the beginning of the end of Corbyn.

So, in conclusion? The Conservatives and Labour Party moving further apart. Divisions in Parliament likely to expand. No real decisive conclusion on the way forward. These election results indicate this debate is here to stay. There will be no Brexit reprieve. And yes we are still going to be talking about Brexit for the foreseeable future. Ultimately more of the same. Sorry!


Changing of the Guard?


Changing of the Guard?

John Humphrys, the long-standing, no-nonsense host of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, announced his departure from the show back in February. Whether you love him, hate him, or love to hate him, Humphrys is about as experienced a journalist and interviewer as you’ll come across.

Since beginning his career, the world has been transformed and Humphrys has reported on his fair share of this change. Starting out as a junior reporter, he was first to reach the Aberfan disaster of 1966. As a foreign correspondent he reported Nixon’s resignation from the US and witnessed the creation of Zimbabwe. Beginning in 1986/87, Humphrys’ presenting of the Today Programme has spanned three decades.

Other than blowing a hole in the Today Programme’s line up, his departure (set for some time before the end of 2019) also highlights the media’s transformation over the past few decades. Likely the most widespread of these being the treatment of women in the media. Research Intern, Neil McAvoy, explores this change and what the future may hold.



While the first full-time, salaried female journalist on Fleet Street was Eliza Lynn Linton around 1860, (before women had even won the vote), women in media remained exceptions to the rule for a long time.

At the dawn of the 20th Century, Alex Harmsworth, original owner of the Daily Mirror, sought to break this trend by creating a paper “for gentlewomen by gentlewomen”. He attempted to do so by hiring a completely female team. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the beginning of a rosy future for women in print. Upon the paper’s mediocre performance, Harmsworth quickly went back on his decision, fired his newly acquired team of women, changed the focus of the paper and alleged, “women can't write and don't want to read”.

It was only during the latter half of the 20th Century that women found themselves more frequently able to enjoy a media career. Wartime participation in the workplace undeniably proved that women could, and the feminist movements of the 1960s helped ensure that women would. Yet progress proved slow and when Humphrys first entered a newsroom, women were the exception to the rule.

While improvements to the media’s Gender Pay Gap have been made in the past couple of years (see Vanessa’s blog to find out more), a distance remains between the sexes with men occupying 66% of senior roles in UK newspapers. Dishearteningly, research indicates the scales are being equalised at a painfully slow rate. As research by Women in Journalism demonstrates, this is especially true of front-page news. The average percentage of front-page stories written by women in June-July 2017 sat at 25%, only 2% above the 2012 average.

Unlike the arguments for low female representation within STEM careers, the same cannot be applied to journalism. A study by the European Journalism Observatory demonstrates that more women than men go on to study journalism in the UK. The culture of the newsroom seems to be where the problem begins.


Representation is also not the only challenge. Many women have had to fight to secure equal pay (some still are). A notable example being Carrie Gracie, ex-BBC China Editor. Gracie later described her fight for equal pay within the BBC as being worse than her battle with breast cancer. The jokes Humphrys was recorded making about Gracie’s resignation served to highlight the old school culture of the media warring against the new and demonstrated Humphrys’ allegiance within the former.

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Not only do women not making the front-pages as frequently or achieve similar levels of pay as their male counterparts, they also don’t get the opportunity to cover the same stories. Male reporters were almost always allocated the ‘hard’ news stories (such as politics, foreign affairs, terror attacks and disasters) while women predominantly wrote stories in ‘softer’ areas (royalty, showbusiness and health). The below charts released by Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab illustrate this disparity in the UK. The extent to when this is a personal choice or an editorial decision is hard to determine.

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One consequence of this disparity is the way women are represented in media coverage. For a long time, the media objectified women, an unfair and unhealthy trait highlighted in Leveson's 2012 report. The removal of page 3 in the Sun in 2015 could have been a particularly powerful advert for cultural change, had they not reinstated it a week later for a one-off, special edition! While dramatic improvements have been made, this ugly characteristic of the UK’s media still lurks in some outlets, albeit less overtly – you only have to look at the Mail’s reporting of Theresa May’s and Nicola Sturgeon’s legs.

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At least on a visible level, there has been a changing of the guard and the upper echelons of the media now boast an impressive roster of women. Back in 2015, Nick Robinson left his position as the BBC’s Political Editor and Laura Kuenssberg became the first woman to hold the position. Faisal Islam recently did the same to make way for Beth Rigby as Sky News’ Political Editor. Paxman left Newsnight a few years ago to eventually be replaced by Emily Maitlis. When Dimbleby from Question Time Fiona Bruce won the sought-after job. As the below picture demonstrates even the most unequal of ecosystems within the media, the Westminster Lobby, is experiencing improved levels of female representation.


While individual high-profile positions are now occupied by women, it would be lazy to infer that that the entire media had equalised opportunity between the sexes. Does the emergence of an extremely ‘visible’ frontline merely show media organisations to have reacted to social pressure and provided ‘good optics’? The number of female newspaper editors, for example, remains shamefully low and suggests so.

Media organisations should also recognise the self-serving importance of focusing on enhancing diversity, in all its forms, throughout their ranks. In an ever more diverse society living through the golden age of content, consumers of media are likely to leave mainstream outlets in droves if they perceive their voice not to be represented. Outlets like gal-dem, an online and print magazine written by women and non-binary people of colour, have proven they can be successful for this precise reason.

Motives aside, it is plainly a benefit that women are increasingly able to succeed within the upper echelons of the broadcast media. While there’s uncertainty surrounding who Humphry’s replacement will be, it would be odd for the BBC to not attempt to enhance diversity on its journalistic frontline. Yet, while it’s a healthy change from the near all white, male dominated line-ups of the past, more needs to be achieved throughout the industry. Due to its visibility and influence (it literally sets the tone) the media may represent one of the most critical industries to achieve such diversity within.


Your Atlas Guide to the Tory Leadership Contest


Your Atlas Guide to the Tory Leadership Contest

With the Tory leadership contest now in full swing, colleagues Sophia Stileman (a hard-Brexiteer) and Neil McAvoy (a passionate Remainer) have joined forces to provide you with all the balance and insight you’ll ever need on the runners and riders - ranked here in order of their current odds.

Boris Johnson 2/1

The ultimate marmite candidate and current front runner. Those who love him are drawn to his often jovial and amusing demeanour. Others find his assertions often baseless and clumsy, presented through unnecessarily flamboyant language disguising either true meaning or a complete lack of meaning.

So what are his chances of winning? Thinking suggests that if Johnson makes it to the final two, he stands the best chance of becoming PM. But while he’s popular with the membership, many Tory MPs are not so sure. The crucial factor for Boris is the length of the leadership contest: with over a month to go, there is time for a typical ‘Boris’ shaped scandal to emerge, and another dark horse to win the prize. The latest obstacle is a mandatory court appearance over the famous slightly dodgy number crunching that led to the £350m bus campaign. But can this (or literally anything) stop the political force that is BoJo, or has it even worked in his favour?

Michael Gove 3/1

Unlike many of his colleagues, Gove does get the job done and is an extremely active politician. His time in DfE and DEFRA have each been marked by substantial change. From shaking up marking procedure in the education system to making lofty environmental promises ranging from air pollution to microbeads, Gove has always been an active innovator (for better or worse!).  

It might look like Gove has largely been forgiven for stabbing Boris in the back during the last leadership contest all those years ago in 2016. While his politics aren’t everyone’s flavour, he’s capable, effective and statesmanlike when he needs to be. As mentioned, he’s also no stranger to innovation. He still holds water with some ‘true’ Brexiteers in the party (although many classify him as a sell-out for voting for May’s Withdrawal Agreement) and hasn’t acted so destructively as to mar his relationship with more moderate conservatives. This ability to reach across his own party may be the key to his success.

Dominic Raab 6/1

Backed by wealthy Tory donors and a number of influential MPs including David Davis and Maria Miller, #ReadyforRaab is certainly gaining momentum. However, his identity as a ‘true’ Leaver is arguably too closely linked to Boris – both ‘hard’ Brexiteers with economically conservative and somewhat socially liberal ideals behind them. He’s often regarded as the more credible Brexiteer, with social mobility at the heart of his campaign to become the next PM.

His critics point to his track record as the shortest serving Brexit Secretary of the bunch, Raab’s tenure was either a heroic endeavour to secure a style of Brexit he wanted or a wake-up call that it was never possible. For an ex-international lawyer, Raab’s knowledge of geography, or at least his knowledge of the Dover-Calais crossing, could certainly use some refining.

Andrea Leadsom 8/1

Leadsom famously drew criticism in the last leadership contest for claiming in a Times interview that she’d make a better PM than May because, wait for it… she’s a mother. Already the claws have come out, as she turned on the soon to be former PM, suggesting that we would have already left the EU had she won in 2016. Motherhood powers and all that. In all seriousness, the Leader of the Commons stands a good chance, with prominent backbench support. Whether or not she can shake off past controversy and present a rejuvenated image is the big question.

Regardless, what MPs from across the house likely won’t forget of her tenure as Leader of the Commons were her concerted efforts to prevent and rectify bullying and harassment within parliament, even standing up against the speaker in the most public of ways.

Rory Stewart 14/1

Atlas Director Charlie’s former school fencing teammate wasted little time following his appointment as International Development Secretary in announcing his bid to be the next Tory leader. Nobody can accuse him of being a career politician, having tutored members of the Royal Family and advised Obama on foreign policy, not to mention the fact that Orlando Bloom was lined up to play Rory in a film of his life in 2008. Or has all of it just been a fevered opium dream?

Team #Stewart4Stewardship is picking up momentum daily, with Tory centrists welcoming his commitment to compromise and find a way forward through Brexit without turning to the political extremes of No Deal or a People’s Vote. He’s spent this week popping up in public places, asking to be debated, prompting some hilarious tweets. Regardless, his common sense approach and engagement with the public is a welcome breath of fresh air. Fun fact: did you know his name is actually Roderick? Meaning we may be looking at Prime Minister Rod Stewart in the near future. He’s certainly given us a Reason To Believe.

Jeremy Hunt 16/1

Jeremy Hunt was very unpopular as Health Secretary with the medical establishment, but his odds on winning a Tory leadership contest aren’t quite so dire. A ‘converted’ (soft) Brexiteer, he’s seen by many as a credible alternative to the hard-Leavers of Boris and Dom. He could appeal to both sides of the Tory Party and he has, as Foreign Secretary, come across as sensible and measured; a feat not all that impressive or surprising in contrast to the record of his predecessor. He could well be a surprise candidate to watch out for coming through the middle, although he is seen as a bit ‘continuity May’ which will not be well received by many in the Tory party.

Sajid Javid 25/1

While often uninspiring, it’s safe to say that Javid, or ‘The Saj’ as we hear he prefers, has a big ego and lofty ambitions. Like Hunt, having been a ‘reluctant remainer’, Javid has similarly, dutifully converted to religion of Leave. A tactical move for someone looking to shore up support within both the party and the membership.

While his record in the Home Office hasn’t yet been subject to any real controversy, it also hasn’t been all that noteworthy. No matter his ego, this is likely exactly how ‘The Saj’s’ leadership campaign will go. His first campaign video had us all cringing. The question is, are you #AvidForJavid?

Matt Hancock 33/1

The leading One Nation representative of the group, Hancock is hoping to heal the nation’s deep divides and constitutional crisis through being “a leader for the future, not just for now” and promising the “bright future we must build for Britain”. Could he be the centrist voice the Tories need, or is this just meaningless waffle?

That being said, his record as DCMS Secretary is widely admired across the board, with a great track record on tech investment, and a fervor for digitalisation. We might even all download the Matt Hancock App now. But has someone told him that he won’t be able to digitalise Brexit.... or will he?

Esther McVey 50/1

The former work and pensions Minister has is one of only two women standing in this race. So far she’s welcomed a ‘no deal’ Brexit and committed to more police funding: welcome policies with the Tory grassroots but not enough to really carve out her own identity and form a distinct campaign in a very overcrowded race. In a battle fought almost purely along Brexit battle lines, her commitment to a hard-Brexit won’t be enough to win over voters. She only has five parliamentary supporters so far, and one of them is her fiancé Philip Davies.

If McVey was to progress to the later stages of the race, her views (backwards to many) would be placed under increased scrutiny. Her recent comments on LGBT lessons in schools have already attracted significant scrutiny and it’s very likely that there will only be more instances of this the longer McVey remains so visibly in the public eye.

Mark Harper 100/1

Don’t worry, we had to Google him too. Just in case you can’t be bothered, he’s enjoyed a number of ministerial positions since 2005 and most recently served as David Cameron’s Chief Whip between 2015 and 2016. It seems unlikely that even he believes he can win.

Sam Gyimah 200/1

The latest candidate to announce he’s running for leadership, but the only one to publicly back a second referendum. He’s clearly hoping to capitalise on the parliamentary Remain wing of the Conservative Party, but he would be defeated heavily when faced with the Leave-supporting membership.

James Cleverly 33/1 (withdrawn 4th June 2019)

A relatively fresh faced Brexit Minister, James Cleverly sadly has just one MP supporting him (Colin Clark...yep, us neither). One of the more recent MPs of the group, the former Deputy Chair of the Tories has only been a parliamentarian since 2015.

However, we’re not convinced this is a serious bid to be the next Prime Minister of the UK as much as it’s a bid for a weighty cabinet position. That being said, he is definitely one to watch for the future as his no nonsense style and ability to talk ‘human’ make him an effective communicator.   

(04/06): Cleverly has withdrawn, citing that he is highly unlikely to be considered for the final two candidates.

Kit Malthouse 100/1 (withdrawn 4th June 2019)

To politicos his surname is most associated with the ‘Malthouse Compromise’, a doomed yet commendable attempt to bring the Tory party together during the most fractious period of Brexit votes. To much of the public, he’s a complete stranger. Potentially the least likely to win the race but at least a few more people might hear his name.

(04/06): Malthouse has withdrawn.

Odds are correct at time of publishing.


Mental Health – the Atlas way


Mental Health – the Atlas way

Nina Doehmel-Macdonald, Senior Consultant shares her thoughts on Atlas’ wellbeing policy during Mental Health Awareness Week…

One in four people will experience diagnosable mental health issues during the course of a year – that’s technically three people within Atlas alone. Mental health is a critical part of life and given that we spend more time with our colleagues than most other people in our lives, it’s astounding to think that mental health in the workplace is only just becoming part of public discourse.

We take mental health very seriously at Atlas – our wellbeing policy is not just a token gesture. Together, we have all undergone both Mental Health First Aid and mindfulness training so that we can best support each other and manage our own health. Our flexible working policy is a core part of our agency's culture and has enabled us to learn to drive, look for new flats, make time for doctor and dentist appointments, care for relatives in hospital and drop off kids at school. And of course, sometimes, things happen which mean spending a bit of time at home simply helps. We actively try and reduce the stigma around mental health and operate a metaphorical open door policy (metaphorical, as we have no doors!) – all of these points contribute to a better quality of life and work.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to wellbeing, which is part of the reason why Atlas also offers all employees a ‘Smile More/Save More’ budget to invest in an activity of their choosing – be it painting, language lessons or yoga, or putting the budget into a savings scheme. Along with eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising these activities all contribute to a healthy and happy life, and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my 32 years it’s that you have to find what works for you and stick to it. All. The. Time.

For those not personally affected by mental health issues, it’s more than likely you know someone who is, or will be in the future. It’s so, so important to talk about it so that others know that it’s okay to ask for help.  It may be Mental Health Awareness Week this week, but protecting and building our mental health needs to be a 24/7, 365 days a year thing.

Our mission is to be the happiest agency in London – and not just because it’s the woke thing to say. We firmly believe that a happy team results in great work, and great work means happy clients. At Atlas, we’ve pursued this model for almost four years, and we know it works. Our clients stay with us, refer us on to friends and colleagues or come back to us when they themselves change roles. Healthy, long term revenue streams mean we can reinvest back into the company and our staff, which has allowed us to recently launch a completely equal enhanced parental pay policy. The policy is on par with many of the biggest employers in the UK - something we are incredibly proud of.





As everyone’s favourite B word dominates the airwaves, behind the scenes the nitty-gritty of politics continues. And nothing is more nitty-gritty than local elections. On Thursday many voters in England will go to the polls to elect their local councillors. An event that may not have always captured the imagination, but could actually be quite exciting. Well, for some of us at least.

In this blog, researcher Mike Hough will discuss where the elections are taking place, what we should look out for and what it tells us about the bigger picture of politics.


So firstly where are these elections being fought? Pretty much everywhere in England, barring London. This means there will be elections in the Tory shires, elections in Labour heartlands and elections in key battleground regions.

And who is fighting them? Well, the usual suspects. The Tories, Labour, Lib Dems, the Greens and UKIP will all be contesting a number of the seats. The new kids on the block will not be making an appearance. Alas, the nascent Brexit Party and ChangeUK were not created soon enough to be allowed to put forward candidates. The Electoral Commission are such spoilsports.

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In total, there are 8,425 seats in play. The last time many of these seats were contested was in 2015 on the same day as the General Election. A pretty good day for the Tories. This means the Tories start from a high base and are defending 4,906 seats. This compares with 2,113 for Labour, 647 for the Lib Dems, 176 for UKIP and 71 for the Greens. It also means turnout then was much higher than anyone expects to see on Thursday.


The national mood and national politics is always relevant, which further suggests it will be a difficult night for the Tories. However, it is important to remember in local elections voters cast their vote for a number of different reasons. For some this is the best opportunity to register what they think about bin collections, potholes, police services, women’s refuge funding, libraries, the arts transport services, council tax and a wealth of other local political issues. Parties will be and are campaigning with this in mind. See Labour’s latest pledge to reverse cuts to 3,000 bus routes in England for example.



OK, so onto the actual results. Where could we see drama?


Brighton and Hove Council is fascinating, at least for the nerds amongst us. No party has had overall control of the council since 2003, and excitingly all council seats are in play on Thursday. The Tories are currently the largest party but both Labour and the Greens have a significant presence. If the national mood turns decisively against the Tories you would expect them to lose seats here. On a good night Labour would expect to do well and probably take control of the council. However, don’t rule out a strong performance from the Greens who have a solid local base.


Stoke is normally Labour land. Yet in 2017 on an otherwise bad night for the Tories they seized a parliamentary seat in Stoke South. The local council is now also no longer in Labour hands but is run by a coalition of Conservatives and City Independents. Labour would expect to make gains on Thursday. However there is a caveat, Stoke is also Brexit land. If Labour Brexiteers are angry with the party’s constructive ambiguity on the topic closest to their hearts we could see it play out in Stoke. Whether Labour can in pro-Brexit areas will be an interesting dynamic to monitor.


Last but not least, Bath and North East Somerset. The council was taken by the Conservatives in 2015, but this could now be under threat. The Conservative councillors will come under attack from all sides on Thursday especially from the Lib Dems as they have traditionally performed well here both at a council and a national level. If the Lib Dems are ever to realise their much promised #LibDem fightback they need to make gains here. Their aim is to win enough seats to ensure the council moves from Conservative control to No Overall Control. And if that isn’t a metaphor for the beleaguered leadership of Vince Cable I don’t know what is.


Prediction time. Drumroll please. So come Friday what will we all be talking about? We predict losses of upwards of 500 Tory councillors and more than 300 Labour gains. A good result for the Lib Dems with over 100 gains which will set the stage for Sir Vince’s much heralded exit and a forthcoming leadership contest. There should be considerable gains for the Greens as Sir David Attenborough, our carbon guilt and Extinction Rebellion have seen the environment climb back up the political agenda.

There is one final issue. Trust (you can read our wider views on trust here). Trust in our politics and politicians is at a low ebb. This is likely to materialise through voters staying away with turnout expected to fall from the already low 2018 numbers. So whilst we all dissect the results, it is important to remember most voters probably just won’t turn out which is something for all in politics to reflect upon.


So where will this leave politics when all is said and done? We think these local elections will capture the headlines for a day or two but then the story will move on. The narrative will return to Brexit and the European elections and their implications (examine our latest thoughts on the European elections here).

Yes, the elections will be another nail in the coffin for our depleted Prime Minister’s career. But no, it will not be the final one. Unfortunately Mrs May will have to suffer a few more wounds yet. So I suppose regardless of the results you might say nothing will change.


European elections: a 2nd Referendum or a waste of time?


European elections: a 2nd Referendum or a waste of time?

Few of us would have predicted at the start of the year that by the end of May we would be preparing ourselves for Euro elections in the UK. However bar a Brexit rabbit being pulled from the Prime Minister’s handbag, this is the direction we are heading in. Although Brenda from Bristol will no doubt be unimpressed, the potential implications of this surprising electoral event are rather significant. 

Low turnout, big impact.

The Brexit deadline extension to 31st October has meant that despite MPs returning this week to Parliament, things are pretty calm in Westminster. Apart from continuing speculation about when Theresa May will go and the dying-on-their-feet Government-Labour Brexit talks, the Euro election, with its new parties and wacky candidates are taking centre stage. The ensuing results may have real significance, chiefly influencing the future of Brexit. 

For an election traditionally viewed as a non-event that suffers from a poor turn-out, this is very much a change in mood. That is because the Euro elections are a high stakes poker game for both Leave and Remain to shift the tables and break the current deadlock in Westminster.

Remainers celebrated more than Brexiteers when Theresa May was forced to accept an extension to Brexit. The extra time heightened possibility of a 2nd Referendum. However, Remainers also need to be careful what they wish for.  The delay and therefore the likelihood of Euro elections has created an opportunity for Leavers to put the People’s Vote arguments to bed once and for all.

What the polls say

We all know polls can be unreliable barometers of future voting intention, but if they are to be believed then Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party will be the big winners in these Euro elections.  The Times’ Red Box showed the latest YouGov polling on Euro voting intentions in a handy Leave v Remain v Lab v Tory format. It is early days and only one poll, but what it does show is that there is a very good chance that if you include the Conservative vote as broadly ‘Leave-supporting’ then Leave-supporting parties are on course to win the highest percentage of the vote on 23rd May.

A combined Brexit Party, UKIP and Tory vote would gain 46% of the vote, and a combined LD, Green, SNP/Plaid and ChangeUK vote, 32% of the vote. The great enigma in this is Labour who, are on 22%.

Labour is simultaneously committed to a 2nd Referendum but ultimately still in favour of Brexit (as even arch-Remainer Andrew Adonis has been forced to concede). A sizeable proportion of the Labour vote is pro-Brexit as opposed to the membership which is overwhelmingly pro-Remain. As the only party on the ballot without a firm anti- or pro- Brexit position, on this occasion their vote is essentially neutral and they may see a big dip in support in comparison to previous elections.


People’s Vote proxy?

So the question is, come Euro election results day on Sunday 26th May, will a majority for Leave-supporting parties ensure Brexiteers can claim that Britain is still in favour of Brexit and go so far as to suggest that it negates the need for a 2nd Referendum? Given how important motivation and media air time are, and that the more representative EU voting system favours small/emerging parties, I think that it probably will. If the margin is significant between the two sides, then the call to treat the Euro polls as proxy for a 2nd referendum will become deafening. After all, it’s not like the Euro elections are about anything else except Brexit.

To date both sides have been reluctant to discuss this thought, for obvious reasons. As the 2017 election demonstrated, big early polling leads can rapidly disappear. The flip side is, of course, also true. If Labour comes out firmly in favour of a 2nd Referendum and the combined percentage of the Remain parties wins the day then the calls for a 2nd Referendum or even a revocation of Article 50 will be loud too. But those are bigger ‘ifs’.

Either way, much as we are enjoying the revelation of d-list celebrity names of Euro candidates on both sides, the vote is actually far more important than perhaps realised. This has not been lost on senior campaigners and when I put this thesis to a senior Eurosceptic Cabinet Minister recently, his view was ‘100%’ the results of the vote will be used as a 2nd Referendum. There is no doubt that after the 26th May the shape of the Brexit argument will have been fundamentally realigned and perhaps decisively in one direction or another.


Trump: the 2020 election and why he’s here to stay


Trump: the 2020 election and why he’s here to stay

I can still hear the faint not my president chant ringing through the streets of towns across America following the election of Donald Trump three years ago. It shook up the nation and politics generally, with ramifications across the globe. For many of the disappointed, it was a matter of holding tight before he would no doubt be rejected in 2020. Or even better, he’d be impeached before the next election even took place.

But let me tell you now: The Donald isn’t going anywhere. While he’s failed to broaden his base beyond his immediate supporters, history is on his side. The economy is doing well, unemployment is down, and he’s got more in the bank than any other past incumbent president at this stage in the campaign trail: all of which are key indicators of upcoming success. Let’s take a closer look.

It’s the economy, stupid

Very rarely has an incumbent presidential candidate gone on to win a second term when the economy is in decline. And fortunately for Donald, the US economy is very much on the up, and most importantly, in the right places. Given Trump has made few new friends, the key question for 2020 will be whether he has retained his old ones.

Here the economies of the rural, ‘forgotten’ states are significant, and they have boomed. Earlier this year it was reported that 10 states hit their lowest rates of unemployment in their histories: Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin. Nine out of ten of these states voted for Trump. White men without degrees have experienced a 3.1% wage raise over the past two years, 1.5% for black men, 1.7% for white women, and 0.6% for black women.

But is this enough? As Thomas Edsall pointed out in his excellent most recent New York Times piece where he reveals these statistics, these were the same economic conditions under which Democrats reclaimed the House last November in the midterm elections.

Money talks

As the famous political philosophers ABBA once said: “it’s a rich man’s world”. Nowhere is this truer than in US elections. Not only will the successful candidate rack up hundreds of thousands of airmiles travelling across states, they need to fund cripplingly expensive ad campaigns. The price of victory ($400 million). Ads are the most significant expense for any campaign, with more than 70% of Obama’s re-election campaign expenses and 55% of Mitt Romney’s being spent on them. Literally billions of dollars are spent during election season, and nobody is better prepared for this than Trump.

The US President has already raised a whopping $30 million in the first quarter of 2019, more than both of his Democratic rivals combined. We’re still more than 18 months away from the ballot box and already the Trump campaign has spent nearly $11 million on Facebook ads since May 2018, running more than 190,000. By contrast, Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign had less than $2 million at this point in the election.

So is he really here to stay?

Before you all get too depressed, we do have to remember The Donald is nothing if not unpredictable. While campaign finance and the state of the economy are traditionally reliable indicators for the success of an incumbent president, we should know better than to rely on precedent and predictions from past elections.

Indeed, one of the reasons Trump was elected was that he represented change. Americans were bored of the same candidates (and dynasties) running the country and wanted an outsider. But Trump can’t claim this in 2020. He isn’t change anymore, he’s the incumbent.

With the full Mueller report released today fully clearing Trump of collusion with Russia, the reality of a second term feels a real possibility. For all the shiny videos emerging of Democrat candidates now pledging to change America, the cold facts remain that they lack the clear advantages Trump possesses ahead of 2020.

Sophia Stileman, Researcher


“Lies, damn lies and statistics” and the gender pay gap


“Lies, damn lies and statistics” and the gender pay gap

When I talk to my dad about the gender pay gap, this is his go-to phrase. Falsely attributed to Disraeli, popularised by Mark Twain, the expression was originally coined by radical liberal Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke in 1891, or possibly not.

According to last week’s second annual publication deadline, 78% of firms pay men more than women. And yet my dad will insist there is no such thing as the gender pay gap. It is a statistical creation, a false metric that allows women to feel hard done by. He will go on to argue that the only form of discrimination is income inequality and, while that has been dramatically widening (he worries) it does not affect women more than men.

My dad is rarely wrong. But on this one he is suffering from a particularly acute case of white male unthinking, deriving his opinion from his own perception (a world where his wife and daughter are treated and valued entirely equally, and his mother and grandmother called all the shots). He assumes his experience is a truth that should be universally acknowledged.

When I commented on Helena Morrissey’s excellent post about the GPG on LinkedIn the response was less polite than the debates my dad and I have… John K from San Diego asked “what about the societal expectation that men should work hard and provide for their families, die younger, perform the dangerous jobs? Shove it sweetheart, we ain’t buying your misandrist crap any more. You and your screeching fellow man hating harpies have ruined the narrative.” Which is something of a surprise to read on a professional networking site. Although it turns out that John is not alone, depressingly nearly half (46%) of American men believe that the gender pay gap is made up for political purposes.

Trolling aside, just because it is a crude metric, doesn’t mean it cannot tell us something meaningful and powerful. What it does not tell us is that women are paid less than their peers. Nor does it tell us that “women should just be more confident and ask for a pay rise” (again my dad). My mum once met my old boss, whereupon he launched into a volley of praise for my performance at work. “Don’t clap, throw money” was her zinging response. She and I, and in fact women in general, don’t have a problem asking for more money. The research shows we are simply less likely to get a positive response to that ask.

Of the 9,961 companies which had filed by 5pm on 4 April, 44% had improved or narrowed their pay gap. On the flipside, 40% of reporting firms saw a growing or widening pay gap. This is not surprising considering that the data being reported is already a year old, so the plans published last year could not possibly have come into effect for this year’s data. Some commentators have suggested those with “good news” to tell should be scrutinised for potentially gaming the system. Whereas those whose gaps have got wider might be investing in the future by hiring lots of young, lower paid women, who will eventually make their way through the ranks.


The great Brexit distraction

So now that we have had a chance to review the numbers published last week, what have we learned?

Last year, we predicted that worsening numbers would drive the biggest headlines ahead of the second anniversary. This proved to be the case for HSBC, KPMG and EasyJet, but the biggest difference was actually in the volume of coverage. If like us you have been trying to engage journalists in any story at all over recent months, or simply regularly consume the news, you will know why: Brexit is dominating the agenda to the exclusion of all else.

In March 2018, 7,375 UK stories ran with “Pay Gap” in their title, in March 2019 there were just 1,280, an 80% reduction in media coverage. There was more of a focus on specific sectors, with health, universities and financial services driving the biggest stories.

The outraged scrutiny of the BBC’s gender pay gap looks somewhat hypocritical when you compare their numbers to the rest of the media industry.

The outraged scrutiny of the BBC’s gender pay gap looks somewhat hypocritical when you compare their numbers to the rest of the media industry.

Media companies themselves also had to report on their gender pay gaps, but funnily enough those didn’t drive too many headlines. Two years in a row the BBC actually had the second smallest gender pay gap in the sector, not that you’d know it.

The most improved award goes to the Daily Express who narrowed their median gap from 19 to 14.6 per cent. Hats off to Press Association for demonstrating that a pay gap in the media is not inevitable.


Call in the spin doctors?

If transparency leads to bad headlines, who do you call? As we highlighted last year, not all spin doctors are equal when it comes to equality. Very few PR consultancies are required to publish their gap, only 4% of PRCA member firms are large enough that they fall under the regulations. However, the last PRCA Census showed that between 2016 and 2018, the gender pay gap actually increased in the PR industry, growing from 17.8% to 21%. So what credentials can you look for in an advisor?

Well, walking the walk is a start. And the picture here is as murky as the national one. FTI Consulting, reported the largest pay gap, at 32.2 per cent median. But put this down to “providing services beyond PR that are historically male-dominated”. Edelman’s gap last year was 10% and their rhetoric was frankly rubbish, so it’s no surprise so see their gap widen to 13.4%, worse still their bonus pay gap has gone up from 44% to 73%.

As with media, a pay gap in PR is not inevitable. We are a small firm of just 12 so our numbers are easily skewed by individuals, but our median pay gap is 24% in favour of women, up from 5.6% last year. The median gender pay gap at Golin has risen to 7.7 per cent in favour of women, up from 4.6 per cent last year. The same is true for Hill and Knowlton, in 2018 they reported a 3.9% median gap in favour of men, this year that has switched to a 2.36% gap in favour of women.


Reputation vs productivity

So spin doctors may or may not be able to help you with a reputation challenge from the gender pay gap. But what is sad is that this is definitely the box it seems to fall into in the minds of management. We should be investing in diversity to make our businesses more productive – not simply to look equal.  As Harvard Business Review explains diverse teams are more likely to re-examine facts and remain objective. They encourage greater scrutiny of each member’s actions, keeping their joint cognitive resources sharp and vigilant, thereby reducing risk. Hiring people who do not look, talk, or think like you, may feel less comfortable but it means you avoid the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovation. Time and again studies find that equality is good for business performance, but we still don’t act like we believe those findings.


No plan, no action?

Many firms did not publish a plan of action alongside their numbers, which means we shouldn’t expect to see meaningful progress any time soon. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) - which enforces the gender pay gap rules - said that forcing companies to report their pay gaps was not enough to eliminate pay disparities.

On a more personal level, this isn’t a ‘girls job’ to fix, and it is illusory to think that the argument should only be concerned with women’s choice over their lifestyles. As men become more aware of the problem, having to collect and address the stark facts, they too can help as powerful agents for change.

Part of the future of Pay Gap reporting needs to be concerned with the workplace stereotypes that remain frustratingly persistent. As I wrote last week, some of this is about a parenting penalty at work. But it starts even before childcare becomes an issue, according to the Government’s graduate earnings survey, men earn more than women at all stages in the decade after graduation, with male earnings 8% higher after just one year, 15% after five years and 31% higher at 10 years after graduation.

The same unhelpful gender stereotypes that teach girls to be polite and helpful, not pushy or bossy, also teach boys not to cry. These attitudes and behaviours should not be overlooked when searching for solutions, meaning a focus on mental health support at work and shared parental leave for male managers are just as important as affordable childcare and negotiation skills for women in the executive pipeline.

If you need help planning for gender pay gap 2020 – we’d love to hear from you.





Well where to begin. It certainly has been an exciting week. Tottenham have finally moved into their new stadium. Harry and Meghan have broken a record by reaching one million followers on their newly launched Instagram account. New adverts have been released for the last series of Game of Thrones. Oh and Parliament has continued to talk about Brexit.

Yes, the B word. Now if your mood is anything like ours it would be fair to say you are probably suffering from Brexit fatigue. And we are the political nerds. The bad news is there does not appear to be an immediate end in sight. Researcher Mike Hough looks at what the future may hold and whether there will ever be a time when we do not talk about Brexit.


The best we can probably say is [Add strong insight here.] Of course I’m kidding but this does rather sum up where we are at with Brexit. Parliament has continued to clarify what they don’t want without expressly saying what they do want. No to No Deal, No to revocation, No to the PM’s deal, No to a customs union, No to a second referendum. Some more resounding than others.

In an attempt to break the deadlock the Prime Minister this week invited Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for talks. To say this has gone down badly with Tory backbenchers is an understatement. The brave loyal band of ERGers have been sharpening their knives. Ministers have resigned. Yet the world has not come to an end. Of course, conversations may fail to bear fruit. Despite the reaction what our politicians should know is that the public actually like our politicians working together. With a 52:48 result, compromise was always a necessity rather than a luxury.


Initially, more talks. And then probably some more talks. Likely followed by even more posturing. Both sides competing to use the most ridiculous and unhelpful language. However, at some stage Parliament will have to make a decision. In a Bill passed in just one day on Thursday in the Commons, Parliament ordered the PM to seek a further extension. But then what? All competing sides in the UK political sphere will have to compromise. Yes the dirty C word again. This compromise could look like a softer Brexit (whatever that means), a confirmatory referendum or a combination of both.

We have a tendency to forget one fairly important player in this debate. The EU. Any request for a further extension will have to be agreed by the EU. The Prime Minister has requested an extension until 30th June yet the EU appears to favour a longer extension. All will be decided at a special EU summit next week. Power is in their hands. Which given Parliament’s inability to reach a decision may be viewed as a relief by those on the remain side.

Donald Tusk.jpg


You will be glad to know I have conducted detailed market research on this question. Thus rendering any future democratic exercise meaningless. I jest, but I did ask the office. Whilst there are currently 19 different options on our sweepstake of wild predictions the consensus view was that the UK will most likely face a long extension. In this extension period we consider it likely there will be a further democratic exercise; a General Election or a confirmatory referendum. In this period we will also probably have a new Prime Minister.

But this is just a guess (hopefully an educated one!). In reality, your guess is as good as ours. No situation is simple here and all come with challenges. No-one on either side of this debate is likely to end up satisfied. Our office Brexiteer and People’s Voter are united in horror (if not on much else!). This whole situation has not been handled well and questions have to be asked about all parts of the process. The 20:20 hindsight of commentators wise after the event is already creeping in.


Whilst all this is ongoing we shouldn’t forget there are other issues of political significance. The Gender Pay Gap (read our latest blog here), schools funding, the NHS and an ageing population, the regeneration of our most deprived towns and cities, the police and knife-crime. These are really serious issues and they are not getting the airtime they deserve. They should not be an after-thought to the Brexit conversation.

Anyway, let’s try to end on a positive note. There are good things happening as well. Happiness is at an all-time high. Technological and medical developments continue to astound. The sun is shining (at least some of the time!). Politics has engaged a greater number of young people. And despite the present discord in the words of the late Jo Cox MP, “there is far more that unites us than divides us”.

I know it doesn’t feel like it, but this won’t go on forever. We will move on. And yes, regardless of how this ends and what side of the argument you are on the future is bright. Well brightish!


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.

[1] https://www.olympic.org/news/women-in-sport-where-are-we-with-gender-equality-today

[2] https://www.womenssporttrust.com/there-is-a-real-and-growing-demand-for-more-womens-sport-in-the-uk/

[3] https://inews.co.uk/sport/football/alex-scott-sky-sports-pundit-super-sunday/

[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.