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Election

Could you back Boris?

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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.

PARLIAMENT

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.

Tory members.jpg

MAKING A DIFFERENCE AT HOME

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.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN BRUSSELS

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”.

ARE YOU CONVINCED?

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.

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

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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

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What can we learn from Facebook's last two weeks?

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What can we learn from Facebook's last two weeks?

A month on, and Facebook seems to have weathered the worst of the storm – their share price is recovering and the shareholders somewhat pacified. The twenty-four-hour news cycle has allowed the company to slip out of the limelight, with fewer voices now calling for Mark Zuckerberg to resign from his position as CEO.

Yet Facebook appears to still be struggling to grasp the implications of the Cambridge Analytica scandal on their reputation. Although he faced a congressional grilling, Mark Zuckerberg has refused to present himself before a committee looking into fake news and disinformation in the UK. Instead he sent his CTO who managed to not answer 40 questions. 

Yesterday, the chair of the committee Damian Collins MP issued an ultimatum; Zuckerberg can either present himself voluntarily to answer questions about Facebook’s role in the Brexit campaign, or he may face a summons next time he enters British territory (a rarely used parliamentary threat). Although the share price is recovering, it is still short of its pre-scandal value. Little has changed in the way Facebook handled the chain of events from a crisis communication perspective. The lessons are still valid and provide ample learning experiences.

When the news report dropped on March 17th that intelligence firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested and abused the data of 50 million Facebook users, you may have been forgiven for thinking that the announcement had hit Facebook almost out of the blue. This was not the case. The company had been warned as far back as 2014 that data gathered on their website was being manipulated – in this case, a Cambridge University researcher collected the personal information of 30 million users using an app, which he then sold to Cambridge Analytica. The leading journalist on the case, Carole Cadwalladr, had been writing on the issue for over 18 months.

Both The Observer and The New York Times warned Facebook on March 16th that they were preparing the report to go live the next day. The company was given twenty-four hours to prepare statements and get their story together. They responded by sending out legal letters and posting a blog explaining that this data leak did not technically constitute a “breach”, whilst kicking Cambridge Analytica off the site. It would be five days before Facebook leadership issued a response, by which point there had been numerous lawsuits, governmental inquiries, a #DeleteFacebook user boycott campaign, and a drop in share price that’s erased nearly $60 billion off the company’s market cap.

 

The first 120 hours

In the absence of a statement from Facebook, traditional and online media across the world continued to pile on the pressure. In the United Kingdom, The Financial Times published a hostile Long Read, whilst The Guardian created a special folder to scrutinise the ongoing fallout, titled The Cambridge Analytica Files. Online behemoths in the tech world such as WIRED and The Verge published critical pieces which were met with silence from the Facebook leadership team.

Zuckerberg then began a flurry of interviews with American media organizations, including CNNWiredThe New York Times, and Recode. Facebook also took out full page ads in the Sunday editions of the UK newspapers: The Observer, The Sunday Times, Mail on Sunday, Sunday Mirror, Sunday Express and Sunday Telegraph. In the US, the ads appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. The chief executive then had an interview with CNN that same Wednesday during which he publicly apologised for Facebook’s role in the scandal: “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry this happened,” he said in an interview on CNN. “Our responsibility now is to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Facebook apology ad.jpg

 

What lessons can we take away from this situation? 

Hindsight is 20:20. It was always going to be difficult to handle the immediate aftermath of having to tell your users that their private data had been used by shady intelligence firms after they signed up to play Farmville when they were fourteen. However, it didn’t have to be this difficult. A proportion of the blame sits with Facebook founder and leader Mark Zuckerberg. His first response took the form of a Facebook post, nearly a thousand words long, which did not include the word ‘sorry’.

 

Front up to it

Everyone makes mistakes. We are all human. Sometimes we break a wine glass, other times we swear in front of children, occasionally we misplace fifty million peoples’ confidential data. It took Facebook five days to field a senior spokesperson, which left a vacuum ripe for press speculation to build. Again, we will never know what events are going on internally at a company, but five days is too long. Get someone up there and make a statement – be empathetic even if you don’t have all the facts yet. This reassures customers and users that you acknowledge the issue and that you are proactively working on fixing it. Just make sure that statement is not a…

 

Non-apology

This new entrant in lexicology is becoming something of an art form – particularly for male celebrities. A sort of apology just doesn’t cut it. As we highlighted earlier, Mark Zuckerberg’s first response was a Facebook status of 937 words, none of which was the word ‘sorry’. The comment section on the post should tell you all you need to know about how this was received by the public, let alone shareholders and the media. When he did get around to apologising during a CNN interview and with full page adverts in the press, the impact was lost and it felt forced, as if he was doing it purely to protect his commercial interests. And finally..

 

Be prepared

Boy Scouts and Brownies learn this aged 10. Who knew this news was not new news at all? Facebook did. Journalists had been asking them for comment on these issues as long ago as 2010 yet Facebook was seemingly unprepared when the issue raised its head again. This should have triggered internal action to both renew the operational systems AND prepare for the next round of media enquiries. They were given a full twenty-four hours to scramble together some sort of statement before the news was broken, and they settled on an obtusely worded blog post. Worse, they seemed to imply they did not know about the breach until they were alerted to its existence by the press. This suggested Facebook did not have a grasp of its own security – a revelation almost as damaging as the leak itself. Whether any of that personal data was actually of any real use – let alone facilitated electoral success for Trump & Leave.EU is questionable. But the damage the story has done to Facebook’s reputation is undeniable.

 

Facebook stock.jpg

 

So what can you do?

Every organisation should have a risk register that covers everything and an escalation process in place for managing media inquiries. If you operate in a highly regulated market you should test those processes with regular training. The psychological impact of these drills for all your team – and especially your top spokespeople – can be huge. If you want help ensuring you are ready to face whatever reputation challenges come your way, do get in touch.

Find out how to view your Facebook data here, and how to alter your privacy settings here.

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