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Theresa May

Your Atlas Guide to the Tory Leadership Contest

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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.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Self-inflicted wounds…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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If only Brexit wasn't so, you know, Brexity...

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If only Brexit wasn't so, you know, Brexity...

Let’s exercise our imagination for a second. 

In an alternate universe, Theresa May is the champion of the consumer, defender of JAMs, and lynchpin of Conservative majority rule following a landslide victory in the 2017 General Election, where her “nothing has changed” campaign won advertising awards for its cut through, simplicity, and honesty. In this timeline, May’s agenda is in full swing: house building is on the up, tax avoidance is decreasing, and the UK is the fastest growing economy in the G7. Oh and, of course, Brexit hasn’t occurred (let’s skip over the fact Cameron and Osborne might still be around). 

Sounds like utopia?

Back to reality and the Prime Minister's initiatives to defend consumers from broken markets are side-lined, the JAMs (Just About Managing families) are forgotten – along with her dream team of Nick and Fiona – and her majority rule is dependent on thirteen unruly Northern Irish DUP MPs who seem to be the only people in Parliament enjoying themselves…

As the news and parliamentary agendas constantly remind us, Brexit is all consuming. It is not simply an innocent bystander in the log jam that is Government policy. It is the roadblock, stretching from Trafalgar Square to the end of Victoria Street, from Holyrood to the Senedd and over the sea to Stormont. No elected official or civil servant can escape it.

 

NO ESCAPE

May and her Cabinet are desperate for alternative news stories. Their agenda (I’ll let you know when I actually find out what it is) is being lost in the day-to-day in-fighting of what type of Brexit we might negotiate. Will it be hard, will it be soft? Will we be in the customs union, a customs union, or none at all. Never has the indefinite article carried more meaning. 

But amidst all this non-debate, a serious issue is growing. Domestic policy is languishing. The NHS is still experiencing its worst ever winter crisis; the number of homeless has reached 275,000, with over 4,500 rough sleepers nationwide (a 175% rise since 2010); and the standard of social care has reached critical levels as Councils fail to balance the books after 8-years of austerity. One Council had their budget deemed “unlawful” by their auditors earlier this year. 

Major infrastructure decisions such as on Crossrail 2, Heathrow, HS3 and the urgent repair work on the Houses of Parliament are kicked down the road (again). Emergency services reaction times have grown as pressure on their limited resources increases. Rural public transport routes continue to be disbanded, leaving elderly citizens cut off from vital links to their communities – exasperated even further by the recent ‘Beast of the East’ weather surge. 

In Whitehall, over 600 civil servants are feverishly working within DexEU (Department for Exiting the European Union) and DIT (Department for International Trade) – although what the latter is actually doing at the moment is anyone’s guess (air miles are great if you can get them). This doesn’t even include the teams working within other Government Departments on how Brexit affects separate sectors: from farming, to air travel, to immigration, down to manufacturing standards. 

600 people who could be, and IMHO would love to be, working on any number of the issues mentioned above, rather than dealing with the consequences of Brexit.

 

A WAY FORWARD

So how can the Government find the time to focus on other priorities? In short, only with great difficulty.

Last Friday’s keynote speech by the Prime Minister on (you guessed it) Brexit provided some breathing space and allowed the media team, led by Robbie Gibb, to control the news cycle for the first time in months. May’s homebuilding initiative launched smoothly, and the choreographed State Visit of Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia would have led headlines if it weren’t for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury. 

But this is the problem, only a landmark Brexit speech by the Prime Minister herself can push Brexit off the news cycle long enough for one announcement to sneak in, then, like an angrier version of Boris, Brexit screeches back into the limelight. 

The respite is just not long enough.

MPs want to help their constituents and focus on the issues they care about most. Our job as communications and public affairs professionals is to get that cut through. To ensure the issues are debated, challenged, and now more than ever, pushed forward. If you want help getting round the all consuming dementor that is Brexit to get your issue on the political agenda, we are here to help you conjure your patronus.

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Brexit goes nuclear...

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Brexit goes nuclear...

Little known before this week, the European nuclear co-ordination treaty, Euratom, has become the latest dividing line in Brexit negotiations. With consumer fears about life saving cancer treatments being threatened, a commons majority looks to be forming against one of Downing Street's Brexit red lines...

 

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#GE2017 - that's a wrap folks

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#GE2017 - that's a wrap folks

Theresa May's aim was to secure a strong and definitive mandate for her premiership, ideology, and negotiating position in the upcoming Brexit talks. This morning’s results left that aim in tatters. She moved quickly today to try to cement her position, using the onset of the Brexit talks as an excuse to plough on. Brandishing a new working relationship with the latest power brokers in Westminster - Northern Ireland’s DUP - as her way of creating a majority, without anyone spelling out what exactly this means for either party. Cue a huge spike in google searches across the country as people asked 'who are the DUP'. The Institute for Government has written about the leverage of the smaller parties in the new Parliament and what that means for forthcoming Brexit talks. 

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Hung up on you.

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Hung up on you.

So, once again politics proves itself the pre-eminent force at springing surprises. As in 2010, we have a hung parliament but, unlike seven years ago, it seems there is little prospect of a formal coalition. 

With the Conservatives still the largest party but short of a working majority, this morning's speculation centres around a future minority Conservative government, propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party. We've already started analysing their manifesto to see what they proposed but one clear policy was their support for Brexit. As we have said before - the only thing that is certain in the next little while is uncertainty. Get in touch if you have questions. 

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#GE2017 - 4 Weeks to Go...

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#GE2017 - 4 Weeks to Go...

As we approach June 8th, Atlas will be sending through a Friday round-up of news, anecdotes, and current polling to help you keep abreast of the latest campaign trail developments.

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Scotland's Choice

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Scotland's Choice

We're pleased to share an update from our friends in Scotland, Pagoda Porter Novelli, on the latest round of debate about independence. Keith Geddes is the Policy Director at Pagoda Porter Novelli and can be contacted here. He argues that for the First Minister the stakes are high. Historical precedence is not on her side either with both leaders who called the 2014 referendum and the Brexit referendum resigning when the outcome was not one they had supported. Undoubtedly if Nicola Sturgeon were to lose, she too would have to step down.

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Is our Brexit hangover finally over?

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Is our Brexit hangover finally over?

One unwelcome development past the age of 30 is the two-day hangover. This year the United Kingdom is 310 years old – which presumably means its propensity to feel tired, grumpy and slightly nauseous after a big event is even more extensive. Two hundred or so days on since the referendum, are we finally getting over our Brexit hangover?

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Lords reform, the saga continues..

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Lords reform, the saga continues..

As you settle down by the fire with a glass of something, Atlas Partners, co-founder Charles Napier offers a longer read on the prospect of House of Lords reform and why it may never come. 

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Is ‘Industrial Strategy’ a platform for Theresa May’s legacy?

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Is ‘Industrial Strategy’ a platform for Theresa May’s legacy?

A national industrial strategy was a key pillar of government policy throughout post-war Britain until Margaret Thatcher effectively outlawed the phrase in Conservative circles, and indeed the national dialogue, in the search for market liberalisation and competition. This coincided with the beginning of the decline of manufacturing in the UK. Between 1980 and 2010, the UK manufacturing and production sector, as a total percentage of GDP, declined from 45% to below 20%, with cities such as Birmingham, Sheffield and Sunderland diminishing in the face of international competition and falling global prices. Whether the two are related is still hotly disputed to this day.

We look at what the Prime Minister is trying to gain by [re-]introducing an industrial strategy, and what it means for UK policy.

 

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Three important people you've (probably) never heard of...

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Three important people you've (probably) never heard of...

The quality of our future arrangements with the EU and the rest of the world will be directly related to the calibre of the teams negotiating them. Right now, across all Government Departments there is a rapid scramble to assemble those teams to deliver the best Brexit deal possible. 

Given yesterday's turn of events we await the appointment of a new 'Brexit' Minister in Theresa May's new cabinet. Commentators are tipping, Leave campaigner, current leader of the Commons and May's campaign organiser, Chris Grayling for the role. Beyond that key appointment, who will be quantifying the civil service skills gap, driving the recruitment and ultimately presenting our new Prime Minister with the scenario plans and costed options from which they will determine their trade negotiation mandate?

Read on to meet the three men (yes, all men) you may never have heard of who will play a key role over the next few months.

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In the brave new world of 'Brexit' - what now?

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In the brave new world of 'Brexit' - what now?

Despite the fact that we will have a new Prime Minister by Wednesday, we know the only thing we can be certain of in the next 6 months is uncertainty. Today we are sharing our take on the brave new world of ‘Brexit’ and some practical tips for businesses and organisations trying to catch up with our fluid political landscape.

Above and beyond your business as usual public affairs engagement, what can you do now? How will 'Brexit' be implemented and who are the key players? For a quick check list click here but for a more detailed update read on.

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