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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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LOCALLY SPEAKING

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LOCALLY SPEAKING

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.

WHERE?

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.

May and Corbyn campaigning.jpg

SCORES ON THE DOORS

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.

WHICH ISSUES MATTER

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.

Potholes.jpg

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR?

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

BRIGHTON AND HOVE

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 ON TRENT

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.

BATH AND NORTH EAST SOMERSET

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.

THE BIG PICTURE

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.

WHERE DO WE END UP?

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.

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COMPROMISE, COMPROMISE, WHERE ART THOU COMPROMISE?

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COMPROMISE, COMPROMISE, WHERE ART THOU COMPROMISE?

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.

WHAT ON EARTH IS HAPPENING

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.

SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

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

HOW IT ENDS?

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.

SHALL WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE?

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!

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The Independent Group: A Bold But Empty Gesture?

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The Independent Group: A Bold But Empty Gesture?

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

 

CONTEXT

 

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

 

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

 

SUBSTANCE

 

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

 

CHANCES OF SUCCESS

 

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

 

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

 
independentgroup2.jpg

 

THE FUTURE

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Be careful what you wish for

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

One trick pony

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

 

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

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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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Back to business as usual

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Back to business as usual

Welcome to the New Year. Nothing has changed! Or at least this is what it felt like to studied watchers during last week’s Conservative reshuffle. A heavily trailed reshuffle designed to reassert the authority of the Prime Minister was instead characterised by mismanagement and mishap.

Those in the top positions remained unchanged; some through choice and some through stubbornness. The vast majority of changes occurred at junior level, although some moves were made at Cabinet level.

The reshuffle began with a successful, if somewhat short reign as Conservative Party chairman for Chris Grayling (27 seconds). This announcement was quickly retracted with intended recipient Brandon Lewis quickly confirmed. Not the ideal start! Mr Lewis’ undaunting job will be to revive a flagging membership and compete with Labour’s growing online social media operation. As Atlas Associate and former Digital Director for the CCHQ wrote this week, no small task.

Further changes at CCHQ saw nine Tory MPs become Vice-Chairman of the party and a tenth, James Cleverly, appointed Deputy Chairman. After a lacklustre General Election campaign, the addition of new faces and new ideas was widely seen as a necessity. As we all know, MPs are hardly busy people who will have plenty of time for these important tasks beyond their day jobs – so future campaigns may, or may not, rise to the challenge.

Leading Osborne acolyte Matt Hancock moved back into Cabinet as DCMS Secretary. He takes over from Karen Bradley who was given the Northern Ireland brief. This followed James Brokenshire resignation for medical reasons. We wish Mr Brokenshire well as he fights his health concerns.

The controversial Esther McVey takes on the problematic Work and Pensions position. Her role will be nice and straightforward; namely to sort out Universal Credit. This was not a task Justine Greening felt obliged to take on. She decided to leave Cabinet rather than move from Education to DWP. Watch out for Greening, given her fragile majority in a heavily Remain London seat becoming another Brexit rebel in the coming weeks and months. She’s already been spotted cosying up to  Dominic Grieve, leader of previous Brexit rebellions.

David Gauke, previously holder of the DWP post, has moved to the Ministry of Justice. Gauke, a lawyer by trade (not always a given in this post!) has faced an interesting start. The decision to free convicted sex offender John Worboys on parole has given him a headache he would have liked to avoid. Within a few short weeks.  Mr Gauke’s reputation in the role could already be made or broken.

Rising stars such as Alok Sharma, Caroline Dinenage, Margot James, Sam Gyimah, Kemi Badenoch and Ben Bradley all received promotions at the junior level. Look out for these names as murmurings of the next Conservative leadership race continue to bubble away at Westminster.

Damian Hinds, the new Education Secretary is another who has been talked about in terms of leadership. Although gaining the support of Michael Gove isn’t always beneficial to your future job prospects. Just ask Boris!

So what does this reshuffle tell us about this Prime Minister and Government? We know Theresa May is a politician often reluctant to change for changes sake. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, this reshuffle was a failure in expectation management. The problem was not the failure to move ministers, but the pre-briefings that they would be. Her inability to deliver then makes the Prime Minister seem weak.

The reshuffle has not changed the political climate. This is a Prime Minister reliant on the DUP and hopeful her backbenchers don’t pull the plug. She is hamstrung by parliamentary arithmetic and political reality. The reshuffle will be barely noticed by many and quickly forgotten by the rest of us as focus inevitably returns to Brexit. It could, however reinforce the idea of a Government that outside of Brexit has no clear vision.

Nothing has changed!

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Social media insights from the #EURef campaign

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Social media insights from the #EURef campaign

Atlas Partners looks at the highs and lows of the referendum campaign over the last three months in social media. Comparing the strengths of the Leave and Remain campaigns in 'owned' and 'paid' channels - and in particular their ability to generate conversation in 'earned' social media.

We were on the hunt for insights about what makes good content, clever targeting and an answer to the questions we often get asked – does negative campaigning really work, do celebrity endorsements actually help?

If you are going to suffer withdrawal symptoms from the daily tsunami of the referendum in the news and on your social channels you can re-live the highs and lows and read more of the lessons learned in our latest blog. 

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