How we’ll support female Tories in Comms

Jessica Webb is CiC Women’s Lead and Member of the Women in Public Affairs Executive Committee

The pandemic has been devastating and had huge implications for everyone’s lives. We have lacked opportunities to build the vital relationships we rely on to do our jobs and missed our friends. I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to get back to receptions in Parliament and start networking again. 

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Imagine the scene. You finally walk back into Terrace Pavilion. You stroll over to the bar. You collect that first glass of warm white wine and look out over the Thames and you think for a minute the last time you were at that same spot. It’s been too long. However, my hope is that the room won’t look the same as we left it …  

I remember my very first reception in Westminster. I looked around and realised that I was the only woman there. I had always heard that Westminster was an ‘old boy’s network’ although I had never really experienced it first-hand.  

Much has changed since that time. A year spent in a pandemic has marked the rise of the impersonal conference call, at a point when many young professionals starting their careers should be doing just the opposite: getting out, meeting people, building their networks. I wonder how these spaces will look when we step out again onto that green or red carpet when we return after the recess.   

Based on that experience, I have been determined to get more women into politics, public affairs and communications. To change the room. Of course, not every reception, roundtable or launch event looks like my first. Things are changing. We are making progress. But we all need it to continue.  

I feel passionately that we need to lead from the front on the kind of society we want to see. We have influence in our line of work, and there should be space in every room for all experiences and voices, no matter what you look like or where you were born.  

That is why I have taken up the role of Women’s Lead and Director of Conservatives in Communications (CiC) and Executive Committee Member of Women in Public Affairs. Both these groups are independent, voluntary and informal informal industry networks created to share experiences, offer advice and support. While they have a role to play and take their responsibilities seriously (the CiC committee is 50/50), there are others who must take the lead in this.  

For example, while it’s great that just over half all MPs elected in 2019 were Conservative (365 of 650), it’s also disappointing that – just like our base – only one quarter of them are women (87 of 365). The Party must do more to improve this, and outfits such as the Conservative Women’s Organisation and Women2Win continue to play a key role in advocating for more women to get involved in politics and encouraging women to stand for UK Parliament.  

Furthermore, women are under-represented as senior leaders within the worlds of PR and PA. We must ask ourselves why this is? Could it be that when women hit the top it’s not enough to keep them there?  Maybe they decide that they don’t want it as much as they thought they did or that the balance of making sure they are home a few nights a week to see their children worth the sacrifice for something else? Perhaps the pandemic will change all of that, with more flexible working and an improvement in the understanding between clients and advisors. It used to be an absolute no-no to take a call while multi-tasking alongside childcare. These days it’s the norm!  

To show our continued efforts to encourage more people to join CiC, we have created a deliverable 12-point plan. See below.

My commitment is real, as is the commitment of many others in our industry. To those who have supported women to date, we are very appreciative because we cannot do this on our own. 

Some of our best cheerleaders throughout our careers have been male leaders – please don’t change. We are grateful for all that you are doing to champion our cause. 

I can’t wait to see everyone at an event soon. See you at party conference if not before!  

CiC 12-point plan: 

  1. We will advertise all volunteer positions  
  1. We will work with our partners on events and content to make them more female friendly  
  1. We will host both breakfast and lunch events to allow working mums and carers to juggle their day 
  1. We will vary up both speakers and topics to further their appeal  
  1. We will use name tags at events going forward to aid those breaking into our sector as well as those more generally 
  1. We will ensure our events are both welcoming and inclusive  
  1. We will invite and listen to high profile women who can provide inspiration to our members  
  1. We will strive for at least one female speaker per industry event  
  1. We will encourage women to submit content to our newsletter 
  1. We will continue to invest time and resources into our mentoring scheme  
  1. We will do more to promote our network and supporters  
  1. We will encourage our supporters to encourage other females to sign-up 

In conversation with three mentees

Emily Carter

What’s your current role? 

Head of Political Campaigns. 

What do you want to achieve from the CiC-Start mentoring programme?  

I saw CiC-Start as an opportunity to speak to someone outside of my current network who has experience in the industry, working together to draw on and progress my career and understanding of public affairs (or PA for short).

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Ideally, on a beach somewhere lovely. But if not, I’d like to be a Director or Managing Director of a PA agency. I’ve realised that agency work is my forte and I want to be able to share my passion with a team of other aspirational and driven PA practitioners, working to consistently deliver impactful and progressive campaigns and projects.

I’m based in Manchester, though I’m always looking for a new challenge to spread my wings and take on a new role. I’m passionate about getting and helping women into political positions, and as a true Northerner I work to promote the devolution agenda to truly level-up the North.

What’s your advice for young people hoping to get into the industry? 

PA is about people and communications. Where possible, get out there and network with a variety of people, including agency and in-house professionals, journalists and Westminster aides. Use the current remote working situation to your advantage and reach out to people on social media for a chat. You will be surprised how open and helpful people are despite their busy schedules, and those conversations can lead to new opportunities. And don’t forget the three P’s. People, policy and processes.

If you could invite five guests, dead or alive, to a dinner party at your house, who would you invite? 

I’m not sure they would get along, but here foes. Joanna Lumley, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama, Ho Chi Minh, and Joey Essex.

Pierre Andrews

What’s your current role? 

I’ve three hats: Senior Parliamentary Assistant to a Member of Parliament, Head of Policy at Digital Tories and Vice-Chair Outreach of LGBT+ Conservatives.

What do you want to achieve from the CiC-Start mentoring programme?  

I’d like to develop my professional network, explore long-term plans in the realm of political communications and brainstorm new platform for Conservative activism.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time? 

Like Emma, I’d preferably be relaxing on a beach at the end of the world, ignoring my phone for a couple of hours, while it (hopefully) won’t have stopped buzzing for media requests, policy pitches and invites for coffee. 

What’s your advice for young people hoping to get into the industry? 

Don’t be afraid to be pushy, in that you’re clear about (1) what value you think you can bring to the table and (2) what you need to successfully deliver the goods. But – and this is the crucial element – always be impeccably charming while you’re going about it.  

If you could invite five guests, dead or alive, to a dinner party at your house, who would you invite? 

So, Christopher Isherwood, Ayn Rand, Livia Drusilla, Anne Boleyn, and the Duke of Edinburgh. 

Maria Murphy

What’s your current role? 

I’m an Associate at Nudge Factory, an independent corporate affairs consultancy specialising in political, real estate planning, corporate and private client communications. [Can you tell that she works in communications!?] I previously worked as a Parliamentary Assistant and before that as an Intern at Hanover Communications.  

What do you want to achieve from the CiC-Start mentoring programme?  

I hope to gain valuable insight from experienced people in the industry – what steps to take to progress this line of work and establish a plan for the next few years of my career. I hope to be able to mentor others because of being a mentee, and to know what advice to give to others. I also want to discover effective ways of providing a great service to clients and how to best assist them with their public affairs needs, as well as to define my specific interests and decide where to specialise.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time? 

I hope to have achieved considerable progression within the industry; to have taken on more responsibility and to have gained more skills to contribute to the company I work for. I hope to contribute not just professionally, but to those hoping to work in the same sector; to help students and graduates pave their way into public affairs and communications. I want to expand my network and to specialise in a particular policy area. I’m keen to engage more in writing and blogging, in both analytical writing and opinion pieces. More generally, I want to continue promoting Conservative values within the sector and elsewhere. 

What’s your advice for young people hoping to get into the industry? 

Perseverance is the most important piece of advice I would give – it can be a tough industry to break into, and it will take willingness to internalise feedback to succeed. Try and get as much background experience as possible; political, voluntary, academic and communications knowledge all help enormously. Be sure to network – don’t be shy about going to events, contacting people, making new friends. Not only will this help in establishing yourself in public affairs spheres, but it’s  also invaluable for learning about the sector from people with masses of experience and insider knowledge. It also allows you to demonstrate your worth and value to those already working in a crowded field. 

If you could invite five guests, dead or alive, to a dinner party at your house, who would you invite?  

Ronald Reagan, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Princess Margaret, Dolly Parton, and Tim Curry. 

Pride is a golden opportunity to keep the torch of liberty burning bright

Pierre Andrews is Vice-Chair Outreach of LGBT+ Conservatives, Head of Policy at Digital Tories, Senior Parliamentary Assistant to an MP and a CiC-Start Mentee. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

June is Pride Month. A yearly opportunity to freely express and celebrate the strength and diversity of the whole LGBT+ community.

However, Pride isn’t just about the rainbow flags, live music performances and a celebration of rights and freedoms we enjoy at home in the UK. It is a reminder of the need for constant vigilance in the face of oppression around the world to keep the torch of liberty burning bright; and of the leading role Britain must play in the promotion of  LGBT+ rights globally.

June is not Pride Month by coincidence. It commemorates the Stonewall Riots of 1969, a turning point in LGBT+ history. Members of the community pushed back against the state for infringing on their freedoms of expression and association, through regular police raids of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York.

While in Britain today the situation would be unrecognisable to those who lived in fear and desperation in the 1960s – positive relationship education in schools, anti-discrimination legislation, equal marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, and the possibility to change your legal gender – such freedoms are sadly not the case in many parts of the world. Indeed, in 68 countries around the world homosexuality is still criminalised and in too many places repression against LGBT+ people seems to have worsened in recent years.

Last May, in Iran, 20-year old Alireza Fazeli Monfared was allegedly beheaded by his half-brother and cousins after they discovered he was gay. Iran continues to have one of the most homophobic regimes in the world, where homosexuality can be punishable by death. It is thought that the discovery of Fazeli Monfared’s military exemption card – for which gay and trans men can apply to be exempted from military service – led his family to conduct what local LGBT+ rights group 6Rang are calling an ‘honour killing’.

Alireza’s tragic story should serve as a reminder to us all this Pride Month – we cannot and should not rest until every LGBT+ person around the world has the freedom to be themself. Britain must continue to play a leading role on the international stage to achieve LGBT+ equality for all.

This Conservative government has set advancing LGBT+ rights internationally as a priority and our role and influences should not be underestimated. Next June, the UK will host the first ever Global LGBT Conference. Chaired by Lord Herbert – who was recently appointed the UK’s Special Envoy on LGBT Rights – the conference will provide a global platform for the UK, as co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition, to call for the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies against LGBT+ people and legal protection from discrimination.

The Stonewall Riots took place 52 years ago, yet around the world, many LGBT+ people still live in fear, with the ultimate threat of death simply for being themselves or loving who they choose to love.

This Pride Month the UK is at the centre of the world stage as we host the G7 Summit in Cornwall, taking a leading role in championing our shared values as we recover from the global pandemic. In doing so, we can look proudly ahead to a year of golden opportunity, by making the most of our world-leading diplomatic networks, to reach out an arm of friendship around the world and encourage all States to attend our Global LGBT Conference, and spread the torch of liberty together.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for 1821.

Enfranchise expatriate Scots!

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications and is Author of ‘Lobbying: The Art of Political Persuasion’. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn 

If Swedes, Spaniards and Singaporeans are to be offered a vote in a future referendum on Scottish independence, why aren’t expatriate Scots?  

The failure of the SNP to achieve a majority in last month’s Holyrood elections has not stopped them from demanding a second independence referendum. Despite the Westminster government’s insistence that it would not accede to this demand any time soon, few doubt that there will be a second referendum at some stage in the not-too-distant future.  

Under the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998, constitutional issues are reserved to the Westminster Parliament. The Cameron administration allowed the SNP Scottish government to dictate the terms of the 2014 referendum. They had three tactics. First, the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent nation’ was designed to produce the answer ‘Yes’. Second, 16- and 17-year-olds – who were reckoned to be strongly in favour of independence – were given the vote. Third, European Union nationals resident in Scotland were also enfranchised.  

Next time around the Westminster government must ensure that the odds aren’t  artificially stacked against the preservation of the Union. For a start, the question should be ‘Should Scotland remain a part of the United Kingdom?’ More importantly, the Westminster government should ensure that the Scottish government is not able to rig the franchise in favour of independence.  

Now that 16- and 17-years-olds have the vote in Scotland, it wouldn’t be practical (or fair) to take it away from them. However, the SNP government’s plans to give votes to any foreign nationals who happen to be resident in Scotland at the time of the referendum needs to be looked at very carefully. This bloc of voters could include people who are only there for a short time and for a very defined reason – such as overseas students or employees of multi-national companies posted to Scotland for a fixed period.  

If foreign nationals are to be allowed to vote in any future independence referendum, then surely Scots-born expatriates living in the rest of the UK – or overseas – should also be allowed to vote? Many expatriate Scots maintain close ties with friends and relatives in the land of their birth. Some Scottish members of the armed services are based in the rest of the UK or overseas but will ultimately return to Scotland. Some expat Scots have properties and other investments in Scotland, and intend to retire to Scotland. To disenfranchise these people is patently unjust.  

There is also the matter of fiscal engagement. Many expatriate Britons working abroad still pay taxes in the UK. All expatriate Scots working in England, Wales or Northern Ireland will be liable to pay UK taxes. And UK taxes have, since 1978, subsidised the Scottish economy, and the comparatively generous Scottish welfare system, through the Barnett Formula – to the tune of £1,630 per head per year.  

Therefore, to deprive those individuals who have paid UK taxes to sustain the redistribution of money north of the border of a vote in any future referendum wouldn’t stand. Whatever happened to ‘no taxation without representation’?  

I’m working with the campaign platform Democracy 3.0, which has kindly commissioned polling to help understand the opinion landscape around this important issue. Significantly, and despite the near total absence of any debate around the Scottish expatriate issue, nearly half those polled (45 per cent) supported our inclusive approach, while one in three (33 per cent) opposed it. SNP voters particularly appreciate the importance of giving Scots outside Scotland a say, with almost six in ten, 59 per cent, saying they would support it.  

If you would like to support this campaign and sign the petition, click here.  

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website.

Digital campaigning has never been more important

Holly Whitbread is the Conservative Essex County Councillor for Epping & Theydon Bois and Epping Forest District Councillor for Epping Lindsey and Thornwood Common. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

In a Covid world, digital campaigning has never been more important, as was demonstrated in the recent local elections. Whilst social platforms did not paint the whole picture, they became an important arena in sharing key messages and promoting candidates.

Although digital campaigning plays a key role in the weeks and days leading up to the election, they play an even more crucial role over a longer period. Councillors and candidates should be present in the online space and engage with their communities. Building up a digital profile locally allows candidates to raise awareness of who they are, what they are doing and what they believe in. It also enables them to provide support and share information with the people they are seeking to represent. This was particularly important during the pandemic, where Facebook was integral in communicating with residents. The idea of a virtual neighbourhood grew exponentially during the months of lockdown.

I have been a District Councillor for the past five years, and I would say I distinguish myself from other local representatives through my accessibility and proactiveness online. I try and be as available as possible to residents in my area, providing support, sharing information and signposting. As well as running my own personal social channels, a few years ago I established a ‘Community Hub Group’ on Facebook which now has almost 2,000 members. This online community group is a forum for lively discussion, where residents can ask questions to their councillors and useful local information is shared. In addition to this group, I run a local Instagram page with well over a thousand followers, which also shares local information, as well as promoting local businesses.

Outside of social media, I write a weekly community newsletter covering my County Council division and the surrounding area, which is sent every Friday by email. I started this weekly mailer earlier this year and it now reaches around a thousand people. This provides me with the opportunity to collaborate and support local businesses, organisations, and charities.

Beyond community engagement, which is essential for any local activists, there is also a vital role for online ‘peacetime campaigning’. Local political parties and their representatives must keep in touch with residents all year round, for example by sharing good news stories and updates, as well as engaging with surveys to maintain a presence outside of election time. Outside of elections is the time to be increasing followership through sponsored posts and appealing content.

During an election campaign itself, social media is a great way to broadcast to the electorate. It also allows you to reach more people than you could purely through traditional methods of campaigning or where resources must be diverted elsewhere.

For myself, during my recent local election campaign, I tried to maintain a positive campaign online, sharing messages of what I had achieved and what I hope to deliver in the future, as well as using social media to stoke momentum in my local campaign. Though, on occasion, I found social media to be an essential tool for setting the record straight in response to misleading claims being made by my political opponents. While there are limitations (I don’t think Facebook will ever replace face-to-face canvassing), targeted posting enables you to reach some of your audience quickly and effectively.

Without a doubt, digital campaigning is here to stay! To be effective, modern councillors or candidates must be present and active in the online space. It enables representatives to serve their communities more effectively, while building up their own personal profile.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for Digital Tories.

We’re optimistic about the future with Rishi and Kemi

  • Tories can no longer be accused of being ‘male, stale and pale’  
  • Though the Prime Minister should promote even more women and young talent
  • Several supporters were re-/ elected as Councillors on May 6  

Conservatives in Communications (CiC), the independent and informal industry network of professionals and students, has today published the results of its second annual census, which was sponsored by Hanover Communications. Its 735-strong membership, including 45 current MPs and Peers with a background or interest in the sector, were invited to give their views on a variety of hot topics to help it better understand the current and future landscape as well as allow the team to better serve supporters and add more value going forward.  

For a second consecutive year – and by a landslide (56%) – supporters believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP, has been the best communicator during the pandemic. The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps MP, made it into the top three and shares second place on 9% alongside the Health & Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock MP. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP, fell from 2nd to 5th place on 6%, just behind the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove MP on 7%.  

Supporters were also asked which rising stars they would promote at the forthcoming reshuffle. 513 votes were cast for some 128 politicians. The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Kemi Badenoch MP, scored by far the most. The Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Tom Tugendhat MP, and the Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins MP, came second; Alicia Kearns MP polled third; while the Home Office PPS, Paul Holmes MP, and the former DCMS Minister, Tracey Crouch MP, share fourth place. Female MPs made up 80% of the top ten nominations, which is great news.

Turning to the mainstream media, eight out of nine popular outlets saw increases when assessed for their trustworthiness. The score for Russia Today remained low at 1.46 out of 5. When asked about whether the launch of GB News is a good or bad thing for the UK overall, Conservatives in Communications responded positively (3.90 out of 5). Respondents continue to get their news from a variety of sources, including political blogs: POLITICO is the most read (64%) with Guido Fawkes (61%) and ConservativeHome (49%) trailing someway behind.  

While two-thirds of respondents believe the Government’s Covid-19 communications strategy has improved since 2020 and put its performance since the start of 2021 at 3.46 out of 5 – up from 3.18 before – they were less enthusiastic when it came to the visual appearance of the No.9 Downing Street briefing room (3.10 out of 5 verses 3.79 for the previous setup in No.10).  

Turning to their own profession, more than 99% are in employment, almost three quarters of respondents indicated that their organisation grew or hired new staff during the pandemic, and supporters are more optimistic than they were in May 2020 (8 out of 10, up from a still solid 7.24). Taking don’t knows out of the equation, more than three quarters of respondents support the PRCA’s six-point Public Confidence Plan for Reform in response to the David Cameron and Lex Greensill inquiries.  

Adam Honeysett-Watts, Executive Director, said:

“We are, first and foremost, a networking group. We understand the importance of creating and maintaining industry relationships. So, it’s been difficult not having had the opportunities to meet in-person for more than 12 months. Despite this, we’ve kept the show on the road and hopefully presented like-minded individuals with the chance to share and benefit from each other’s knowledge and opportunities, including jobs and our mentoring scheme. 97% of the respondents feel being a supporter is worthwhile.”  

He added:

“Take the recent Andy Street, Ben Houchen and Jill Mortimer wins, plus hundreds of councillors re-/ elected around the country – including many of our own supporters – the future looks bright for the Conservative party. Contrast that with Labour, which is in turmoil. What with Labour in Communications voting David Lammy as the Labour party’s best communicator and calling for him to play a bigger role as a spokesperson, plus Sir Keir Starmer’s ridiculous reshuffle, we’re lacking any serious opposition now. That isn’t good for our democracy.”

Note to Editors

You can learn more about the survey and access all of the results here

As covered by POLITICO London Influence and PR Week.

Census Results 2020-21

– 2021 –

ABOUT THE SURVEY

The second CiC Census launched on April 20, 2021, and ran for two weeks. It was promoted in our newsletter, on our website as well as via LinkedIn and Twitter. All supporters (735 at the time) were invited to participate, of whom 210 did (so, 29%). While the percentage of supporters who took part was lower than 2020 (see previous data below), we received 36% more submissions compared with the previous period. The average time taken to complete it was six minutes – slightly more than predicted – but less than 2020, as we reduced the number of questions from 38 to just 26. These are the anonymised and aggregated survey results.

ABOUT YOU

1. Age

18-249.52%
25-3446.67%
35-4424.76%
45-5413.33%
55-644.29%
65 and over1.43%
Seven in ten respondents are aged between 25 and 34. This is very similar to 2020.

2. Gender

Female27.62%
Male71.90%
Prefer to self-describe0.48%
Just over a quarter of respondents are female. This is very similar to 2020.

3. Ethnicity

White: English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British81.90%
Any other White background4.29%
Asian / Asian British: Indian3.81%
Mixed / Multiple ethnic group: White and Asian2.38%
White: Irish1.90%
Mixed / Multiple ethnic group: White and Black Caribbean1.43%
Black / African / Caribbean / Black British: Caribbean1.43%
Asian / Asian British: Pakistani0.95%
Mixed / Multiple ethnic group: White and Black African0.48%
Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background0.48%
Asian / Asian British: Chinese0.48%
Black / African / Caribbean / Black British: African0.48%
82% of respondents are White British and Northern Irish. This is very similar to 2020.

ABOUT YOUR WORK

4. Where are you working – usually and for the most part – right now?

London70.48%
Outside of London29.52%
Seven in ten respondents now work in London. That’s a decrease of 16 points from 86%.

5. Looking ahead to when people may return to their workplace, how often do you expect to be in the office each week?

0 days – I will be remote working going forward 4.76%
1 day5.71%
2 days28.10%
3 days33.33%
4 days10.48%
5 days10.95%
N/A – I was already working from home6.67%
Six in ten respondents expect to be in their workplace two or three days per week going forward. Only 10% expect to return full-time while 5% have switched entirely to working from home. We did not poll this in 2020.

6. How would you categorise your employment – for the most part?

Agency / Consultancy38.10%
Corporate*21.43%
Not-for-profit / Charity*13.33%
Trade association*6.67%
Freelance6.19%
UK Parliament / Constituency, including MPs and Peers5.71%
Civil Service3.33%
UK Government, including SpAds2.86%
Student / Graduate0.95%
Retired0.48%
The Conservative party0.48%
Unemployed0.48%
Two-fifths of respondents work for a consultancy vs and two-fifths work in-house*. Employment is at 99.5%. This is very similar to 2020. We’ve noted your comments about arms length bodies, public sector and recruitment.

7. How would you categorise your role – usually and for the most part?

Public affairs / Government relations / Lobbying46.19%
Public relations / Media relations / Corporate communications / Financial PR27.14%
Other (please specify)5.71%
UK Parliament (non MPs and Peers)4.29%
Policy-making3.33%
Digital communications / Social media2.86%
Student / Graduate2.38%
Civil servant1.90%
Marketing1.90%
Member of Parliament or Peer1.43%
UK Government, including SpAds1.43%
Events0.48%
Journalism0.48%
Retired0.48%
46% of respondents work in public affairs vs 27% in public relations. That’s a fall of ten points for public affairs, but may be linked to us adding more categories this year.

8. How much experience do you have in your field?

Up to two years13.33%
Up to five years17.14%
Up to ten years30.48%
Up to 15 years19.05%
15+ years20.00%
Almost two-fifths of respondents have more than ten years of experience. We did not poll this exact question in 2020, opting then for titles over years.

ABOUT YOUR SUPPORT

9. How did you discover us – in the first instance?

Colleague / Friend35.24%
Social media, including LinkedIn and Twitter33.33%
Ellwood Atfield8.57%
News article e.g. ConservativeHome or POLITICO6.67%
Founding member6.19%
Personal invitation via email4.76%
Personal invitation via social media3.81%
Other 0.95%
Search engine0.48%
A third of respondents were referred by a colleague or friend while a third came across us on social media. This is very similar to 2020.

10. Why did you join us?

Industry networking77.62%
Industry news50.00%
Events41.90%
Job opportunities39.52%
Receive newsletter36.67%
Social aspect36.19%
Stay relevant32.88%
Business development24.76%
Contribute ideas and content24.76%
Mentoring scheme23.81%
Dating2.86%
Other (please specify)2.38%
Respondents cited industry networking (78%) and events (42%) as well as industry news (50%) as the three main reasons for joining us.The social aspect has fallen 15 points from 51 to 36% and business development has decreased seven points from 32 to 25%. On the other side, job opportunities has risen by 14 points from 25 to 40% and the mentoring scheme (new) scored 24%.

ABOUT OUR EVENTS

11. Assuming the party conference goes ahead, will you attend?

Yes61.90%
Don’t know20.95%
No17.14%
Six in ten respondents plan to attend conference in Manchester.

12. If you were to attend, would you like there to be a CiC networking reception?

Yes96.67%
No3.33%
97% of respondents would attend a CiC networking reception in Manchester.

ABOUT OUR CONTENT

13. What would you like to be in the newsletter?

Event invitations73.81%
Job opportunities70.95%
Industry updates (summarised news)62.86%
Hear from our parliamentary patrons / Parliamentary profiles56.67%
Spotlight on something new / innovative52.38%
Mentoring opportunities45.71%
Careers advice45.24%
Blog content42.86%
Hear from our industry patrons39.05%
Hear from our chair34.29%
Hear from our directors26.67%
Book reviews20.00%
Competitions / quizzes 6.19%
Other (please specify)0.95%
Respondents cited event invitations (74%), job opportunities (71%) and industry updates as the three main things they would like in the newsletter. This is very similar to 2020. Two-fifths of respondents work for a consultancy vs and two-fifths work in-house*. Employment is at 99.5%. This is very similar to 2020. We’ve noted your comments about CPD and ordinary supporters.

ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT’S COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY AND MEDIA

14. How would you rate the UK Government’s Covid-19 communications strategy since the start of 2021?

Weighted average 3.46 out of 5. Average score. That’s up from 3.18 in 2020.

15. The UK Government’s Covid-19 communications strategy has _____ since 2020.

worsened 10.95%
stayed the same23.81%
improved 65.24%
Two-thirds of respondents believe the Government’s strategy has improved since 2020.

16. How do you rate the visual appearance of the new Downing Street briefing room? (It will still be used for other briefings)

Weighted average 3.10 out of 5. Average score. In 2020, 3.79 was the weighted average for the then visual look (setting, podiums and branding).

17. Of those who attend Cabinet, who do you believe has been the best communicator during the pandemic?

Rishi Sunak MP55.71%
Matt Hancock MP9.05%
Grant Shapps MP9.05%
Michael Gove MP6.67%
Boris Johnson MP5.71%
Elizabeth Truss MP3.33%
Oliver Dowden2.86%
Kwasi Kwarteng MP1.43%
Jacob Rees-Mogg MP1.43%
Priti Patel MP0.95%
George Eustice MP0.95%
Lord Frost CMG0.95%
Dominic Raab MP0.48%
Alok Sharma MP0.48%
Brandon Lewis MP0.48%
Steve Barclay MP0.48%
For a second year, respondents are most impressed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer (+1.46 points). The Health Secretary (-4.02 points) and Transport Secretary (+6.44 points) follow behind. The Prime Minister has fallen out of the top three. Nine Cabinet attendees received no votes.

18. Which rising stars would you promote at the reshuffle?

1Kemi Badenoch6.43%
2Tom Tugendhat4.09%
2Victoria Atkins4.09%
3Alicia Kearns *3.12%
4Paul Holmes *2.73%
4Tracey Crouch *2.73%
5Joy Morrissey *2.53%
6Gillian Keegan2.34%
7Claire Coutinho2.14%
7Theo Clarke *2.14%
Supporters were invited to nominate up to three MPs or Peers who they see as “rising stars” within the Party and should be considered for a promotion at the reshuffle. 513 votes were recognised for 128 different politicians. We’ve ranked the top ten here. Five are CiC patrons. 80% are women MPs.

19. Where do you source your news from?

Mainstream online media 87.14%
Mainstream broadcast e.g. TV and radio72.38%
Political: POLITICO63.81%
Social media62.86%
Political: Guido Fawkes60.95%
Mainstream print media52.38%
Political: ConservativeHome49.05%
Other (please specify)4.29%
Respondents get their news from a variety of sources, including those not listed as options here e.g. trade and podcasts. Of the three main blogs, POLITICO comes out on top.

20. How trustworthy are these news channels?

Weighted average (change)
Bloomberg 3.91 (+0.13)
BBC 3.89 (+0.24)
ITV  3.76 (+0.26)
Sky  3.68 (+0.26)
CNBC 3.29 (+0.15)
Channel 5  3.12 (+0.18)
Channel 4  2.96 (+0.43)
Al Jazeera 2.58 (+0.13)
Russia Today 1.46 (-)
This is the same order as in 2020. All outlets, except for Russia Today, saw small net increases in trustworthiness.

21. Taking everything into account, would you say that the launch of GB News is a good or bad thing for the UK overall?

Average rating 3.90 out of 5. Good score.

22. Broadly speaking, do you support the PRCA’s six-point Public Confidence Plan for Reform in response to the Cameron Inquiry?

Yes77.87%
No22.13%
Removing unsures, more than three quarters of respondents support the PRCA’s plan.

23. Has your organisation grown / hired new staff during the pandemic?

Yes72.86%
No27.14%
Almost three quarters of respondents said their organisation has grown / hired new staff during the pandemic.

24. “I’m optimistic about the future of our sector.” Where do you stand on that position statement?

Mean average 8.0 out of 10. Very good score. Up from 7.24 in 2020.

ABOUT CiC

25. All things considered, do you feel being a supporter of us is worthwhile?

Yes97.14%
No2.86%
Net satisfaction remains above 97%.

26. Please let us know about any other feedback you have.

N/A.

– 2020 –

ABOUT THE SURVEY

The inaugural CiC Census launched on May 6, 2020, and ran for two weeks. It was promoted in our newsletter, on our website as well as via LinkedIn and Twitter. All supporters (429 at the time) were invited to participate, of whom 154 did (so, 36%). The average time taken to complete it was nine minutes – lower than was indicated. These are the anonymised and aggregated survey results.

ABOUT YOU

1. Age

18-249.74%
25-3442.86%
35-4427.92%
45-5412.99%
55-645.84%
65 and over0.65%
94% of respondents are under 54 vs the average party member who, based on news reports, is 57 years old.

2. Gender

Female25.32%
Male74.68%
A quarter of respondents are female.

3. Ethnicity

White: English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British84.87%
White: Irish3.29%
Mixed / Multiple ethnic group: White and Asian2.63%
Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background1.97%
Asian / Asian British: Indian1.97%
Any other White background1.32%
Mixed / Multiple ethnic group: White and Black Caribbean1.32%
Black / African / Caribbean / Black British: African1.32%
Any other Black / African / Caribbean background0.66%
Other ethnic group: Arab0.66%
(Excluding those who preferred not to say) 85% of respondents are White British and Northern Irish.

ABOUT YOUR WORK

4. Where do you work – usually and for the most part?

London86.36%
Outside of London13.64%
86% of respondents work in London.

5. How would you categorise your employment – for the most part?

Agency / Consultancy40.26%
Corporate*21.43%
Not-for-profit / Charity*8.44%
Trade association*7.79%
Freelance6.49%
UK Parliament / Constituency5.19%
Other2.60%
Civil Service, including Number 101.95%
UK Government, including Number 101.95%
Retired1.30%
Unemployed1.30%
Think tank0.65%
The Conservative Party0.65%
Two-fifths of respondents work for a consultancy vs 38% in-house*. Employment is at 99%.

6. How would you categorise your role – usually and for the most part?

Public affairs / Government relations / Lobbying56.49%
Public relations / Media relations / Corporate communications / Financial PR27.92%
Other, including Member of Parliament or Peer6.49%
Digital communications / Social media5.84%
Marketing1.95%
Journalist0.65%
UK Parliament / Constituency0.65%
56% of respondents work in public affairs vs 28% in public relations.

7. How would you categorise your seniority in the industry?

Executive15.58%
Manager27.27%
Director / Head*44.81%
CEO / Director General*6.49%
Chairman / Non-Executive Director*1.30%
Other, including Member of Parliament or Peer4.55%
53% of respondents are director level and above*.

8. Have you been, are you or would you like to be a:

YesNoN/A
Special Adviser?66.67%32.61%0.72%
Member of Parliament?47.62%52.38%0.00%
Two-thirds of respondents have an interest in the SpAd career path.
Less than half think the same about being an MP.

ABOUT YOUR SUPPORT

9. When did you join us?

Before our relaunch in May 201937.01%
After our relaunch in May 201962.99%
About two-thirds of respondents have joined since our relaunch.

10. How did you discover us – in the first instance?

Colleague / Friend38.31%
Social media, including LinkedIn and Twitter31.82%
Ellwood Atfield17.53%
Word of mouth8.44%
News article e.g. ConservativeHome.com3.25%
Other0.65%
38% of respondents joined because of a colleague / friend vs 32% via social media.

11. Why did you join us?

Industry networking85.71%
Social aspect50.65%
Contribute ideas and content45.45%
Industry news34.42%
Business development31.82%
Stay relevant31.17%
Job opportunities24.68%
Receive newsletter20.13%
Other3.25%
Respondents cited industry networking (86%) and the social aspect (51%) as main reasons for joining us.

12. Are you interested in being:

YesNo
Mentored by another supporter?66.19%33.91%
A mentor to another supporter?72.22%27.78%
(Excluding those who don’t know) Almost three quarters of respondents are interested in becoming a mentor while two thirds are interested in being mentored.

13. How should we get more women involved?

Separate analysis.

14. Would you or your firm be interested in learning more about:

YesNoDon’t know
Hosting and / or sponsoring an event for us?50.00%29.87%20.13%
Contributing and / or sponsoring content on our blog / in our newsletter?27.27%49.35%23.38%
(Excluding those who don’t know) Half of respondents and / or their firms are interested in hosting and / or sponsoring an event for us in the future. Please get in touch.

ABOUT OUR EVENTS

15. Since May 2019, we have organised three events with speakers:

  • Relaunch: Lord Black in conversation with Katie Perrior
  • Autumn: Kulveer Ranger in conversation with The Rt Hon Priti Patel MP
  • Spring: Industry panel with Sir Robbie Gibb, Paul Goodman and Professor Goodwin.

How many of these did you:

One or moreNone
Sign-up for?57.52%42.48%
Attend?50.00%50.00%
50% of respondents have attended one or more of our networking events vs 58% who registered.

16. How could we improve our events?

N/A.

17. If you couldn’t attend any of our events, after RSVPing, what was the reason why?

Work commitment58.11%
Personal circumstance17.57%
Competing event10.81%
Other9.46%
Change of heart2.70%
Forgetfulness1.35%
(Excluding N/A) 76% of respondents were distracted by work and personal commitments.

18. As of right now, are you planning to attend:

YesNo
CiC Summer Reception 2020?78.22%21.78%
Conservative Party Conference 2020?81.03%18.97%
(Excluding those who don’t know) Fourth-fifths of respondents are still planning to attend party conference in Birmingham.

ABOUT OUR CONTENT

19. Do you:

YesNo
Read our newsletter?86.36%13.64%
Visit our website?50.65%49.35%
86% of respondents read our newsletter while 51% visit our new website.

20. How can we improve our newsletter and website?

N/A.

21. What would you like to be in the newsletter?

Event invitations80.52%
Job opportunities62.99%
Industry updates (summarised news)61.04%
Hear from our parliamentary patrons59.09%
Blog content54.55%
Careers advice50.00%
Mentoring opportunities50.00%
Hear from our industry patrons42.21%
Hear from our chair38.96%
Hear from our directors33.12%
Book reviews25.97%
Competitions / quizzes11.04%
Other2.60%
81% of respondents would like to receive invitations to events, but other factors are gaining traction.

ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT’S COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY AND MEDIA

22. How would you rate the UK Government’s Covid-19 communications strategy?

Mean average 3.18 out of 5. Average score.

23. How would you rate the original ‘Stay home, Protect the NHS, Save lives’ slogan?

Mean average 4.49 out of 5. Good score.

24. What, if at all, should the new slogan be?

N/A.

25. Which Cabinet minister has impressed you the most (at the podium and during interviews)?

Rishi Sunak54.25%
Boris Johnson15.03%
Matt Hancock13.07%
Michael Gove6.54%
Alok Sharma2.61%
Grant Shapps2.61%
Priti Patel2.61%
Dominic Raab1.31%
George Eustice0.65%
Other0.65%
Robert Jenrick0.65%
Gavin Williamson0.00%
Oliver Dowden0.00%
Respondents are most impressed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer over other cabinet ministers. The Prime Minister and Health Secretary follow behind. Two cabinet ministers received no votes. The Home Secretary was the only woman in the mix.

26. How would you rate these aspects of the daily press briefings? (Out of 5)

Weighted average
The visual look: setting, podiums, branding3.79
Inviting the public to ask questions3.70
Regularity of daily briefings3.54
Use of visual aides3.51
Simplicity of the messaging3.42
Variety of the spokespeople3.42
Duration of daily briefings3.34
Respondents were positive about all nine aspects of the daily press briefings. Visuals strongest, duration weakest (time-keeping an issue as per the comments).

27. Do you think Number 10 should host daily televised press briefings in the future?

Yes45.71%
No54.29%
(Excluding those who don’t know) While the daily press briefings have been largely successful, there is little appetite for them to become a permanent fixture akin to The White House.

28. Some polling indicates that trust in the mainstream media (MSM) is lower than before the pandemic. Overall, do you believe the MSM has provided balanced and unbiased reporting?

Yes38.31%
No61.69%
Almost two-thirds of respondents believe the MSM is failing to provide balanced and unbiased reporting.

29. How trustworthy are these news brands? (Out of 5)

Weighted average
Bloomberg3.78
BBC3.65
ITV3.50
Sky3.42
CNBC3.14
Channel 52.94
Channel 42.53
Al Jazeera2.45
Russia Today1.46
In terms of trustworthiness, half of the news brands received positive scores, with Bloomberg and the BBC leading the pack. Russia Today, by quite some margin, and Al Jazeera received the lowest weighted averages.

ABOUT THE FUTURE

30. Were you able to take advantage of flexible working or work from home schemes before the pandemic?

Yes72.73%
No27.27%
73% of respondents benefited from flexible working and / or working from home before the lockdown.

31. Will you be advocating for the same or more flexible working or working from home schemes after the pandemic?

Yes89.61%
No10.39%
Having made a success of it, 90% of respondents will be advocating for the same or more flexible working and / or working from home after the lockdown eases.

32. What did you like most about working from home?

No commute77.27%
Flexible working60.39%
Higher productivity43.51%
More time to be active41.56%
More money for other things40.91%
More time with family33.12%
Time to really think32.47%
Trust from my manager27.92%
Greater availability19.48%
Other4.55%
Not applicable1.30%
Respondents do not miss the commute, are taking advantage of flexible working and two-fifths are more productive.

33. What did you like least about working from home?

Less time with colleagues59.74%
Distinguishing between work / home58.44%
Less time with friends45.45%
Making a decent routine21.43%
Preferred my old routine16.23%
Juggling my family responsibilities15.58%
Less time with family9.09%
Other8.44%
Not applicable4.55%
Respondents are missing their colleagues and their friends, and three-fifths struggle to distinguish between work and home.

34. “I’m optimistic about the future of our sector.” Where do you stand on that position statement?

Mean average 7.24 out of 10. Good score.

ABOUT CiC

35. All things considered, do you feel being a supporter of us is worthwhile?

Yes97.40%
No2.60%
97% of respondents feel being a supporter of our network is worthwhile.

36. Right now, Conservatives in Communications is staffed by volunteers and is limited in the services it can provide. The cost of maintaining our website and platforms (Eventbrite, MailChimp, SurveyMonkey and WordPress etc), time, travel and very limited entertaining is covered by the staff themselves. Would you be willing to contribute a small annual amount to continue receiving added valued newsletters based on more options as in Q21?

Yes61.69%
No38.31%
62% of respondents would be willing to contribute a small annual amount to the upkeep of the network.

37. How much would you be willing to pay per annum?

Up to £2059.74%
Up to £2521.43%
Up to £309.09%
Up to £494.55%
Up to £352.6%
£50 or more2.6%
60% of respondents would be willing to contribute up to £20 per annum.

38. Please let us know about any other feedback you have.

N/A.

What happens next: The battle for Britain

GUEST POST: Katie Frank is a Consultant at Portland Communications. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

We have been living through a constitutional cold war, with a political stalemate between Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon over an independence referendum.

But as Bute House and Downing Street wait on tenterhooks for the results of the Scottish Parliament election, attention now turns to the key question of the election: will there be a mandate for a second independence referendum in Scotland?

The stakes could not be higher. For Boris Johnson, the battle for Britain as a Union of nations still hangs in the balance. For Nicola Sturgeon, this is an unmissable – perhaps her last – opportunity to be the First Minister to lead Scotland to a referendum, and independence.

Two Prime Ministers have refused to hold a referendum in the past seven years. First Theresa May and then Boris Johnson batted back any proposals for a second independence referendum.

But this election could change the political dynamic.

While an SNP majority government in Scotland, or a significant vote for pro-independence parties in this election, is not synonymous with support for a second referendum, it would make the case against holding a second referendum increasingly more difficult for the Unionists to make.

Since 2014, polling shows support for independence steady – even increasing in the last year. Something the Nationalists will seek to capitalise on is a majority in this election which will be seen as a mandate for a referendum. They view this moment as an unmissable – almost ‘now or never’ moment – to pursue independence.

For Unionists, they know they need to deny the Nationalists a majority. They also know they need to play for time – staving off a referendum until a rear-guard action can be mounted to counter the pro-independence surge in public opinion.

Boris Johnson must be both bold and cautious.

He must be cautious on a referendum – standing his ground without martyring the Nationalist cause and avoid prompting them to pursue the issue through the courts or a consultative ‘wildcat’ referendum that could cause significant political headaches. A difficult tightrope to walk.

He must be bold on reinvigorating the case for the Union and taking the fight to the SNP. The Nationalists may be setting this up as a question of democracy – who gets to decide Scotland’s future, Boris Johnson or the people of Scotland? – and that may be fruitful territory for boosting public support for a referendum, whatever your views on independence.

But as the election campaign has shown, the SNP still have huge questions to answer on the case for independence itself. This is the territory where Boris Johnson can win – and undermine support for a referendum.

That means a shift from the tactical safe ground that the Westminster leadership of the Conservatives have retreated to in recent times.

But the onus is not just on the Westminster leadership of the Conservatives.

The Scottish Conservatives also need to up their game significantly by finding a strong and charismatic leader in the Scottish Parliament who can inspire voters with a positive Unionist vision. At the moment, they are found wanting on that kind of leadership. With the new Ruth Davidson-approved candidates potentially winging their way to the Scottish Parliament shortly, it remains to be seen if a new talent can emerge and galvanise the Scottish Conservatives and Unionist cause.

It certainly looks likely that in the event of a SNP majority, and even a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, that the Scottish Government would seek to negotiate a Section 30 Order under the Scotland Act 1998 to hold another referendum at some point in the next Parliamentary term.

But irrespective of the size of a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, it does not change one simple fact: legally, it is crystal clear that it is the UK Government that can enable a referendum to happen.

There are, of course, alternatives to a mutually-agreed referendum. The Scottish Government, for example, may seek to legislate unilaterally for a consultative referendum. But they know that is a risky road to travel down – the messy example of Catalonia looms large in Nationalists’ minds and any legislation is likely to be challenged in the courts by the UK Government. It is far from certain that the Scottish Government would win such a challenge.

Therein lies the predicament for the Nationalists. For all that they may claim a mandate and have options on the table – there is only one route to a credible, internationally-recognised results on self-determination and that is a referendum agreed upon by the UK Government.

The UK Government knows the strength of their position. For all that this election may strengthen the Nationalists’ hand, it is Boris Johnson that still possesses the trump card. How he plays it could come to define his premiership.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for Portland’s newsletter Inside Holyrood 2021Subscribe here.

The capital should have its own diplomats in every UK embassy

GUEST POST: Eliot Wilson is Co-Founder of Pivot Point and a former House of Commons ClerkFollow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

British embassies around the world run the whole gamut. From No. 35, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré to Level 19 of the Shangri-La Offices in Ulaanbataar, they look different but all have the same purpose: to maintain and develop relations between the UK and the host country.

That can mean a multitude of different things in the post-Brexit era of “Global Britain”. Embassies and consulates are, of course, the call of last resort for UK nationals who have had some kind of crisis or mishap abroad, and the grand diplomacy of ambassadors and their counterpart governments can still be a game of careful words and calculated verbal parries. Increasingly, however, we think, and are encouraged to think, of embassies as shop-fronts for the UK, and their staff as salespeople.

They can also be umbrellas under which others can shelter. Defence attachés can talk to those in uniform; the British Defence Staff in the US has 750 men and women across the country. The Scottish Government has also seen the glimmer of opportunity, and has seven international offices across the world to make sure the skirl of the pipes is heard. Yet London, the capital and vastly dominant economic centre of the UK, accounting for more than a fifth of our national wealth, doesn’t receive the same kind of treatment.

It is easy to feel conflicted about London’s prominence. We like to trumpet its extraordinary economic pre-eminence—even a generous attitude towards New York will generally rank London second in the world—and we talk lovingly of its cultural and creative diversity, its vibrancy and the allure of its bright lights.

At the same time we grumble anxiously about the disparity between London and the South East on the one hand and the rest of the UK on the other, about the need for our economy to “level up” to achieve greater equality and solidarity, and we fear that the capital might be like the legendary upas tree, destroying all potential for growth around it.

There is certainly a debate to be had around the desirability of the UK’s urban unipolarity, but there is also truth in the old saw that we are where we are. London is our greatest economic centre, a global player and the UK’s chief glory on the world stage. How can we promote it better?

It may be a glib and bureaucratic proposal to suggest an embassy of any size should have a “First Secretary (London)” or similar on its staff. However, there should certainly be a designated point of contact for matters affecting the capital, whether in terms of movement of labour and services, inward investment, trade promotion or anything else. 

Nominated London diplomats would be able to create internal networks, so that each month, for example, there could be a conference call involving all of the ‘London’ officers in (say) sub-Saharan Africa. It may well be that an investment opportunity for a London-based company in Nairobi might also have some resonance in Kampala or Dar-es-Salaam.

The embassy structure must reach outwards too, naturally. The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, CBI London, London and Partners: there is no shortage of organisations dedicated to promoting the capital and its growth and prosperity, and the government should use its network of overseas missions to create a space in which these can operate. The state works best when it uses its powers to provide a platform and then steps back while the private sector does what it is trained to do.

Then there is the figure of the mayor himself. In a few days’ time we will likely have confirmation of Sadiq Khan’s second term at City Hall. Much of what the mayor does, especially in terms of international trade and investment, is to act as a cheerleader for the city, a role to which Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone were, in their own ways, well-suited.

If one campaigns in poetry but governs in prose, then one plans with bold strokes but executes with a thousand tiny lines. It would be easy to say that we should have a “London trade czar” to tour the capitals of the world, but in truth it is more effective and realistic to look at incremental change, creating sustainable networks and shifting one degree at a time, On one issue we must be very clear, however: if Global Britain is to work, if we are to make an economic recovery on an international scale, then London must be its beating heart. That pulse needs to be heard in every embassy and consulate around the world.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for City AM.

Time to get brutal … 

GUEST POST: Peter Bingle is Director at The Terrapin Group. Connect on LinkedIn 

There have always been bitter rivalries within government. In Tudor times it was Thomas Cromwell versus Thomas More. In more modern times it was Alastair Campbell versus Charlie Whelan. And now it seems (unbelievably) to be Carrie Symonds versus Dominic Cummings. How did it come to this during a pandemic?

In these battles, it’s essential that there is a winner and loser. Thomas More lost his head. Charlie Whelan lost his job. Once defeated (sacked or dead) there’s no way back. The winner literally takes all. 
 
No.10 is currently a battleground where relatively minor figures are engaged in non-mortal combat. It’s a battle involving text messages, notes of meetings, internal inquiries and leaks. And of course, who paid for the No.10 flat refurbishment!? Each side has their favoured journalists who seem perfectly happy to be used in a petty battle of influence and revenge. For the most part, normal folk couldn’t care less. 

If it’s true that someone at No.10 decided to brief against Dominic Cummings, they made a major mistake. A brilliant but potentially malevolent life force, he should have been left alone. His views on the failings of the machinery of government are correct. That is why he developed many enemies.

The problem, and it’s a major one, is that it diminishes the Prime Minister. That’s why it can’t be allowed to go on. There needs to be a triumphant winner and a loser, one who is out for the count and unable to return.

The danger for the PM is that it is hard to see Cummings being the loser. If there really is a dossier, No.10 has every reason to be scared. So do quite a few Cabinet Ministers whose failures and failings will be laid bare. We need to reach the shabby denouement of this sad little play as soon as possible. The theatre curtain can then be lowered, and we can go home.

And then what? The PM needs to appoint a real heavyweight to take over the running of No.10, sack the squabbling advisers, carry out a brutal reshuffle and start doing what he does best – Being Boris!

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website.

Second network survey

Today, we are pleased to launch our second network survey – Conservatives in Communications (CiC) Census 2021 – and invite all supporters to participate! This is your once-a-year opportunity to provide feedback, so we can better serve you and add more value going forward. 

With many thanks to Hanover Communications for sponsoring and to POLITICO London Influence for agreeing to publish the final results. 

ONLY SUPPORTERS CAN PARTICIPATE. CHECK EMAIL FOR LINK 

We are, first and foremost, a networking group. We understand the importance of creating and maintaining industry relationships. So, it’s been difficult not having had the opportunities to meet in-person for more than 12 months. Hopefully that will change soon as the restrictions ease-up. We’re actively planning for our Conservative Party Conference and House of Commons receptions in the autumn.

Despite this, we’ve kept the show on the road and hopefully presented like-minded individuals with the chance to share and benefit from each others’ knowledge and opportunities, including jobs.

Please do take a moment to review what we consider to have been our top 10 achievements during this period:

  • Grown the network to 735 professionals – up 84% from 400 
  • Doubled the number of industry patrons, while ensuring that 50% of them are women
  • Increased the number of parliamentary patrons to 45 – up 137% from 19
  • Partnered with organisations, including: Conservative Young Women, Digital Tories, Women2Win and Women in PA
  • Launched our CiC-Start mentoring scheme, which paired up 20 mentees with 20 mentors. 100% of feedback respondents would encourage others to get involved and 94% said it was a worthwhile experience. We have continued this in 2021 with another 40 participants, bringing the total to 80 supporters
  • Organised and invited you to two careers-focused online events, aimed at those exploring becoming a councillor and our younger base who are kick-starting their careers in communications 
  • Published and promoted 69 blog posts – from the team and our supporters – up 288% from 24 
  • Circulated regular e-newsletters and re-branded them as ‘In Con-Versation’, where we’ve promoted jobs, jobs, jobs at every single opportunity
  • Introduced our donation option, raising several hundred pounds. This means we remain firmly in the black 
  • Grown our social community on LinkedIn (to 738) and Twitter (to 1,502). Remember to follow us for updates in between our bulletins!

This survey should take you no longer than five minutes to complete and is completely anonymous – we will not know who’s provided which answers. Deadline: Wednesday, May 5. 

Thank you in advance.

Northern Ireland needs real leadership, not soundbites

GUEST POST: Timothy McLean is a Parliamentary Researcher. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn 

The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and the structures envisaged therein were premised on the understanding that cross community consent would be required for all important and controversial decisions. Throughout the Brexit process, the Conservative administration and the EU were at pains to point out their unwavering support for the agreement in all its parts.  

While an explosive cocktail of grievances is responsible for the recent violence on our streets, the UK government and the EU cannot absolve themselves of responsibility. Promises were made and broken. Warnings were delivered and dismissed as hollow. The lack of appreciation or, dare I say, disinterest in the genuine concerns of loyalism has led us to this dangerous juncture.  

It is hardly surprising that loyalism has reacted angrily when, by their actions, both sides have given credibility to the narrative that violence pays. If the mere threat of violence from dissident republicans is enough to achieve a political solution (i.e., no Irish land border) then loyalism will, rightly or wrongly, conclude that their actions are an acceptable means to an end. 

At the Conservative hustings in Northern Ireland, Boris Johnson was adamant that under no circumstances would he agree to a regulatory border in the Irish Sea. Fast forward to the present day and the streets are littered with signs which read ‘Ulster betrayed by Boris’. It cannot be understated just how palpable the sense of anger and betrayal is within the wider unionist and loyalist family. 

Unionism and loyalism feel strongly that the Protocol has usurped Northern Ireland from Great Britain and fundamentally undermined the constitutional settlement without consent. Who can feasibly argue that subjecting one part of your nation to the rulings of a foreign court doesn’t represent a constitutional change? 

Of course, violence must be condemned and is no solution to the problems which the Protocol has created. It is also fair to say that the crisis of confidence within loyalism is influenced by a range of factors, not least the failure of the PPS to charge any Sinn Fein politician with breaching Covid regulations at a mass republican funeral last June. 

However, it is not good enough for the government and the EU to say that loyalism must suck it up. Northern Ireland can only operate properly when there is consent from all sides. The Protocol does not command that support, undermines the Belfast Agreement and is at the root of the recent violence we have seen. The Conservative party has a duty to stand-up for Northern Ireland and the integrity of our country. Will they rise to the occasion? 

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website.

The curse of the humiliating photo shot

GUEST POST: Peter Bingle is Director at The Terrapin Group. Connect on LinkedIn

There appears to be a modern curse which afflicts senior Labour politicians. They are caught on camera doing something so stupid that it remains etched forever in the minds of voters. It is the curse of the humiliating photo shot. 

Neil Kinnock famously stumbled and then fell on the beach. Ed Miliband found eating a bacon butty too much to handle. His elder brother David was filmed grinning inanely holding a banana! And of course, poor old Gordon Brown fell afoul of the formidable Gillian Duffy. 

So, when Sir Keir Starmer, one of the dullest men in modern politics, entered a pub in Bath he had no idea that he too was about to fall victim to the curse. How wrong he was. Thanks to his handlers turning brutish, Sir Keir’s pub visit was a disaster. He has finally made the headlines but for all the wrong reasons. The whole nation is chuckling. His MPs will be in despair. Nothing is going well for the former Director of Public Prosecutions. Perhaps wealthy Camden isn’t the best base from which to win back those northern constituencies … 
 
Tellingly, Starmer’s response to a media disaster of the highest order wasn’t to fess up and laugh at himself but rather to try and rewrite what happened. So stupid.  
 
For evermore, Sir Keir will have to endure jibes about his visit to The Raven in Bath. Politics is a cruel business! 

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website. 

Scottish Tories need to save their campaign to save the Union

GUEST POST: Katie Frank is a Consultant at Portland Communications. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Over 700 years have passed since the Scottish Wars of Independence. While ballots, not battles, is now how Scotland decides its future, one thing is for certain: nothing, not even a pandemic, can shake the insatiable appetite Scotland has to debate one topic. Independence.

Since the referendum in September 2014, the Scottish Conservatives have been beating the drum for Unionism, with one key message: ‘No, to another divisive independence referendum’.

In the elections of 2016 and 2017, the Conservatives pounded the pavements with this simple message. It resulted in an electoral renaissance. Huge swathes of Scotland turned blue, some areas for the very first time. The Conservatives scalped major nationalist names in 2017, including Alex Salmond and the Westminster Leader Angus Robertson. SNP seats in their former heartland of North East Scotland were reduced to a small speck of yellow on the map surrounded by a sea of blue.

However, the election in 2019 saw this support wane. The loss of Ruth Davidson at the spearhead of the Unionist fight has been a damaging one for the Conservatives. Her successors, Jackson Carlaw, and now Douglas Ross, have seemingly failed to mobilise support for Unionism in the same way.

The Conservatives are the most electorally successful political party in the UK, and they are still the primary force for Unionism in Scotland – but they need to save their campaign if they are to resist the march of the nationalists and save the Union. With Scottish Labour hot on their heels, the Conservatives may accidentally hand the election, and the fate of the Union, to the nationalists unless they find the spark they had under Ruth Davidson.

Personality matters. This is something that No.10 and Edinburgh are painfully aware of.

The Conservative Party machine is undeniably an efficient and sometimes brutal one. Something Jackson Carlaw quickly learned. The Party machine has now started to kick into overdrive once more after a recent decline in the Scottish polls. Ruth Davidson, despite standing down, is featuring more prominently than Douglas Ross on much of the political literature and the Westminster rumour-mill is swirling with talk of potential plans for the Prime Minister to charge northwards to save the Union. These two big personalities could eclipse Douglas Ross in an effort to save the Union and the life of the Conservative and Unionist Party in Scotland.

Yet, personality is not everything. The Scottish Conservatives in the 2016 and 2017 elections were also not just the one-trick pony they now appear to be. They were strong on business, on education, on healthcare, and on the justice system. They seized effectively on the multiple policy failures that ran riot under the SNP’s leadership.

The recent internecine warfare in the nationalist movement between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond has damaged the post-Brexit uptick in support for independence and the reputation of the Government at Holyrood. But the Scottish Conservatives have not seized upon this opportunity or the numerous policy failures with the same vigour they would have done a mere 4 years ago.

The SNP’s PR machine is a slick one and the Scottish Labour Party have finally started to find their way out of the electoral wilderness. If the Scottish Conservatives do not revitalise their campaign and show a positive alternative future for Scotland, then they may entirely lose their place as the main party of opposition in Scotland.

Recent polls suggest that support for independence is teetering on a knife edge. But, the Scottish Conservatives must save their campaign and the life of the Party in Scotland, if they are to save the very Union itself.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for Portland’s newsletter Inside Holyrood 2021. Subscribe here.

Meet the matches

2021 PARTICIPANTS

Alice Offley, External Affairs Manager at Cadent Gas, has been paired with Mark MacGregor, Director at Stonehaven. Callum Murphy, Third Year Politics Student at Queen Mary University of London, was matched with Max Sugarman, Public Affairs & PR Director at the Railway Industry Association.

Emily Carter, Head of Political Campaigns & Business Manager at DevoConnect, has been paired with Mario Creatura, Head of the Digital Unit at Interel. Harvey McCabe, MA Political Student at Cardiff University, was matched with Robert Gill, Lead Policy Advisor (Work & Welfare) at Scope.

Jessica Webb, Public Affairs Manager at Rail Delivery Group, has been paired with Katie Perrior, Chair of iNHouse Communications. Lukas Degutis, Marketing & Digital Content Creator at Going Live TV, was matched with Peter Botting, Strategy, Storytelling & Speaker Coach.

Maria Murphy, Associate at Nudge Factory, has been paired with Jessica Goodrum, Head of Public Affairs at Hanover. Mark Edwards, Parliamentary Staff Member at House of Commons, was matched with Anita Boateng, Partner at Portland.

Mica Gray, Caseworker at House of Commons, has been paired with Georgie Callé, Account Director (Corporate Affairs) at Weber Shandwick. Olivia Lever, Final Year Marketing Student at the University of Liverpool, was matched with Sarah Wardle, Associate Director at Built Environment Communications Group.

Pierre Andrews, Senior Parliamentary Assistant to a Conservative MP, has been paired with Poppy Trowbridge, Corporate Affairs, Communications & Strategy. Salman Anwar, Parliamentary Assistant at House of Commons, was matched with Daniel Gilbert, Managing Director, Advocacy at Hanover.

Tim Wainwright, Senior Relationships & Strategic Projects Manager at the Office of the Rt Hon The Lord Mayor, has been paired with Laura Round, Associate Director at freuds and Director of Communications at The Sustainable Markets Initiative. Verity Freeman, Final Year Student at the University of Leeds, was matched with Kirsty Buchanan OBE, Campaign Director at Mainstream UK.

We were unable to secure permissions from some other pairings, due to work sensitivities, but we can highlight these individuals: Alice Humphreys, Account Manager at WA Communications; Cameron Wake, Public Affairs Consultant at FTI Consulting; Dan Hooper, Head of Campaigns (Sustainable Operations & Consumption) at Tesco; Lucy Philippson, Head of Government Relations & Stakeholder Engagement at the British Council; Naomi Harris, Director at WA Communications; and Rob Smith, Junior Account Executive at Thorncliffe.

2020-21 PARTICIPANTS

Aaron Kent, PR Team Assistant at TopCashback, has been paired with Michael Jefferson, Principal, Capital Markets and Wholesale Policy at UK Finance. Alex Cassells, Account Manager at 3 Monkeys Zeno, was matched with Lionel Zetter, Patron of Conservatives in Communications.

Callum Attew, Senior Account Executive at MHP Communications, has been paired with Alex Greer, Political Consultant and Director. Chantelle de Villiers, External Affairs Adviser at the British Retail Consortium, was matched with Samantha Magnus-Stoll, Consultant.

Emmanuel Hanley-Lloyd, Senior Account Executive at Connect, has been paired with Daniel Gilbert, Senior Director, Advocacy at Hanover Communications. Finley Morris, Account Executive at WA Communications, has been paired with Iain Anderson, Executive Chairman at Cicero/AMO.

Jeanmiguel Uva, Senior Account Executive at Hanover Communications, was matched with Lisa Townsend, Director at WA Communications. Joe Carton, Account Manager at Red Consultancy, has been paired with Peter Botting, Strategy, Storytelling & Speaker Coach.

Kayleigh Hadjimina, Parliamentary Campaigns and Engagement Manager at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, was matched with Samuel Coates, Strategy Consultant. Michaela Regan, Clinical Affairs and Commissioning Adviser at Cystic Fibrosis Trust, has been paired with Robert Gill, Lead Policy Advisor at Scope.

Nicholas Dunn-McAfee, Public Policy Manager at the British Fur Trade Association, was matched with Kevin Bell, Patron of Conservatives in Communications. Oliver Hazell, Senior Account Manager at Cavendish Advocacy, was paired with Tom Martin, Director at Quatro.

Ollie Simmonds, Account Executive at Headland Consultancy, was matched with Robert Lingard, Managing Director at White Stork Consultancy. Patrick Adams, Public Affairs Consultant, has been paired with Adam Honeysett-Watts, Founder & Director at do Different. and Principal Director at Conservatives in Communications.

Phoebe Sullivan, Account Manager at Built Environment Communications Group, was matched with Aisha Vance-Cuthbert, Head of Communications at One Housing. Philip Campbell, Head of Policy and Communications at The National Federation of Roofing Contractors, has been paired with Sophie Fitton, former Group Head of Corporate Communications & International Engagement at Centrica.

Samir Dwesar, Senior Account Manager at Cavendish Advocacy, has been paired with Matt Silver, Campaign Director at Babel PR. Sam Gold, Public Affairs Officer at Which?, was matched with Naomi Harris, Director at WA Communications.

We were unable to secure permissions from two additional pairings.

Levelling-up needs a brand

Finley Morris is Lead for Young Conservatives in Communications

“The government’s communications needed a clearer strategy and more coherent messaging” – that’s according to a new report published by the Institute for Government (IFG), which identifies 10 key lessons for the government’s strategy exactly a year after the first nationwide lockdown.  

I would go a step further and argue that this lesson should not only be applied to its “response to shocks” like global pandemics, terror events or states of emergency, but should be applied to the communication of all policy going forward – starting with the levelling-up agenda.  

The Government’s flagship levelling-up agenda isn’t a straightforward “policy” as such, nor can it be determined by any one single metric or a single piece of legislation. Instead, levelling-up can be seen as a set of institutional, fiscal and social reforms that together forge an ambition to tackle the long-term challenges that have haunted “left-behind and underperforming parts of the UK” for many decades, such as inequalities in health, income and opportunity.  

In order to communicate this agenda and for this bold ambition to be realised, the government should consider creating a brand for levelling-up. As Demos suggests, in the same way that brands were created for David Lloyd George’s ‘Old Age Pension’ and Aneurin Bevan’s ‘National Health Service’, Boris Johnson’s levelling-up agenda needs its very own brand.  

The politics of branding isn’t new to this Prime Minister. During his time as Mayor of London, Mr Johnson’s use of “brand Boris” was palpable; from Boris bikes to Battersea Power Station, regardless of their relative successes, his legacy in the city lives on and his impact is as visible today as it was at the time, which is far more than can be said for his successor Sadiq Khan. 

Having a clear umbrella narrative, a “brand identity” so to speak, is extremely important in determining the perceived focus of any organisation – not least, as the IFG notes, the government. This umbrella narrative helps voters place what might otherwise seem like an unconnected and often quite fragmented set of announcements under one coherent ambition, in particular one that the majority of people can support.  

Political theorists from Descartes to Daniel Kahneman have reiterated the importance of logical coherence when it pertains to voters’ general understanding of events and political announcements. The more coherent an individual perceives an action to be with their beliefs and their understanding of the world around them, the more likely they are to comprehend and ultimately support it. 

Creating a strong, consistent and clear brand for the levelling-up agenda may help the government’s chance of re-election in 2024. Just as consumers prefer to buy branded goods because they know what quality product they can expect or because they expect value for money and know they can save time choosing between other options – voters do the same.  

While there’s been some backlash since the summer, the Chancellor’s “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme is an obvious example of a well-branded policy that very quickly won support and widespread recognition among the public. A more equitable example for the levelling-up agenda is the NHS. What began as just a policy of free healthcare at the point of delivery is now a national institution recognised the world over because of its well-communicated values, principles and expectations. 

However it decides to do so – be it with a Rishi Sunak style signature or a unique identity and coherent narrative – the Government’s levelling-up agenda needs its very own brand.  

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website. 

Delivering bad news

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director at Conservatives in Communications, Co-Chair of the PRCA Corporate Group and Founder & Director at do Different. 

I recently hosted an event for the PRCA Corporate Group, where we discussed ‘delivering bad news’.

With many thanks to two of my clients: Aisha Cuthbert, Head of Communications at One Housing, and Andy Taylor, Head of External Affairs at Network Rail, as well as Conservatives in Communications patron Kulveer Ranger, Global Head of Strategy and Communications (Financial Services & Insurance) at Atos, for your contributions.

In brainstorming topics for our first event of the year, we felt that 2021 – as we finally emerge from the global pandemic and adjust to the full impact of Brexit – is shaping up to be a challenging economic environment for both large and small businesses alike. You only had to hear the Chancellor’s Budget – where he revealed a titanic shift in policy towards a higher tax, bigger borrowing, expanded state – to understand the difficulties that are facing us.

While many of the tough decisions, such as making redundancies, have been postponed again until after the furlough scheme ends, we believe corporate communications professionals may well find themselves tasked with articulating and delivering bad news as their organisations navigate these challenges. 

So, we discussed how to mitigate the negative impact on our companies, and salvage reputation when things are going south. Hopefully, it was a useful exercise for those starting out, those who have recently switched roles, and even for those seasoned pros to pick-up new tips and share ideas. 

This piece was written for do Different.

Conservatives must never be complacent about Starmer

Robert Halfon

GUEST POST: Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Is Keir Starmer doing that badly? I don’t want to rain on the parade of opinion poll Tory leads of anything from four to 13 per cent. Of course, it is far better to be in this position than trailing behind and our standing will be especially important in the run-up to local elections.

However, it is worth noting that Labour is still 24 points above its position after the 2019 General Election. It is also hard enough for any opposition party to get a look in, let alone in a national pandemic.

I remember well the Cameron opposition years, particularly when Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair in 2007.

At the time, especially over the summer months, Labour rocketed ahead in public opinion. It looked like Labour’s fourth consecutive election victory was in the offing. Yet, by October of that year, thanks to an astonishing performance by George Osborne on slashing inheritance tax, David Cameron’s Conference speech, Brown’s poorly timed trip to see troops in Iraq and his botched scrapping of an early election, Conservatives level pegged and even leapfrogged Labour in the opinion polls.

I won’t ever forget going to the 2007 Conservative Party Conference as Harlow’s parliamentary candidate (by then, standing for a third time), thinking that it was all over – and I would not be elected to Westminster. A few days later, all had changed, and Brown put off the election until 2010. The rest is history. It was for me.

I was driving around one of Harlow’s many roundabouts when I first heard that Brown had cancelled the election. It was announced on the post-conference Saturday lunchtime news on Radio 4. I literally stopped my car, as I was utterly amazed. I thought to myself, “Well Rob, you might get elected after all”.

I mention these things – not to be, as the Prime Minister might say, a “gloomster” – but only to remind fellow Conservatives that politics changes, literally, overnight.

Yes, the Labour Leader is often “Captain Hindsight” and he doesn’t always see the wood from the trees because of his love for forensics. But, it is not easy for opposition leaders to cut through. To his credit, Starmer is reforming the Labour Party by stealth, slowly weeding out the far-left and trying to rid his party of antisemitism.

Of course, the crucial test will come in policy, and whether the Labour Party will be counter-intuitive on public spending. Of that, there is little sign. It appears that there is no lobby group or vested interest they will not try and court in order to score the political equivalent of a quick clickbait “high” in the media and the internet. At some point, Her Majesty’s Opposition will have to take tough decisions if they want to be respected by the public and be a party of Government.

Nevertheless, Conservatives must never be complacent. The public mood can change pretty quickly. Labour party grassroots and council strength remains high. They have a long time to reform themselves and undo the damage of the Corbyn years.

Explaining public spending decisions

It is not always easy to set out the tough decisions on public spending to constituents, especially when they regard emotive issues seen to address social injustice. But, once we have worked out what our political spending priorities are, this is something all Conservatives are going to have to do.

Due to the pandemic, Government finances and our general economic situation are pretty bleak. The Government is spending more than £400 billion just to keep people and businesses afloat. Our country faces a debt bill of over £2 trillion pounds. Laid out in cash, this is enough money to fill Wembley Stadium. The interest on the debt currently sits at £49 billion pounds a year (money which could otherwise be spent on public services or cutting the cost of living – like taxes – for small business and lower earners).

The hard truth of it is that every decision the Government takes on spending increases, whether it is wages or other spending (e.g. on welfare or public services), means that either we will either have to raise taxes – quite possibly income tax – or borrow more. If we keep borrowing, we will simply have more debt and interest to pay. Borrowing will also mean that we will not have any funds available if there is a further economic shock (as we saw in 2008), or even another pandemic.

The Government does not take these decisions to be unpopular and it may sometimes get things wrong. But choices are being made under the difficult economic and financial circumstances our country currently finds itself in.

The other issue is that millions of workers have lost their jobs or their incomes. The Government has to make certain that spending decisions do not increase the burden for workers through higher taxes. Whichever way we look, there are no simple answers.

It is easy for the political opposition parties to campaign for more funding and win themselves short-term popularity because they do not share any of the responsibility for the difficult spending decisions that the Government has to make.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for ConservativeHome.com.

It is time to get tough with the social media giants

Maria Miller

GUEST POST: Maria Miller is a former Culture Secretary and is MP for Basingstoke. Follow on Twitter

I want 2021 to be the year that we finally grasp the nettle of online abuse – to create a safer, more respectful online environment, that will lead to a kinder politics too. The need has never been greater. Abuse, bullying, and harassment on social media platforms is ruining lives, undermining our democracy, and splintering society.

As an MP, I have had to become accustomed to a regular bombardment of online verbal abuse, rape, and even death threats. In this I am far from alone. Female colleagues across the House are routinely targeted online with abusive, sexist, threatening comments. As Amnesty has shown, black female MPs are most likely to be subjected to unacceptable and even unlawful abuse.

And while women and people from an ethnic minority background are more likely than most to receive abuse online, they are not alone. Hate-filled trolls and disruptive spammers consider anyone with a social media presence to be fair game: one in four people have experienced some kind of abuse online and online bullying and harassment has been linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

While the personal impact of online abuse is intolerable, we must not underestimate the societal effect it is having. Research by the think-tank Compassion in Politics found that 27 per cent of people are put off posting on social media because of retributive abuse. We cannot have an open, honest, and pluralist political debate online in an atmosphere in which people are scared to speak up.

Which is why I am working cross-party with MPs and Peers to ensure that the upcoming Online Harms Bill is as effective as possible in tackling the scourge of online abuse.

First, the Bill must deal with the problem of anonymous social media accounts. Anonymous accounts generate the majority of the abuse and misinformation spread online and while people should have an option to act incognito on social media, the harm these accounts cause must be addressed.

I support a twin-track system: giving social media users the opportunity to create a “verified” account by supplying a piece of personal identification and the ability to filter out “unverified” accounts. This would give choice to verified users while continuing to offer protection to those, for example whistle blowers, who want to access social media anonymously.

The public back this idea. Polling by Opinium for Compassion in Politics reveals that 81 per cent of social media users would be willing to provide a piece of personal identification (passport, driving license or bank statement most probably) to gain a verified account. Three in four (72 per cent) believe that social media companies need to have a more interventionist role to wipe out the abuse on their platforms.

Of course, this approach would need to be coupled with enforcement, and I believe that can be achieved by introducing a duty of care on social media companies, along the lines suggested in the Government’s White Paper.

For too long, they have escaped liability for the harm they cause by citing legal loopholes, arguing they are platforms for content not producers or publishers. The legal environment that has facilitated social media companies’ growth is not fit for purpose – it must change to better reflect their previously unimaginable reach and influence. Any company that sells a good to a customer already has to abide by health and safety standards, and there is no reason to exempt social media companies. Any failure by those companies to undertake effective measures to limit the impact of toxic accounts should result in legal sanctions.

Alongside a duty of care, we need more effective laws to give individuals protection, particularly when it comes to posting of images online without consent. Deepfake, revenge pornography and up-skirting are hideous inventions of the online world. I want new laws to make it a crime to post or threaten to post an intimate image without consent, and for victims to be offered the same anonymity as others subjected to a sexual offence, so we stop needing the law to play continuous ‘catch up’ as new forms of online abuse emerge.

Finally, the Government should make good on its promise to invest an independent organisation with the power and resources to regulate social media companies in the UK. All the signs suggest that Ofcom will be asked to undertake that role and I can see no problem with that proposal as long as the company is given truly wide-ranging and independent powers, and personnel with the knowledge to tackle the social media giants.

In making these recommendations to Government, my intention is not to punish social media companies or to stifle online debate. Far from it. I want a more respectful, representative, and reasonable discourse online. So, let’s work together over the coming 12 months to make this Bill genuinely world-leading in the protection it will create for social media users, in the inclusivity it will foster, and respect it will engender.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for ConservativeHome.com

Reaction to #Budget2021

“Even by the standards of Brown, Darling, Osborne and Hammond many of the details in this Budget had been leaked in advance, prompting the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways & Means to issue a joint statement reprimanding the Chancellor. In addition, you must have been hiding under a rock not to have seen the six minute Twitter video (of Netflix quality) plus all the Sunak-branded graphics. What followed was another first: a press conference on the Budget itself. Make no mistake, this was about selling Brand Rishi and shaping opinion before the papers had their say. Judging by the editorials – not the front pages – and the immediate polling, he did his job. This populist government is playing the long game.”

Adam Honeysett-Watts, Founder & Director at do Different.

This Conservative government isn’t leaving office for many years to come. Really pleased to see £19 million announced to tackle domestic abuse in England and Wales, with funding for a network of ‘Respite Rooms’ to support homeless women and a programme to prevent re-offending. It’s an issue that is close to my heart and affects so many. All too often it is hidden and not reported.”

Aisha Cuthbert, Head of Communications at One Housing

“Slick, well-managed Budget from the Chancellor. I’m excited by the prospect of a rapid recovery but let’s hope interest rates don’t rise in the meantime. Onwards and upwards!”

Katie Perrior, Chair of iNHouse Communications

“The impact of Covid has blown away the dogma of Tory fiscal policy. This is a Chancellor acting and redefining not only the fiscal landscape but the political landscape with his ‘right thing to do’ approach to the economy.”

Kulveer Ranger, Global Head of Strategy & Communications (Financial Services & Insurance) at Atos

“A skilful Budget making the best of the terrible hand the Covid crisis has dealt him. This was the first Instagram Budget.”

Lionel Zetter, Patron of Conservatives in Communications

“The Chancellor’s decision to write into the Budget lead-in times for changes in corporation tax was a canny political move as it gives business time to bake in the adjustments and it gives him the opportunity to defer those changes to much fanfare later down the line, if the economic situation allows.”

Naomi Harris, Director at WA Communications

“A perfect combination of politically astute, of-the-moment statements and fiscally flexible future policies. But scratch below the surface and the Chancellor has outlined a titanic shift in Conservative policy towards a higher tax, bigger borrowing, expanded state. This shift must now be reconciled with the Party and decades of conservative economic policy making thus far. Sunak’s second Budget is one he’ll answer for years to come.”

Poppy Trowbridge, Strategy and board advisory