Extinction Rebellion’s virtue-signalling hypocrisy undermines climate crisis cause

GUEST POST: Stephen Lynch is a PR and Public Affairs Consultant, and former Press Adviser to The Conservative Party. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Extinction Rebellion are now censoring the press in their pursuit of halting mass extinction. It’s also a peculiar time to stretch the precious resources of the emergency services, and deprive family newsagents of income during the prolonged menace of Covid-19. 

Former Labour ministers reckon that XR’s latest stunt comes out of the fascistic authoritarian regime playbook. Days after attacking the free press and its freedom to publish, the group’s latest email has the chutzpah to praise the “freedom to speak truth to power” as a hallmark of a “healthy democracy”.

Ironically, XR prevented readers of The Sun newspaper this weekend from hearing Sir David Attenborough’s thoughts about how to tackle the climate crisis. The mission of tackling the climate crisis needs those who can build alliances, not alienate them.

XR risks being irrevocably labelled as a left-wing, anarchist group of affluent activists more concerned with parading their morality on social media than effectively dealing with the complexity of the climate crisis. They face being officially classified as an organised crime organisation, with all the invasive surveillance that entails. Their blockades of printworks risk damaging the very cause the group is supposed to be supporting.

XR’s website says their struggle is not about left or right, yet they targeted every right-of-centre newspaper in their salvo against the “crooked billionaire press”. Their literature claims that XR avoids “blaming and shaming” any one individual, yet their recent emails attack Rupert Murdoch and “corrupt media moguls and dodgy politicians.”

XR misleadingly pushes the illogical notion to their followers that the UK government is sanguine about, or otherwise deliberately accelerating climate change. 

Prior to Covid-19 and after leaving the EU, achieving net zero became one of the government’s two overarching priorities, along with “levelling up” the nations and regions. Last year, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass a law ending its contribution to global warming by 2050; the UK has decarbonised faster than any other G20 country; it is the world’s biggest producer of offshore wind energy; it has cut emissions by 42 per cent since 1990.

There is always more to do, and few in Whitehall or in industry are complacent about sustainability.

Next November, 30,000 delegates, including heads of state and climate experts, will gather in Glasgow to agree coordinated international action for tackling the climate crisis at COP26. 

It will be the first time that the UK has taken on the presidency of this UN conference, and our government will want to lead the gathering with a powerful pledge and a message to other countries that it is time to step up.

The international community also hopes we will lead with a strong commitment on our own emissions so we will have credibility in encouraging other countries to follow suit.

The Met Office’s State of the Climate report this summer illustrates that over the last decade, summers and winters have been around 12 per cent wetter. Four new high-temperature records were registered in 2019, including the highest UK temperature.

Despite the UK’s achievements, there is a compelling case for action, especially as global carbon emissions have more than doubled since 1971. The question is how best can we make a genuine difference on this planet?  

China is responsible for more than one-quarter of all global carbon emissions, and along with the United States, India, Russia and Japan, the biggest polluters account for over half of all emissions.

This seems like a good place to start if you are serious about creating change.

The delayed COP26 also gives XR the opportunity to potentially influence a new administration in Washington, and one that would be more committed to the Paris Agreement at that.

Joe Biden has pledged to integrate climate change fully into US policy on trade and foreign affairs. A stronger believer in alliances, if he is elected president, he could also opt to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the UK to form the world’s greatest trading bloc, where the environment is an integral aspect, not an optional add-on.

XR should form partnerships with NGOs in these highest-emitting countries and seek to influence in a more convincing, mature, and legal way.

The global spotlight on Glasgow will help focus delegates’ attention, laser-like, on the task at hand.  

XR’s first demand is for the media and politicians to “tell the truth” about the global ecological emergency. Dale Carnegie’s best-selling books on persuasion do not recommend starting a negotiation by publicly questioning the other side’s honesty and integrity.  

XR can engage more effectively and professionally with the proceedings – coffees, meeting agendas and informed discussion rather than handcuffs, tantrums and disruption motivated by self-appointed moral superiority. Lobbying is making the right argument, to the right person, at the right time. XR can make a strategic shift away from civil disobedience and towards civil engagement and debate in Glasgow, Scotland’s Dear Green Place, next year.

Protest can put critical issues on the agenda, but you need lawmakers and policies to make the change. We have the means to act. The UK is in prime position to coordinate, cajole and enable the substantial political will required. We can begin to finally turn the tide against decades of complacency, for which there may be an awfully high cost.

XR can be a help, not a hindrance in a long campaign that will ultimately be won with advanced diplomacy, persuasion and technology – not by casting aspersions on the intelligence of the people whose support you need, or on the motives of the people who will legislate the change.

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

This piece was written for The Independent.

Just what is now ‘normal’?

GUEST POST: Tony Freeman is a Freelance Thought-Leadership Consultant specialising in financial technology. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

One of the best managers I’ve worked for used to allocate an hour per day for informal thinking and reflection – sometimes he did it alone while other times he chewed the fat with his colleagues in a completely unstructured way. During my professional career, I’ve seen and heard many people confuse activity with productivity. Further, a friend who works in a managerial capacity in the education sector told me that, at the onset of the lockdown, his boss immediately organised seven hours of Zoom calls for his team. That’s not seven hours in total – that’s seven hours every, single, day. He didn’t allow any time for pre-meeting preparation or post-meeting execution – let alone time to think and reflect. The boss, who is the CEO, clearly doesn’t trust his team to do the right thing. Unsurprisingly, his team doesn’t feel comfortable and they are exhausted from being in an artificial meeting environment almost all day, every day.

It will take a while to paint an accurate picture – but, perhaps in a year’s time, we’ll be able to look back and say who had a good or a bad lockdown. The phrase “(s)he had a good war” is little heard nowadays, however, it was commonplace when I was growing up. The example I remember best is Denis Healey, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer and a potential prime minister during the tumultuous mid-seventies. At the beginning of the Second World War, he was a lowly gunner and five years later left the army as a major with an MBE. He was decorated for his bravery for being in charge of the Allied beach landing at Anzio, Italy. And he spoke fluent Italian due to a number of local girlfriends… By most interpretations, he had a good war!

I’ve been keeping a diary since the pandemic first emerged. The most often-cited issue is the NHS. Has it had a good war? My view is that it’s a nuanced answer. With 1.4 million staff and an annual budget of £130 billion it really can’t be looked at as a single cohesive entity. It consumes about 10% of our national GDP. No other entity, public or private sector, comes remotely close.

Some elements of the NHS are in the “could do better” category. NHS logistics failed in the early stages of the pandemic, the provision of PPE was chaotic and it certainly didn’t communicate effectively. At the 2019 General Election, Comrade Corbyn tried to scare us into thinking that the NHS would be sold to US firms. Thankfully, the public wasn’t fooled by this nonsense – but, it does raise the issue of whether it’s an unwelcome idea. Who would you prefer to run the NHS supply chain: NHS bureaucrats with limited international capability and no plan for a pandemic or global logistics wizards with state-of-the-art technology at Amazon? Don’t get me started about NHSX – did they really think they are better at developing apps than Apple or Google? The heroic efforts of our hospital doctors and nurses can’t be allowed to bury these issues.

We are closest to GP services. A recent claim by Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson – that GP surgeries may not re-open until March 2021 – prompted a flurry of responses from doctors who claim to be working just “normally”. NHS England medical director for primary care, Dr Nikki Kanani, said: “General practice is open and has been throughout the pandemic. Whilst consultations may have been offered remotely or virtually to keep patients and staff safe, our practices have been open and offering care.” This is not my experience.

I’m 58 and consider myself fairly digitally savvy. I’m completely OK with telephone and video consultations. For me, in most circumstances, they’re better than face-to-face meetings. I also have a number of close relatives in their eighties with chronic long-term conditions. Most of these people have trouble operating a TV remote control – let alone a WhatsApp video-call on a smartphone. Very few of them actually own or have access to a smartphone! Many have some level of hearing loss, which an aid doesn’t appear to compensate for on the telephone.

Not all old people are technophobes, however it is a prevalent issue. I know old folks who still think the phone is really only for emergencies. A story on the BBC PM show recently highlighted that some old people still prefer to make calls in the afternoon because it’s cheaper than in the morning. (Note for younger readers: this used to be true in the 1980’s). One elderly chap said he only switches on his mobile phone when he wants to make a call. 

GP surgeries closed their doors in mid-March and have only recently started a cautious re-opening programme. Before Covid-19 there were about 26 million GP appointments per month. If you’re elderly the only way you know how to communicate with a doctor is by meeting them in-person. When you meet a doctor, they will routinely assess your body language, your pallor and your general demeanour. How can they do this over the phone? Doctors are expert at listening to what you say and reading between the lines. Many of my elderly relatives will be more honest in the privacy of a doctor’s consultation room than in their own home. They are not accustomed to intimate, private conversations via telephone. The conversation is likely to be a lot more stilted and therefore less productive.

Speaking recently at a meeting of the Royal College of Physicians, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘From now on, all consultations should be tele-consultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to’. My local GP website says: “You cannot book a face to face GP appointment. Following telephone consultation you may be asked by the GP to attend.” Only 10% of consultations now physically take place. This is a radical change – and hasn’t been properly justified, as far as I can tell. Plus, how much consultation on the issue has been conducted?

Medical professionals need to be protected – but, at what cost? My local authority has an infection rate (in the week to August 21) of 2.1 per 100,000 people. That equated to two people … The physical closure of GP surgeries may have been sensible at the peak of the pandemic, however things have moved on, surely? The medical establishment is very good at pumping out statistics about the number of virtual consultations it’s done. But, have they measured the effectiveness and patient satisfaction recently? It would be good to know. Perhaps it’s time they both thought and reflected.

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

This piece was written for our website.

Damian Collins on “Rule, Britannia!”

Damian Collins

GUEST POST: Damian Collins is the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Nearly nineteen years ago, on September 15, 2001, I watched along with a group of friends the Last Night of the Proms, broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall to giant screens in London’s Hyde Park. This was just four days after the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and the decision was correctly taken to change the running order to reflect the public mood in reaction to these terrible events. For the finale, before the singing of the hymn “Jerusalem”, we heard Michael Tippett’s “A Child of Our Time” and part of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, instead of the usual singing of “Land of Hope and Glory” and “Rule, Britannia!”

In recent years, I have been fortunate to attend the Last Night of the Proms in person, and I enjoy the music and traditions of this great spectacle and much as any of its enthusiasts. The event has become a national institution culminating in the performance of “Rule Britannia”, “Land of Hope and Glory” as well as “Jerusalem”. In fact, the decision to change the arrangement of the music in 2001 signified the strength of this institution, making it a significant act of reverence and respect.

There has been an argument in the last week about proposed changes to this year’s Last Night of the Proms, which will mean that “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land of Hope of Glory” will be played, but not sung. The reasoning for this is not entirely clear, and it is certainly not the result of a debate or consultation with viewers. There has been a suggestion that this is because some people regard the performance of these songs as out-dated and even that some of the words are offensive. People are of course entitled to their opinion, but so too are the millions of people who have enjoyed these performances over the years.

Great words and music that become part of our national culture, based on the significance people have attached to them over many years, often centuries, should not be lightly discarded.

Often, they have been rallying cries calling people to put personal interests aside for the greater good to their community and nation. The words of the French anthem, “La Marseillaise”, might seem somewhat out of touch to some modern ears, when it calls the people of France to arms against tyranny and to water the fields of the nation with the blood of the ‘impure’ foreign invaders. In the context of the time, the song was a rallying defence in the revolutionary wars of the late eighteenth century, but surely its greater significance today is as an anthem that has been a constant focal point for a nation through more recent triumphs and tragedies. “Rule, Britannia!” was written in 1740 by Thomas Arne as part of a musical about King Alfred the Great, England’s first king, who united a divided nation in defence against a foreign invader. The words of the song recount how Britain’s strength would mean that it could resist invasion from a tyrant, and indeed that power would be significant in our nation’s role in abolishing the slave trade in the nineteenth century. For 280 years it has been performed and enjoyed, invoking confidence in the future and a sense of shared and common purpose. These are qualities that are needed for all times, and particularly our own.

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

This piece was written for Damian’s website.

Don’t mention the C-word!

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director of Conservatives in Communications

Great Britain? Seemingly, the British are even ‘great’ at censoring and cancelling, rather than conserving, things. The shame! Certain foods, people, statues and words – there are too many to cite – have all made the banned inventory. Now, as reported in The Sunday Times, “The BBC is discussing whether to drop “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land of Hope and Glory” from the Last Night of the Proms in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.” Don’t even go there, my friend.

Be that as it may, I do like a good trend and – since absolutely everyone’s doing it – I’m going to jump on the bandwagon. Let’s ban that hideous C-word… No, not that one! Nor conservatives, communications, Christianity or cancer. I’m referring to Coronavirus, Covid-19, or as President Trump (and others) often refer to it: the China, or sometimes Chinese, virus. You’ll be glad to know this blog isn’t about semantics.

Whatever your preferred turn of phrase, the alternative Big C has overtaken the weather and Brexit as the most talked about topic – of the year, decade, century and perhaps millennium – and is no doubt the biggest trend in Google search history. It’s all our relatives, friends, colleagues and clients are discussing. Whenever you switch on the radio, pick up a newspaper or scroll social media – morning, noon or night – it’s there. Non-stop. Enough already!

As much as I wanted to take part in the Great British Staycation (with God as my witness) – I had my heart set on South Wales or Cornwall – we decided to swap England for A Room with a View in Italy to avoid the perpetual drip, drip, drip of doom and gloom. I’m guessing Boris, Carrie, Wilfred and Dylan are wishing they’d done the same too! What a sad state of affairs that the British Prime Minister can’t enjoy a break in these Isles after a very eventful few months.

And so, we headed to Lombardy – the European epicentre of the disease – and from there we toured Umbria, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. Here’s the thing: the Italians have mastered face-covering and hand-washing; they’ve incorporated them into daily life. Few moan about it. The same cannot be said of Italian driving: indicating is an optional activity and tail-gating remains a national pastime! Point being, the Italians are living again and Brits should follow suit.

It’s great that folk are taking advantage of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme (which is due to run out next Monday), retail sales are above pre-pandemic levels and some businesses are encouraging employees to go back to the office. Oh my goodness we need to crack on dot com. But, while the government, companies and media have roles to play in setting the mood, planning for the future and not sensationalising news, individuals need to accept some personal responsibility. In my opinion, it starts by banning the C-word!*

*I realise this isn’t a realistic proposition, however.

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

This piece was written for our website.

Meet the matches

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.

How to navigate a crisis like Covid-19 on social media

GUEST POST: Ethan Wilkinson is a Creative and Digital Strategist. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

While Covid-19 was not the first crisis to affect normal life, nor will it be the last, it has been one of the most disruptive in terms of global impact. Schools closed, millions of employees furloughed and elections postponed, as well as many lives tragically lost.

Social distancing increasingly isolated us by restricting visits to family and friends, the concept of connection took on a new meaning with the role of social media and technology critical.

We are able to see the power of social media when these conversations turn into a community of connections between distant individuals reaching out to help others and create meaningful relationships virtually.

Whether you are a candidate or already elected to local public office, where do you fit into a crisis like this and how can you use social media for good?

Here are five tips to help you navigate a crisis – like Covid-19 – on social media:

1.   Assess the situation online

What is the current mood on social media? What are people talking about, how are they reacting and what hashtags are trending? Social media will provide you a real-time snapshot of how things are on the ground. While it can be difficult to postpone campaigns or cancel certain content, carrying on with business as usual, even when well-intentioned, could look tone-deaf.

2.   Work out if there is a place for you

Once you have assessed the situation and the state of play on social media, determine what role you and your movement can play, and if your audience wants or needs anything from you.

3.   Do NOT turn a crisis into a platform to promote your campaign

Often nearly every aspect of life changes due to a crisis. It might be tempting to find new, creative ways to use social media to promote your campaign while it is abuzz with conversation. However, a word of caution: people can smell opportunistic politicians who are exploiting a crisis from a mile away and won’t be scared to call you out! (Usually on Twitter…) If you have decided that you can’t provide any help, it is better to publish a simple message expressing empathy with the situation. If you are really unsure how to navigate a crisis, stay quiet while you formulate a plan.

4.        Communicate with your community

Humans crave connection and you have the opportunity to open yourself up to conversations within your community to forge bonds. This isn’t a time to solicit votes, but a time to show with words and deeds the care you have for your community.

5.        Lead with empathy, not fear

During a crisis people want to know that we’re all in this together. It can help if we are able to show others how we feel. Use shared experiences to make your content and campaigns authentic and relevant. Use this time to serve your community with positive action, not to capitalise on fear and anxiety, even if you see potential for political point scoring.

Whether you are running for office or already elected, it’s imperative that you have a social media campaign plan that helps you identify your objective, your target audience and any campaign consequences.

I’ve recently launched an eBook teaching local, regional and devolved politicians how to better use social media to connect with their local communities. If Conservative candidates around the country want to win the votes of their local communities, you need to have a plan in place.

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

This piece was written for our website.

Censorship cannot become the new normal

Joy Morrissey

GUEST POST: Joy Morrissey is the Conservative MP for Beaconsfield and Patron of Conservatives in Communications. Follow on Twitter

At a time when we are all still struggling to come to terms with Coronavirus, I would like to re-emphasise the vitally important principle of free speech. Many may not believe that this should be a priority right now, when we are faced with the daunting task of fighting this virus and supporting our ailing economy. But without the historic principle of free speech, which allows for the free flow and exchange of innovative ideas, we would not have been able to make the great scientific and policy making strides that are helping people around the world to tackle this pandemic.

Yet, worryingly, across the Western world, evidence is mounting that people, particularly the young, seem less and less appreciative of the value of free speech. This has become increasingly apparent as more people try to censor the opinions of those with whom they disagree rather than challenging them with reasoned arguments.

This has unfortunately intensified to the extent that individuals themselves are now being censored, no-platformed or “cancelled” in a misguided attempt, almost religiously, to defend the idea that certain beliefs are sacrosanct and cannot therefore be challenged or criticised.

As a result, we now live in a culture where not a day goes by without an individual or public figure having to clarify, apologise or resign for having expressed an opinion, or said a word out of place, or deviated from the approved line on a given subject.

We cannot perhaps expect people from all corners of society to appreciate just why free speech matters so much and how it influences, shapes, and improves their everyday lives.

Yet the vital importance of free speech must be well understood by academic institutions which only exist, and continue to thrive, because of our liberal freedoms.

How can universities seriously expect to maintain their status as bastions of thought, knowledge and innovation, when they continually allow their student bodies to censor research or academic speakers who contradict their world view? Surely they realise how illogical their wilful inaction is?

Already there are real concerns that the failure of institutions to stand up for liberal values could be stifling and suppressing research, discussion and innovation by academics in other areas.

A report from Policy Exchange has suggested that right-leaning, or Brexit-supporting academic staff at universities feel uncomfortable expressing their views, because doing so may trigger a hostile response which could hamper their research and their careers.

This extends to other contentious issues such as those surrounding trans rights. In fact, the report points out that many academics feel as though they must self-censor their work prior to publication. This undermines the very existence of universities as open and thought-provoking environments where old ideas can be challenged and new ideas created.

This is also bad news for the wider public, as potentially game-changing concepts could be stifled, while impractical ideas and solutions get bulldozed through unchallenged.

If universities are more concerned about hurting people’s feelings than the quality and breadth of their academic research then I believe we have a serious and endemic crisis right at the heart of our premier educational institutions.

This is already having consequences across society with schools, public bodies and workplaces following universities’ example and failing to foster an environment which embraces open discussion and debate.

Across our society we need to do more to distinguish between abusive speech inciting violence, and free speech which involves the expression of new ideas and the challenging of old ones. There should be unanimous agreement about the vital importance of the latter.

Only through free and open debate have projects from both Conservatives and Labour, which were previously thought of as unthinkable or unworkable, eventually became universally accepted hallmarks of our country, such as the NHS or the principle of privatisation.

No one – and no idea – is so perfect or unassailable as to be beyond criticism. If you have strongly held beliefs, then you should be prepared to defend them through reasoned and measured debate, exposing weak criticisms for what they are and highlighting how much stronger your own arguments are.

This means of course that we may all be exposed to views and opinions that we find unpalatable or even preposterous. But the minute we start chipping away at the free expression of others, we begin to erode the very essence of what makes us a democracy.

That is something which as a party we must not allow to happen. Universities should wake up and smell the coffee and act now to uphold the very principle of free speech on which they were founded.

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

This piece was written for ConservativeHome.com.

SNP’s hate crime legislation is a threat to freedom of expression

GUEST POST: James Somerville-Meikle is Head of Public Affairs at the Catholic Union of Great Britain. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

What do Catholic Bishops and the National Secular Society have in common? Despite their different world views, they have found common ground in opposing the SNP’s overhaul of hate crime legislation – which both groups fear will damage freedom of expression in Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill was introduced earlier this year with the aim of helping to “build community cohesion”. It has proved more effective than Scottish Ministers could ever have imagined. Most of civil society in Scotland is now united in opposition to the Bill.

A recent consultation by Holyrood’s Justice Committee revealed the full extent of this opposition – which goes well beyond the usual nationalist critics. The Society of Scottish Newspapers, the Law Society of Scotland, and the Scottish Police Federation, have all publicly called for a rethink from the Scottish Government.

A new campaign group – Free to Disagree – has started to oppose the Bill, led by former SNP Deputy Leader Jim Sillars, the National Secular Society, and the Christian Institute. To have brought together such a diverse range of opponents is a pretty impressive achievement by the SNP’s Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf.

But it’s the criticism from the Scottish Catholic Bishops which is perhaps the most striking.

In their submission to the Justice Committee, the Bishops warn that “a new offence of possessing inflammatory material could even render material such as the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church… inflammatory.”

Let’s be clear what this means – the Catholic Church, which counts around 700,000 followers in Scotland, is worried that legislation currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament could make expressing their beliefs a criminal offence.

The Bishops acknowledge their concerns are based on a “low threshold” interpretation of the proposed new offence. But the fact that such concerns exist at all is extraordinary.

Catholic Bishops in Scotland choose their battles carefully – conscious of a public sphere that does not take kindly to lectures from Bishops. The strength of their public comments shows just how much concern there is about the Bill. It’s also perhaps a sign they think this is one area where they might be able to force a change of approach from the Scottish Government.

The Bill would also introduce a new offence of “stirring up hatred” against certain groups, even if a person making the remarks had not intended any offence.

Currently in Scotland, the offence of “stirring up hatred” only applies in respect of race, but this would be expanded under the Bill to include “age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variation in sex characteristics.”

This huge expansion of the law is not combined with any definition of what “stirring up hatred” means. The Bill’s Explanatory Notes say that an offence could be committed through “behaviour of any kind”, which “may consist of a single act or a course of conduct.” In other words, pretty much anything could constitute an offence.

Crucially, criminal behaviour under the new law would be based on offence caused, rather than intended – a significant difference to England and Wales where intent is required for a person to be criminalised for behaviour which someone finds insulting. As a result, it risks creating a situation in which offending becomes an offence.

It’s little wonder that police officers, lawyers and journalists are deeply worried about the proposals. The Bill paints broad brush strokes and leaves others to work out the picture. The task of interpreting a law where offences are not wholly within your control but based on how others perceive your words and actions, is fraught with perils.

Catholic Bishops fear this could lead to a “deluge of vexatious claims”. The Scottish Police Federation warns it could mean officers “determining free speech”, leading to a breakdown in relations with the public. And the Law Society of Scotland raised concerns that “certain behaviour, views expressed or even an actor’s performance, which might well be deemed insulting or offensive, could result in a criminal conviction under the terms of the bill as currently drafted.” Not exactly the cohesive society envisaged by the Scottish Government.

At the heart of this debate is a fundamental question about what a cohesive and tolerant society looks like. Does tolerance require conformity and removing any possible source of offence? Or does it mean accepting and respecting difference of opinion within certain red lines?

To use No 10’s language – it’s a question of whether we level up or level down when it comes to freedom of expression. In the case of the SNP’s proposals, it looks like a race to the bottom.

This is not an enviable position. As Stephen Evans from the National Secular Society points out:

Freedom to say only what others find acceptable is no freedom at all.

There is still time for the Scottish Government to reconsider its approach. Most of the groups opposed to the Bill, including the Catholic Bishops, agree that stirring up hatred is wrong, and would welcome an update to hate crime legislation. But the current approach is not working and Scottish Ministers must realise that.

Creating a catch-all offence, and passing the buck to the police and courts, is not the way forward. It’s sloppy law-making, and risks threatening the vibrancy and diversity of life in Scotland.

The publication of the Bill has shown that people with completely different views are capable of respecting one another, and even working together for a common cause.

What unites religious and secular voices is a belief in freedom of expression. This must be upheld, or we will all suffer as a result.

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

This piece was written for ConservativeHome.com.

Crafting stories, changing narratives and shaping reality

GUEST POST: Jason MacKenzie is Managing Partner of Corporate Communications at Nudge Factory and Past-President of the Chartered Institute of Public RelationsFollow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

I’ve always worried about talking to stakeholders about the power of storytelling. I fear it sounds juvenile, childish, even infantile. What springs to mind when you hear the word? Telling stories at bedtime to your son or daughter (or nephew, niece, godson or goddaughter)?

Perhaps that’s why we sometimes call it ‘brand narrative’. It’s way more grown up: grand, perhaps even arcane or opaque. To some, of course, it sounds like nonsensical jargon, management-speak, even gobbledegook. There are downsides to both articulations, but to all intents and purposes, they’re one and the same.

But why do we harp on about ‘storytelling’ and ‘brand narrative’? Why is ‘story’ powerful, and why should businesses, organisations and brands of all sizes pay careful attention to creating and telling their own stories?

The answer is simple – a story is memorable in the way that a fact sheet or report isn’t. A story moves our hearts, lodges in our minds and stirs us to action. A story evokes feelings, provokes a response and connects with us on an almost primordial level.

When you’re faced with a choice between brand ‘A’ and brand ‘B’ – the emotional factor will always play a disproportionate role in your decision-making. This is true for products and services, and it also works with personalities, countries and all other propositions.

As we go through life, we pick up all manner of subconscious perceptions, and they become our ‘truth’. If the messaging and the underpinning substance of a brand is clear, compelling and consistent, we understand, absorb and embrace a shared perception of reality.

Let’s do a little exercise.

When you read ‘Germany’ – what comes to mind? Something about efficiency, engineering, beer, perhaps some historical association with the two World Wars, maybe certain brands – such as Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and BMW. The likelihood is that you have a few key thoughts, expressed through maybe a dozen or so words. Your list of perceptions might be different to mine – but they’ll be in the same ballpark.

German’s brand narrative is unambiguous and strong. To the casual observer, that seems to be just a reflection of the nation’s reality. Would it surprise you to know that this is something they work hard at? They certainly can’t do much about the weft and wove of their history, society and culture – but they can emphasise and communicate the positives, and attempt to negate and minimise the negatives. 

There are all manner of indices that rank nation brands, from the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index to the Good Country Index. Some focus on trade, some on tourism, others on inward investment. African nations seeking to become recognised as democracies might focus on improving their Freedom House score, gaining better standing in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index and lowering their Gini coefficient.

Each index is built on extensive desk, qualitative and quantitative research – and provides a part of the overall picture. None are perfect, but all offer an opportunity for a nation to benchmark itself and work on strategic communications to frame itself in the best possible light, thus advancing its soft power standing in the world.

Let’s bring it down to a personal level. Individual brands are built in just the same way. They rise and fall depending on behaviours and positive or negative exposure to audiences through media and social media. This is as true for politicians as it is for pop stars. Great PR can’t change the nature of a person’s appeal – but it can mitigate the downsides and maximise their best character and competency features.

Take Prime Minister Boris Johnson. A cursory scan of his career to date has seen him take a roller coaster journey. Whilst he’ll always be seen in an unfavourable light by certain people, he’s enjoyed peaks of huge popularity, and troughs where his reputation has been low and his future seemed on a downward arc. Right now, it’s hard to pin exactly where he is, but there’s clearly room for improvement and his visionary leadership style is needed now more than ever.

Crafting a brand narrative takes time. It requires evidence, insight and powerful, persuasive messaging. It leverages the best of a proposition and builds on it – carefully connecting individual elements of its message to specific audiences and stakeholders. Done well, this builds awareness, shapes perception, and ultimately makes people think, feel and act differently toward the brand. And that’s why I still talk about storytelling: it’s neither childish nor trivial. Executed and implemented well, it changes reality.

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

This piece was written for Nudge Factory.

CiC-Start Mentoring Scheme 2020

Alec Zetter, Co-Director of Conservatives in Communications, and Finley Morris, Lead for Young Tories in Comms

Data from the CiC Census 2020 indicated that two thirds of respondents are interested in being mentored by a fellow supporter while three quarters are interested in becoming a mentor. In addition, our 12-point plan to support female conservatives in communications includes a commitment to launching a mentoring programme.

With that in mind, we are proud to launch the CiC-Start Mentoring Scheme 2020/21 – to offer mentoring opportunities for our growing base, especially our younger supporters. This is your chance to either learn from the best that the industry has to offer or to share your best practices.

Details

The scheme is open to all registered supporters of Tories in Comms – in PR, public affairs, policy-making, marketing, events, publishing, journalism and advertising – and, where possible, we will endeavour to match mentors and mentees from the same or similar sub-set.

The programme will run on a six-month rotational basis for 40 supporters beginning September 2020 through to February 2021. We will match 20 professionals seeking to get ahead in their careers with 20 others who can listen and offer their counsel. And we encourage pairs to maintain those relationships after the period ends.

Each relationship will be personal and defined by the two individuals involved, however we are asking all participants to commit to one initial hour-long introductory meeting (call, video or in-person) to get to know each other. After that, we recommend a minimum of one engagement each month throughout the scheme. We will then seek your feedback.

If successful, we will review the parameters for the overall programme i.e. expand or limit the scope and invite a second round of participants to apply in January. If you are unsuccessful this time it’s not personal it’s just a numbers game; we will aim to secure a future slot for you.

Apply

We invite potential mentees and mentors to complete this very short application by July 24, 2020. All applicants, whether successful this time or not, will be informed of next steps by August 14, 2020. We thank you in advance for your interest and look forward to hearing what emerges from this initiative. Any questions, email us.