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.

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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.

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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!

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This piece was written for our website.

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? 

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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! 

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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.  

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This piece was written for our website.