A lockdown readathon

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director of Conservatives in Communications

I’ve been badgering folks to read more during the lockdown and so I decided to jot down and review the two books per week that I get through (c.7,700 pages so far). The only sequence to the below is the order in which I finished them. This list combines non-fiction and fiction titles as well as political and non-political genres.

For consistency, all links direct to publisher sites or Amazon. For availability, check with your independent bookseller before online retailers. Publisher information relates to the copies I own.

1. The MAGA Doctrine: The Only Ideas That Will Win the Future by Charlie Kirk

HarperCollins | 2020 | Hardback | 256 pages            

Love him or loathe him, Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the US; but, how did we end up here? Turning Point USA’s founder-president sets out the ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) stall – the movement that brought Trump to The White House – and how he intends to win a second term (clue: ‘Keep America Great’ is the new slogan).

Rating: 3 out of 5.

2. National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy by Roger Eatwell & Matthew Goodwin

Penguin | 2018 | Paperback | 384 pages

Professor Goodwin brought up ‘national populism’ – the 21st century conundrum, including MAGA, that’s challenging mainstream politics – at the Conservatives in Communications Spring 2020 Reception. This text goes further – beyond lazy stereotypes of Brexit and Trump supporters – and looks at what is next: will Matteo Salvini become the next Prime Minister of Italy?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

3. Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

Atlantic | 2009 | Paperback | 256 pages

Set in 1980s Italy – in fact, the film was directed about an hour from Salvini’s hometown of Milan – this real page-turner centres on the blossoming relationship between an intellectually precocious and curious teenager, Elio, and a visiting scholar, Oliver. It chronicles their short, summer romance and the 20 years that follow, which is developed in the sequel ‘Find Me’.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

4. Find Me by André Aciman

Faber & Faber | 2019 | Hardback | 272 pages

Billed as the sequel to ‘Call Me by Your Name’, this novel focuses on three romances: that of Elio’s father and a younger woman, called Miranda; that of Elio and an older man, called Michel; and that of Elio and yes, Oliver. If you discovered the former, you should definitely read this; though a word of warning – manage your expectations.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

5. The Gatekeeper by Kate Fall

HarperCollins | 2020 | Hardback | 272 pages

The Baroness was at the heart of David Cameron’s administration for over a decade. As one of the former prime minister’s most trusted advisors (deputy chief of staff), this is a must-read for any past, current and wannabe media or policy SpAd; it is full to the brim with snippets of information, including several new revelations.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

6. Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us by Donald Trump, Jr.

Center Street | 2019 | Hardback | 304 pages

This isn’t elegant prose, but it’s a wide-ranging and colourful book – think Boris Johnson and Jeremy Clarkson on speed – that covers everything from his childhood to the present day and beyond. If you follow him on social media and you’re (i) a conservative – you will love it, but if you’re (ii) anything else – I can’t really guarantee your reaction.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

7. Friends, Voters, Countrymen: Jottings on the Stump by Boris Johnson

HarperCollins | 2002 | Paperback | 288 pages

Like ‘The Gatekeeper’ – albeit early on in his career – this memoir, of his campaign to become the MP for Henley and endorsed by Jeremy Paxman, is essential reading for any Tory candidate. It is both educational and entertaining, and reflective of his personal style for The Telegraph and The Spectator, including phrases that are now synonymous with him.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

8. The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray

Bloomsbury | 2018 | Paperback | 384 pages

The Literary Review is spot on here: “Disagree passionately if you will, but you won’t regret reading it.” The author dares to tread where others have avoided like the plague – focusing on three traditionally sensitive topics – however, in my opinion, he does it all rather well; although, perhaps, it could have been written with half as many words.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

9. Seventy Two Virgins by Boris Johnson

HarperCollins | 2005 | Paperback | 336 pages

Now shadow arts minister, this was his first novel to be published, thereby making him the third novelist – after Disraeli and Churchill – to become prime minister. POTUS is set to address both Houses of Parliament and there’s an Islamist terrorist plot to assassinate him – Roger Barlow, a hapless backbench MP (hapless like the book), aims to foil the attack to distract from a scandal.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

10. Matteo Salvini: Italy, Europe and the New Right by Alessandro Franzi & Alessandro Madron

goWare | 2019 | Paperback | 104 pages

This is a map that seeks to answer one simple question: who is Matteo Salvini, really? As both vice-prime minister and minister of the interior (in 2018) the number of non-European illegal immigrants to land in Italy fell by 100,000, and – if current polls are to be believed and his digital and media strategy is anything to go by – he is on course to become their next prime minister.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

11. Have I Got Views for You by Boris Johnson

HarperCollins | 2008 | Paperback | 448 pages            

Published just after he was elected as Mayor of London (first term), this is an anthology of some of his best articles for the Daily Telegraph – such as observations on British society and foreign affairs (including China) – coupled with several new hits. As with both ‘Friends, Voters, Countrymen’ and ‘The Churchill Factor’, this is educational, entertaining and easy to read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

12. Positive Populism: Revolutionary Ideas to Rebuild Economic Security, Family, and Community in America by Steve Hilton

Penguin | 2018 | Hardback | 240 pages

Along with another Steve (Bannon) and Dominic Cummings, Hilton is one of the political mavericks of our age. Here – in a similar vein to his ‘Invitation to Join the Government of Britain’ (Conservative Party 2010 manifesto) – he begins with an ‘invitation for you to participate in the next revolution’ and puts forward interesting ideas on the economy, society and government.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

13. The Dream of Rome by Boris Johnson

HarperCollins | 2007 | Paperback | 304 pages

Now shadow education minister, here, he discusses how the Roman Empire achieved political and cultural unity in Europe, and compares it to the failure of the European Union to do the same. Not usually one for historical books, this is both an authoritative and amusing study – with plenty of lessons for all of us – and I read it in a few sittings.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

14. The Wages of Spin by Bernard Ingham

John Murray | 2003 | Hardback | 272 pages

This week marks over three decades since Britain elected its first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Sir Bernard’s a journalist and former civil servant, who served as the Iron Lady’s chief press secretary throughout her time in No10. We hear first-hand (and slowly) how spin-doctoring developed, from the man who is wrongly attributed with its invention.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

15. Campus Battlefield: How Conservatives Can Win the Battle on Campus and Why It Matters by Charlie Kirk

Post Hill Press | 2018 | Hardback | 160 pages

I’d read mixed reviews about this, but purchased a copy, since I enjoyed ‘The MAGA Doctrine’ and wanted to see whether Charlie’s experiences resonated with my own young conservative days. Bit pricey, considering how short the text is; however, there’s good intention and some decent content – if you ignore the partisan approach, marketing pitch and re-printings of his tweets!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

16. My Fellow Prisoners by Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Penguin | 2014 | Paperback | 96 pages

Described by The Economist as “the Kremlin’s leading critic-in-exile” (after eight years inside he now resides in London), this is a selection of brilliantly written essays about the author’s first hand accounts of prison life and the people he encountered. It is a clever and quick read, and more people should be made aware of it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

17. Dangerous by Milo Yiannopoulos

Dangerous | 2017 | Hardback | 232 pages

Akin to ‘Campus Battlefield’, I’d heard mixed reviews and all of the drama around its release just made me want to read it more. The reality, in my opinion, is that the contents of the book, while certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, are far less controversial than its publication (even boring in parts) – conservatives will largely agree with his message while liberals will largely disagree.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

18. The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry

Penguin | 2017 | Paperback | 160 pages

The celebrated artist and media personality Grayson Perry explores masculinity. In short, I think it is well written (and illustrated) – although it took me a while to get into it; however, I didn’t feel there was anything new and therefore, at best, it’s a conversation starter (perhaps that alone might be considered a success?)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

19. Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry by Owen Bennett

Biteback | 2019 | Hardback | 432 pages

Ignoring the endless typos (I have never spotted so many typos in one book – did anyone proof it?), I really enjoyed reading this biography. The author successfully combines old and fresh information to tell us the story about one of the most recognisable and central characters in British politics today.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

20. Celsius 7/7 by Michael Gove

Weidenfeld & Nicolson | 2006 | Hardback | 160 pages

I only learned about this text having read Owen Bennett’s book on the man (see above), but glad I did. In writing ‘Celsius 7/7’, which describes how the West’s policy of appeasement has provoked yet more fundamentalist terror, Gove names both Dominic Cummings and Douglas Murray among those whose conversations and ideas helped shape his thinking.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

21. First Confession: A Sort of Memoir by Chris Patten

Penguin | 2017 | Hardback | 320 pages

A man who’s been there at pivotal moments: Chairman of the Party (winning the 1992 election, but losing his own Bath seat), the last Governor of Hong Kong, Chairman of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland (pursuant to the Good Friday Agreement) and Chairman of the BBC Trust (when the Jimmy Savile scandal broke). Absolutely captivating.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

22. Party Games by Fiona Cuthbertson

Blossom Spring | 2020 | Paperback | 316 pages

Fiona’s first novel addresses love and corruption in the seat of power – from a female perspective. However, for anyone – of either sex, who has worked in Parliament or on Whitehall, I believe they will enjoy this – and perhaps associate with some of the content – and look forward to her second book, which is in the works.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

23. Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America by Donald J. Trump

Simon & Schuster | 2016 | Paperback | 208 pages

I didn’t read this in 2016, however I decided to now since he’s seeking re-election. In a similar vein to ‘The MAGA Doctrine’, you get a better feel what the 45th President of the US does and doesn’t believe, but this time you get to judge him on his record in office as well as in business. I wonder if Boris has read it too (“get it done” p.123 and “shovel-ready projects” p.165)?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

24. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Penguin | 1994 | Paperback | 256 pages

A friend of mine bought this for my 18th birthday (I’m not sure what she was hinting at) and, though I’ve watched the 2019 film adaptation, I’ve never got round to reading this gift – until now, during lockdown. Another book I wish I’d read earlier as the writing is beautiful and I’ve a lot to learn.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

25. One Minute to Ten: Cameron, Miliband and Clegg. Three Men, One Ambition and the Price of Power by Dan Hodges

Penguin | 2016 | Paperback | 384 pages

I’m a fan of Dan Hodges, so it wasn’t a difficult choice to pick-up a copy of this book (in 2016), but what was difficult is the first chapter, which I still think is waffle (I decided to give it another go four years later). Get past that first chapter though and it takes off – a smart and unique account of the 2015 general election campaign and the three party leaders.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

26. Why Can’t We All Just Get Along… Shout Less. Listen More. by Iain Dale

HarperCollins | 2020 | Hardback | 304 pages

Great read. I’m not just saying that because we both studied at ‘the very left-wing’ University of East Anglia, worked/interned for the staunch right-winger David Davis MP, nor was his chief of staff/backed him until the leadership hustings in Cambridgeshire… This is “part-memoir, part-polemic about the state of public discourse in Britain and the world today”, and it’s spot on.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

27. Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman

Penguin | 2012 | Hardback | 384 pages

This is a tale about News Corporation and the corruption of Britain, according to the former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and active member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. My reading this happens to coincide with the BBC airing a new three-part documentary series ‘The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty’. Both excellent.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

28. First They Took Rome: How the Populist Right Conquered Italy by David Broder

Verso | 2020 | Hardback | 192 pages

Similar to Franzi and Madron’s book Matteo Salvini: Italy, Europe and the New Right (as above), this is a forensic, educational read – written by a left-wing author – especially for non-Italians who want to understand what has been happening in Italy these past three decades. It’s a shame it took until three quarters of the way through to get to the important chapter!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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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.

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This piece was written for ConservativeHome.com.

Social housing must be part of building plans to help boost the economy

Aisha Vance-Cuthbert is Co-Director of Conservatives in Communications and Head of Communications at a large housing association

This morning, in Dudley, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will unveil his taskforce ‘Project Speed’ – chaired by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak – aimed at accelerating building and infrastructure projects to get the UK economy moving again as we slowly emerge from lockdown.

This move is welcomed by the construction industry, and those who are both directly and indirectly employed by the sector. However, what we need – in addition to schools, infrastructure and market sale / rent homes – are new social homes for the millions of people who are currently in expensive, temporary and often poor-quality accommodation.

The Government has already signalled that it understands and wants to solve the housing and homelessness crisis, which go hand-in-hand. For example, only last week, the Government announced an extra £105 million in funding to help keep rough sleepers off the streets.

The trouble is, as noble as this sounds, most councils have depleted the cash because of the lack of available social housing. For the most part, the only available option is to place people in expensive nightly-paid accommodation, hotels or bed and breakfasts. And this is exactly why the Government must invest in high quality social homes – to help tackle rough sleeping, solve the housing crisis and save the taxpayer millions.

There’s also a ‘levelling up’ argument. After the general election, I wrote an article for The Times Red Box on why building more social housing would reward millions of voters along the Red Wall. The Conservatives ‘borrowed’ millions of votes from Labour, giving them a significant, working majority.

Specifically, I highlighted a YouGov poll of undecided voters carried out on behalf of the National Housing Federation. It found that 80% of ‘Labour Leavers’ worry about their housing costs. It also found that housing matters more to ‘Labour Leavers’ than crime. In fact, they signalled that housing is the fourth most important issue after Brexit, the NHS and immigration.

I welcome the Government’s ambition to re-boot the economy; creating local jobs and supporting our public services. But, I hope that it will also include building more affordable homes. Building homes – of all tenures – will help kick-start the economy while, at the same time, protecting our public finances.

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This piece was written for our website.

Has BoJo lost his mojo? No, and he’s shovel-ready

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director of Conservatives in Communications

It’s been almost a year since members elected Boris Johnson as Leader of the Conservative Party and British Prime Minister, and six months since he won a personal mandate from the country – and a stonking majority at that! How is he performing? This piece looks at some of the highs and lows, as well as the future ahead.

The highs

I deal in facts not fiction, so let’s start with the polls. Last December, the UK returned a Tory-led government for the fourth time in a decade: a 44% share of the vote (14m ballots) won him 365 seats* – a Conservative MP for each day of the Gregorian calendar. Today, according to Politico’s Poll of Polls, public support for the ‘People’s Government’ is holding firm.

What’s he achieved vs what did he guarantee? A week after that seismic result in 2019, the Government published its Queen’s Speech, outlining the ‘People’s Priorities.’ Chief among them was Mr Johnson’s pledge to “get Brexit done in January” [2020], which he quickly did. Michael Gove recently confirmed that the UK will “neither accept nor seek any extension to the Transition Period.”

“Extra funding for the NHS” has been enshrined in law and the number of new nurses has increased compared to last year.

Over 3,000 of his “20,000 more police” have been recruited and Robert Buckland has brought about “tougher sentences for criminals”, including the most serious terrorist offenders. “An Australian-style points-based system to control immigration”, as part of a much broader Bill, is due to have its report stage and third reading.

It’s true that millions more have been “invested…in science, schools, apprenticeships and infrastructure,” and that good progress – new consultations and plans to increase investment – has been made towards “Reaching Net Zero by 2050.” All this while not raising “the rate of income tax, VAT or National Insurance.”

The lows

Britain has been transformed by the coronavirus crisis. The number of GP surgery appointments per annum is likely to be down, not up. 310,000 people, including the Prime Minister and Matt Hancock, have tested positive for the disease. Of those, sadly, 43,500 have died – one of the highest figures in the world. It’s inevitable that there will be, and it’s right that – in time – there is, an inquiry. Lessons must be learned.

Because of Covid-19 – and the measures this government has introduced to combat it – UK public debt has “exceeded 100% of GDP for the first time since 1963.”

The death of George Floyd sparked many protests abroad and at home. A minority of people, on both ends of the spectrum, including Antifa, exploited Black Lives Matter, to behave quite irresponsibly. Our politicians have a vital role to play in healing divisions and addressing issues, which is why I – and others – were surprised it took Mr Johnson – the author of a book about his hero – time to speak out.

Number 10’s handling of these events has created a perception – among backbenchers and commentators – that the Prime Minister has misplaced his mojo.

An analysis

So, some clear wins (promises made, promises kept) and some evident challenges, but challenges that can be overcome with a bold and ambitious plan. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.

And yet, if you spend your time talking to Londoners, following the mainstream media and scrolling through Twitter, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Government was about to collapse at any given moment – that Sir Keir Starmer, by asking a couple of questions each Wednesday and by sacking Rebecca Wrong-Daily, is about to gain 120 seats for Labour. The mountain’s too high to climb.

These are the same people who: predicted Remain would win the Brexit referendum by a landslide, never imagined Donald J. Trump would become US President and thought Jeremy Corbyn might actually win in 2017 (and two years later). The same people who were confident Priti Patel would resign and Dominic Cummings would be fired, and tweet #WhereisBoris on a nearly daily basis.

That said, 44% can be improved upon and regardless of whether there’s any truth in it – perceptions are hard to shake-off. And so, the Government must listen. In particular, No10 must listen to its backbenchers. They are ideally placed to feedback on any disillusionment across the country, before decisions are made. A new liaison between No10 and the Parliamentary Party should be hired.

In my opinion, the appointment would help the Government make sound policy decisions from the get-go and reduce the number of U-turns in the long-run. However, U-turns aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Like subpoenas (writs “commanding a person designated in it to appear in court under a penalty for failure”), they needn’t be seen as negative – rather a means of making right.

This government should also listen to experienced conservatives in communications. We recently polled our supporters and they rated its coronavirus communications strategy 3.18 out of 5. While positive, it’s clear improvements can be made. First-up, was phasing out daily press briefings, which I’m glad it has done. I’d also like to see more women MPs around the Cabinet table at the next reshuffle.

What we need to hear from Mr Johnson tomorrow, in Dudley, is how he’s going to help Britain rebuild itself and win again after the lockdown. I hope he makes us feel proud about our identity and culture and that his vision is aspirational and opportunistic. The British people have put their faith in him before – a few for the first time – and I’m sure they’ll continue to keep it, if he listens and acts accordingly.

*Election data

 2010201520172019
Votes (000s)10,70411,30013,63713,966
% of UK vote36.136.842.343.6
Seats won 306 330 317 365
% of seats won47.150.848.856.2

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This piece was written for our website and has been republished by Politicalite (June 29, 2020).

Post Covid-19: have we and will we change?

GUEST POST: Leon Cook is Founder and Managing Director of Atticus Communications. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

UK GDP fell by over 20% in April, more than three times the drop experienced during the 2008 great financial crisis. The impact of Covid-19 on the health and well-being of individuals, let alone businesses and the global economy is hard to quantify.

And yet the country is focused on getting ‘back to work’. Last month, the government announced the creation of five new taskforces responsible for the safe reopening of some of the country’s key economic sectors. With the easing of lockdown measures, businesses are gradually bringing back furloughed staff and ramping up operations. Just as quickly as we were forced to adapt to remote working, companies across the board are reassessing their workplace and work methods. The Coronavirus hasn’t just changed our office footprint. We are and will hereafter continue to communicate differently.

Corporate responsibility and action

Time and time again, companies are advised on the importance of social responsibility and purpose, yet many fail to fully engage with this process despite the benefits to employee morale, the corporate brand and overall productivity.

A GlobalWebIndex study found that 84% of consumers think that a company’s poor environmental policy could result in them parting ways with that brand. In a world rocked by Covid-19 and the recent Black Lives Matter protests, businesses must recognise that consumers and employees are watching. They must be engaged and communicated with in an empathetic way.  

Leaders must listen – and act

If it wasn’t already the case, Covid-19 has put employee well-being at the forefront of concerns for every business, irrespective of size or sector. Now more than ever, staff need reassurance from corporate leaders. With jobs and livelihoods on the line, employees require transparency and openness from those in-charge. 

In the wake of the recent racial equality protests, businesses globally have taken notice and started to ask themselves – what are we doing wrong? One way of answering this question is by asking employees themselves. Simple top-down messaging on its own is ineffective. There must be genuine two-way engagement. As we transition out of lockdown, messages and programmes of inclusivity and good culture must be upheld – and as such communicated. What has this crisis taught you and changed in respect of your corporate culture?

Engage with government

We are in a period of major change, undoubtedly. We’ve witnessed an upheaval of our societal, political and economic norms. Peacetime interventions by governments across global economies have never been so extraordinary. As we transition through the crisis, it is arguable that the government will and should be more attuned than ever to the needs of industry – the very dynamo that will kick-start our economy.

With the old rules being rewritten, businesses need to be at the forefront of any regulatory changes, especially with Brexit looming. No company is immune. It is vital that organisations use this opportunity to the fullest and engage policymakers effectively, and widely to ensure better and fair policy-making.

Take action

We are witnessing permanent changes across the business world. Organisations must ensure that they are agile and prepared to meet these changes. A renewed focus on improving internal communications will be vital to garnering the respect and trust of employees. Carefully watching and influencing policy will be key to staying ahead of the curve. Companies that can swiftly adapt to an agile style of working will prevail in the post-Covid era.

Covid-19 has changed us forever. The opportunity for business lies in ensuring that this mark is not a scar, but merely a footprint in corporate history. Businesses that continue to operate as they did prior to the crisis will, in the long-run, be eclipsed. Operate with integrity. Put employees first. See the change coming. Communicate.

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This piece was written for Public Affairs Networking.

The craft of communications and the coming culture war

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

Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

We’re neck deep in that Orwellian future. Fake news is the new norm, and effective communicators will win the coming clash between the ‘based’ and the ‘woke’.

If you’re not entirely sure what those two sentences mean, but you’ve got a good idea that this is an important debate, you’re in the majority. We’re familiar with the language of Brexit, and the emotive political discourse leading up to the EU referendum. It’s rooted in an older, simpler paradigm. But we now need greater nuance to navigate the rhetorical battlefields of the future.

The US culture wars started in the 1920s, with the clash between rural and urban American values. The term was rebooted in the 1960s, placed centre stage by disagreements between conservatives and progressives over moral issues, including marriage and abortion.

‘Pro-life’ verses ‘pro-choice’ is a classic example of the framing of an issue. On the face of it, both seem positive and widely acceptable positions to adopt. In reality, they are diametrically opposite. One emphasises the sanctity of life, based on the conviction that human rights begin in the womb, the other prioritises the well-being of a mother over her unborn infant. No one ever describes themselves as ‘anti-choice’ or ‘pro-death’.

American pollster Frank Luntz demonstrates the importance of persuasive language in Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, by asking why people dislike big oil.

America’s energy producers have been their own worst enemies…“drilling for oil”…reminds people of Jed Clampett shooting at the ground, conjuring images of liquid black goo gushing into the sky…

The antidote is simple: they replaced ‘drilling for oil’ with ‘energy exploration’ – far more acceptable, at least semantically.

Language matters. Phrasing matters. Framing matters.

Vote Leave won because 17.4 million people understood and embraced ‘Vote leave, take back control’ – most importantly because it encapsulated the underlying message. You could argue that ‘Make America Great Again’ worked for the Republicans in 2016 in the same way, and that ‘Get Brexit done’ delivered an 80-seat majority for the Conservatives six months ago.

But not all air wars are fought by giant industries to reposition themselves, or by political parties to win elections. The coming culture war will be fought on multiple fronts, across social, digital and traditional media, and with myriad voices and factions. While many combatants will simply shout into echo chambers that reinforce their own worldviews, deepening tribalism – others will cut through, and change the way we think, feel and act.

Over the past few weeks we’ve witnessed two major flashpoints. The diehard remain coalition piled pressure on Boris Johnson to sack Dominic Cummings, for actions that Durham Police said “might have been a minor breach of the regulations.” But the Prime Minister’s adviser neither resigned nor was forced out.

The old rules no longer apply. Cummings would not have survived in the pre-Trump era. The US President’s relentless refusal to adhere to convention has crossed the Atlantic. There’s a willingness to stand up to received wisdom, herd mentality and the prevailing media narrative. Whether you believe that this shows craven weakness or bold leadership depends on your worldview and where your loyalties lie.

The second major incident sparked riots, looting, and a torrent of hatred and outrage. The universally-condemned and unjust killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis after being pinned to the floor by police officer Derek Chauvin took place on 25th May. Conservatives, liberals and almost everyone across (and beyond) the political spectrum condemned this instance of police brutality. But from there, narratives and courses of action diverged.

On the one hand, there are calls for law and order to prevail, for justice to be done, and for peace – whether peaceful protesting or other meaningful action. At the other end of the spectrum, anarchic looting and violent protests carried out by the likes of Antifa, the militant left-wing movement. Meanwhile, the middle ground is flooded by virtue-signalling.

Our 52/48 nation will continue to be divided, and social media will play an increasing role as a catalyst, stoking the fires of anger and hatred, and deepening our societal fractures. Even something as innocuous as a blog about whether we need ‘Pride Month’ by young, gay Conservative activist Darren Grimes provoked a furore. “I find it utterly depressing that the pride flag now takes pride of place in our national life over our own national flag” he wrote for Conservative Home. Rather than welcoming debate and the free exchange of ideas, he was pilloried on Twitter, rebutted by PinkNews, and the post was ‘cancelled’ by Facebook.

Free speech is vital for democracy. When social media platforms behave more like publishers, exercising censorship and editorial control, they need to be treated as such. Digital acts of ‘no platforming’ such as ‘temporarily restricting’ Twitter parody account @TitaniaMcGrath, smack of censorship and conscious mass manipulation. This is what the founding father of public relations, Edward Bernays might have called “the engineering of consent”.

Identity politics is here to stay. Tribalism is getting deeper. Truth (and underlying trust in our institutions) is more evasive than ever. That’s why professional communications, precise language and persuasive discourse are needed now more than ever. In the court of public opinion, the most powerful arguments will win. Let’s hope that democracy, decency and common sense prevail.

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This piece was written for our website.

It’s time to act – and talk – tough

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector

Last Tuesday, I was helping Dame Eleanor Laing – and her campaign to become Chairman of Ways & Means – when I was alerted about a stabbing close to Kennington tube station. For context, this is a stone’s throw away from where I live and where I had exited just moments earlier.

It’s one thing to learn about these stories in the news and on Twitter, and quite another to hear about them taking place in your backyard! This got me to thinking about other events and incidents in 2019; a year that was memorable for many reasons: some good, others not.

The death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria by US forces, the resignation of John Bercow as Commons Speaker and the election victories of Scott Morrison in Australia and Boris Johnson were very good outcomes. 

The same cannot be said of the fire that destroyed the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris and the bombs on Easter Day in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people, the unprecedented floods in Venice and the murders of two innocents by an Islamist terrorist on London Bridge. Sadly, they weren’t alone:

  • The number of homicides in our great capital is at its highest in a decade and most of these victims were stabbed to death with knives
  • The number of children known to have been sexually groomed in the UK reached nearly 19,000 – that is five times higher than just five years ago
  • The number of migrants attempting to enter the UK illegally by crossing the English Channel rose by 400% over 2018.

I’m no policy expert – I’ll leave that to the SW1 think tanks and others. But it’s quite clear we must do more to address these epidemics – and all opinions must be heard and all ideas should be on the dinner table, including:

  • Londoners want their streets to be safe and their communities to be secure again. This May, voters should boot out Sadiq Khan and elect Shaun Bailey
  • Sajid Javid, the former Home Secretary, launched an inquiry into the ethnic origins of members of grooming gangs. Priti Patel, the new Home Secretary, should publish that report
  • And, without criticizing, she should take a much tougher stance on immigration – like Australia and Italy – by reducing arrivals with much stricter border control and speeding up deportations.

Thousands of migrants have now drowned on European sea crossings. Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott advised EU leaders that “If you want to stop the deaths and if you want to stop the drownings you have got to stop the boats.” He argued that this is the compassionate thing to do.

As Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini certainly heeded that advice. In 2016 and 2017, the numbers of non-European illegals to have landed in Italy were 181,436 and 119,369 respectively. Under his leadership that number fell by 100k. If elected prime minister, expect that number to fall further.

Back home, what can Conservatives in Communications do? We must highlight these types of issues and promote solutions, and support politicians that promise to fix them. We’re about to take back control, by leaving the EU. Let us also take back control, with respect to law and order.

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This piece was written for our website and has been republished by The Commentator (‘It’s time to act – and talk – tough on crime’ – January 20, 2020) and Politicalite (‘After Brexit, Britain must act and talk tough’ – February 2, 2020).

The X factor?

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector

I’d already made-up my mind – before the leadership election got underway – to back Boris Johnson. After three long years of doom and gloom, I was desperate for someone to tell the Tory story of aspiration and opportunity, and luckily – for everyone – the Party membership agreed.

Before casting my vote, I chose to speed read as much as I could about him. I did this for three reasons: personal intrigue, due diligence and ammunition, because many of my closest political friends were wavering or had chosen to support Jeremy Hunt. It’ll come as no surprise that London conservatives often differ in opinions from those of Tories in Yorkshire and Norfolk…

Among the books that I got through were ‘Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson’ by Andrew Gimson and ‘Just Boris: The Irresistible Rise of a Political Celebrity’ by Sonia Purnell. Page-turners, yet no earth-shattering revelations inside. Neither of them persuaded me otherwise. Here was a man, determined to make it and full of optimism. I was sold. I also recognise this as a quality and an attitude that several of our new MPs have. Exciting times.

One book I didn’t get to until Christmas was his very own ‘The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History’. While Gimson and Purnell shed light on his past, here Johnson exposes his admiration for the national treasure and where he may take inspiration in the future. I thoroughly recommend it to Conservatives in Communications.

Churchill and Johnson share more than a few similarities. Both have American ties: one was half American by birth, one was born in New York. Both went to top public schools: one Harrow, one Eton. Both became journalists, writers and politicians; often multi-tasking between all three and using colourful language while doing so! Both developed as orators, having already perfected the written word. Indeed, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 for his many published works. Both represented multiple constituencies and served in two great offices of state: one as Chancellor of the Exchequer, one as Foreign Secretary. Both refined their images and appealed beyond traditional Conservative voters; championing the working class or blue-collar workers. Both would deploy their good-humoured, self-depricating formula to cheer-up the nation during two turbulent periods: the Second World War and us leaving the European Union.

As I have said before, optimism isn’t everything. A detailed vision must be articulated and executed by a sound team. That happened during the recent campaign and the result provided a mandate. After we’ve left the EU later this month, expect there to be a reshuffle of ministers (hopefully this includes promotions from the 2019 intake) and of others too, if Dominic Cummings gets his way:

With no election for years and huge changes in the digital world, there is a chance and a need to do things very differently… We do not care about trying to ‘control the narrative’ and all that New Labour junk and this government will not be run by ‘comms grid’.”

I’m glad Cummings recognises “We have some extremely able people [in communications]” and is willing to take risks i.e. “we also must upgrade skills across the SpAd network.” If you’ve got the X factor and want to help shape history throughout – what the US Ambassador to the UK calls – the roaring twenties, find out more and apply here.

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This piece was written for our website.

BoJo will give Britain back its mojo

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector

After celebrating last week’s success, I’ve started to think about what we can expect to see in the new year.

On Thursday, the people spoke loud and clear. They chose to place their trust in the Prime Minister, the Conservative & Unionist Party and its parliamentary spokespeople throughout the UK – to deliver Brexit and move forward, so that we can focus on other priorities. In short, a sense of pride and identity was restored.

Boris Johnson’s government, or ‘The People’s Government’ as he now labels it, won exactly 365 seats – an MP for every day of the year and a stonking majority of 80 at that – making this the best result for the centre-right party in over thirty years. In fact, the gain of 47 is the highest of any Tory administration ever, including Margaret Thatcher’s win in 1983. Since 2010, the Conservatives have increased their share of the popular vote from 36% to 44%. They have a legitimate mandate to govern and, thankfully, the ability to break the log-jam in Parliament.

Personally, I’m encouraged to see so much talent – many of them Conservatives in Communications in former lives – take their seats on the green benches: Alex Stafford (Rother Valley), Nickie Aiken (Cities of London & Westminster), Paul Bristow (Peterborough), Paul Holmes (Eastleigh), Richard Holden (North West Durham) and Theo Clarke (Stafford). I hope, and expect, to see more talent re-/join in the future, specifically in Scotland and the capital.

Put it another way, the electorate let the loony left – led by the Hamas and Hezbollah supporting socialist Jeremy Corbyn – know exactly what they thought of their policies. Momentum’s most stunning achievement? Getting Northern ex-miners to trudge through winter rain to vote Conservative. Working class Britons have firmly taken back control; Blue Collar Conservatism is steaming ahead. 

The Tories ran a disciplined campaign. As expected, polling analysis, social media and audiovisuals took centre stage again. Credit to the folks at Hanbury Strategy, Topham Guerin and Westminster Digital for playing their part. In terms of messaging, ‘Long Term Economic Plan’ was replaced with ‘Get Brexit Done’. But unlike in 2017, when Theresa May misread the mood, Mr Johnson stood outside Number 10 and urged the 100% – Leavers and Remainers alike – “to find closure and let the healing begin”. Congratulations to the national campaign team, including Isaac Levido, Lee Cain and Rob Oxley. 

On Saturday, the Prime Minister travelled to Tony Blair’s former constituency, Sedgefield, and gleefully declared “We’re going to recover our national self-confidence, our mojo, our self-belief, and we’re going to do things differently and better as a country”. On Sunday, Lord Heseltine admitted he and others – including People’s Vote campaigners – had lost and dismissed the prospect of them fighting on. 

And how did Corbyn and his allies react to all of this? Faiza Shaheen, who stood against Iain Duncan Smith, looked distraught at the count in Chingford and Wood Green. Owen Jones and Ash Sarkar (commentators and activists), who dominated Labour’s narrative, had a meltdown on TV – again! Lily Allen even deleted her account on Twitter. Many of them joined the violent and extremist, some say terrorist, group, Antifa, in protesting outside Downing Street – like they did outside Buckingham Palace during President Trump’s most recent visit – before revealing their support for Angela Rayner, Dawn Butler, Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer and Richard Burgon as potential future leaders.

Meanwhile, its current leader – who refuses to go or take responsibility for the outcome – wrote a rather misguided piece for The Observer: ‘We won the argument, but I regret we didn’t convert that into a majority for change.’ Let me be clear. 1. No you didn’t. 2. You don’t say. Caroline Flint, had she not lost her seat, Lisa Nandy or Yvette Cooper would be more effective at the helm. However, if I had to place a bet on it right now, I reckon members will back Rebecca Wrong-Daily. Sorry, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Regarding press, I want to revisit a theme that I’ve previously highlighted. That, people are quickly losing faith in the mainstream media. Is it any wonder when the BBC mismanaged the TV leadership debates, Channel 4 showed its bias and Sky chose to pay John Bercow £60,000 to be its guest despite only mustering an audience of 45,700? Yes, it was somewhat amusing to watch him squirm as the results were announced but get a grip! Expect the new Culture Secretary to make the BBC licence fee a top issue. If Channel 4 doesn’t return to the old days and if Sky fails to see the error of its ways, then also expect the electorate to turn towards alternative media.  

A while back I argued that we need to redefine our purpose, move forward with our global partners, unite the UK – and defeat Corbynism. I believe we have achieved that. World and party leaders, including Scott Morrison and Matteo Salvini, were queueing round the block to congratulate Mr Johnson on his achievement.

This week, he should focus on delivering the Queen’s Speech and bringing back the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB). Get that out of the way and deliver the January 31 promise. After Christmas, he can concentrate on lowering taxes and investing in public services while at the same time launching debates about controlling immigration and more besides.

Before the campaign got underway, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan tweeted: “The Tories thought calling a winter election would stop us campaigning. They were wrong.” I responded: “No, they thought the people deserved a Parliament that would represent them. Londoners deserve a mayor who will champion them. Next year, they get their say.” 2020 is going to be a year like no other. Fasten your seatbelts, folks – you’re in for a wild ride.

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This piece was written for our website and has been republished by Politicalite (‘BoJo will give Britain back its mojo’ – December 16, 2019).

Red wall, blue sea

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications

In the end, it wasn’t even close. The polls had showed Labour closing the gap in the final few days of the campaign, but there was no surge. Soufflés really don’t rise twice, and the ‘magic grandpa’ had lost his sparkle.

The CCHQ team had always wanted this to be an election focused on Brexit, and they largely got their way. But it was not just about the principle of Brexit itself. Most people wanted Brexit out of the headlines and off of the front pages, but they also wanted the normal functioning of government to resume. 

But perhaps even more important was the issue of trust. If you promise not to raise tuition fees and then treble them, as the Liberal Democrats did in 2010, then you get hammered. If you stand on a manifesto to respect the result of the EU referendum, as both Labour and the Lib Dems did in 2017, and then you constantly seek to block Brexit, then you get hammered.

The fact that much of the discontent with the non-delivery of Brexit was concentrated in the neglected Labour heartlands of the Midlands and the North acted as a double whammy. People in those regions wanted Brexit delivered, but they had originally voted for Brexit because they felt neglected by Westminster, and ignored by the Labour Party. So like Trump supporters in the ’fly over’ states of the US they refused to change their minds, and they demanded to be heard.

There was also poor targeting on the part of Labour. Both the party machine and the parallel Momentum organisation concentrated their resources on Corbynista candidates, rather than on those who most needed support. This cost them unity, and it cost them votes, and it cost them seats. The fall-out from this will rumble on for months, if not years.

By contrast CCHQ did a great job. When it came to strategy Isaac Levido provided calm, whilst Dominic Cummings – as ever – provided inspiration. The cyber war was master-minded by two young kiwis, Sean Topham and Ben Guerin. Meantime the mainstream media was effectively marshalled by Lee Cain and Rob Oxley and a team of experienced press officers, many of whom had worked for Boris on and off over the years since his first mayoral bid.

But the main reason Labour lost and we won was because of the respective leaders. Boris came across as a dynamic leader with a strong focus and clear priorities – including, of course, getting Brexit done. Of course there were mis-steps, including pocketing a journalists phone and escaping in to a walk-in fridge. But generally Boris came across well, with his trademark good humour and with his bright young politically-engaged partner by his side. Parading Dilyn the rescue dog also worked well – an estimated 9.9 million households in the UK own a dog.

By contrast Jeremy Corbyn came across as old, tired, testy, petulant – and (more importantly) nasty. He may not be an anti-semite himself, but he certainly seems to enjoy the company of people who are. This cost him votes not just in the handful of seats with large Jewish populations, but also amongst the wider electorate, who hate discrimination and loathe bullies.

So, the fabled ‘red wall’ has crumbled, and it has been replaced by a ‘blue sea’. And let’s face it, seas are stronger and more durable than walls. Now the task – fully recognised by CCHQ and Number Ten – is to justify the faith placed in us by all those former Labour supporters who loaned us their votes in order to ‘get Brexit done’, and to keep Corbyn out of Number Ten.

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This piece was written for our website.