Tweeting the referendum. Who shouts loudest?

As #Brexit and #Bremain gather momentum ahead of next week’s vote, it goes without saying that the EU referendum is the hottest topic in UK politics right now; one which – unless you’ve been living in a cave in the Outer Hebrides – has been impossible to ignore.

Whether it’s opening a newspaper, switching on your TV or listening to the radio, it seems like everyone has jumped on board to share their viewpoint(s), whether they are a politician, business leader, a famous musician or even (apparently) a fictional character.

The conversation online is no different and is (in many respects) even more intense. As covered in my Masters thesis (where I analysed the Conservative’s use of Twitter in the 2015 election), the rise of the digital world is keenly changing how people participate in political discourse and activism.

What could all this data teach us about how politics works?

Well the area  I’m personally super psyched about, is that it teaches us about the tactics political parties and politicians use to fight elections online, both in terms of their individual objectives and the way in which they approach each platform (not to mention how effective they are compared to their peers/rivals), but also how they perceive the platform itself (as just another soapbox or an opportunity to open a dialogue with their audiences).

ANYWAY, every hour of the referendum campaign, thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of messages flood Twitter, either as short statements arguing one side or the other, or sharing the latest campaign image or publicity stunt. Although this shows that social media is drawing people closer to politics (allowing new opportunities for politicians, journalists to engage with their publics), its simultaneously increasing the number of distinct influence/ego networks around key media outlets, campaign groups/members, or commentators such as those referenced by leading cross-party think-tank, Demos.

Alongside ITV’s Peston on Sunday program, Demos has also conducted a fair bit of research over the last few months at how UK politics is being discussed on Twitter, analysing approximately 100,000 tweets sent to or from UK MPs containing EU referendum hashtags.

They not only found 10,000 more tweets sent between the 4th and 10th of June compared those sent the previous week but that the result is largely down to the shocking rate of tweets sent by those supporting #Brexit (three times the number compared to those in favour of #Bremain).

By excluding all ‘Other’ chatter (approximately 50% of tweets), their research also showed the different focuses of each movement, with Remainers emphasising the economic benefits of staying in the EU compared to our position outside it, and Brexiteers more keenly stressing the issues of immigration and sovereignty – which, when you think about it, isn’t all that surprising.

Still though… I have a fascinating new resource to follow and wanted to share it all with you because let’s face it, nerding out needs to be shared 🙂

 

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Lobbying for change

Should a political party tell the public what it believes, or should it ask the public what it wants? So goes a beloved dilemma of political theorists and party policy-makers over the years – from long since before the internet came to prominence.

Of course, there is no easy answer to it; particularly when individually each MP (irrespective of party affiliation) may be subject to external influence by PRs or the corporations for whom they are working.

The UKPAC definition of lobbying claims that it means working:

in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the United Kingdom Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence.

In the UK, lobbying plays a significant role in the way that policies and decisions are made at local, regional and national levels, as lobbyists attempt to influence the formulation of legislation in ways that benefit their clients. Most lobbying activity is undertaken by professional public affairs agencies who represent multiple clients and primarily focus on lobbying within the corporate, charity and trade sectors.

Although I believe that working to influence political decisions regarding policy and legislation is a legitimate and moreover a necessary part of the democratic process, I do think that there needs to be a wider and more fair level of engagement in the process, with more transparency as to the dealings between Whitehall and lobbyists.

In 2010, David Cameron said that lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen” and subsequently ‘promised’ to “sort it out”. However last year, the issues within lobbying reached a level where (according to a TI poll) 90% of UK respondents believed that “our government is run by a few big entities acting in their own interest”

A Lobbying Act was implemented in January 2014 in an attempt to rectify the poor reputation of lobbyists that had been steadily growing over the past decade (some of which are shown below).

07120215_Liftingthelid_TI_web

On February 10th however, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations revealed its manifesto for the upcoming year which raised seven key areas that the public relations profession wants to see addressed (both in the industry and beyond), namely:

  • Lobbying
  • The future of corporate governance,
  • Independent practitioners and future skills needs,
  • The gender pay gap,
  • Data protection,
  • Internet governance and broadband.

Lobbying

For the last few years, the CIPR has been calling on government to actively support higher levels of accountability and standards within lobbying. Althoguh this did pay off last year in the Lobbying Act, but understandably (as shown in the above infographic), there is still a fair way to go.

CIPR president, Sarah Pinch, says, “The next UK Government should seek to restart the dialogue with stakeholders on the role of lobbying in our democracy, and actively support the development of a highly skilled, qualified and ethically competent group of public affairs professionals that serve the needs of a modern complex democracy. Ensuring that the law that introduced a statutory register of consultant lobbyists genuinely provides the public with more information about how policies and laws are shaped should be considered a priority. Failure to do so will result in lobbying genuinely being the next big scandal waiting to happen.”

The Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is another prominent issue that is regularly discussed in the public relations industry. The CIPR suggests that future governments need to dedicate themselves to strengthening the Equal Pay act, ensuring it is universally applied. The State of the Profession report, due to be revealed sometime this week, will contain up-to-date information on the size of the current income gap, but last year’s study showed that the gap between men and women was as large as £12,390 in senior roles.

Pinch adds, “Looking outside of our traditional areas of influence, some of the really big questions facing our society – internet governance, data protection – have (so far) not figured largely in contemporary political debate, but our future government will need to take a lead on finding answers to them.’

“Most of these issues are not ones for which a government can simply legislate, and most of them do not have a simple, straightforward solution. Rather, they require an open and informed public conversation which will allow us to arrive at a sustainable set of policies and maintain the UK’s world lead in what are critically important areas.”

Managing alignment with the Highlands on the line

I’m half Scottish. That may come as a surprise to some of you since I have a non-regional accent (perks of growing up abroad) but if you met my father, it really wouldn’t. Typical Scotsman with a pride in his homeland that would rival anyone’s despite his now living in England. This of course gives me the opportunity for a decent debate when it came to the topic of the Scottish Independence vote and the approach of Alex Salmond/the SNP. Simply put, my fathers opinion of Salmond’s politics is not a positive one and I’ll admit that the term ‘propaganda merchant’ was used repeatedly.

Alex Salmond, Head of the Scottish National Party that is at the forefront of the Independence debate.

Alex Salmond, Head of the Scottish National Party that is at the forefront of the Independence debate.

Despite my own misgivings about the referendum, and my own feelings that a ‘No’ would be a political, economic and social disaster for both Scotland and the remaining countries in the UK, I can’t help but admire Salmond’s technique. From a Comms perspective, his winning near 50% of my fellow Scots over to his ‘Better off alone’ viewpoint (compared to only 23% two years ago) makes for a fascinating case study on strategies for change management.

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