View a full range of our ebooks

View full library

Explore

Our Location

The PHA Group
117 Wardour Street,
Hammer House,
London,
W1F 0UN

0207 0251 350
info@thephagroup.com
PHA Digital Studio
Fourth Floor,
47 Dean St,
Soho,
London,
W1D 5BE

0207 0251 350
info@thephagroup.com
PHA Finance Department
117 Wardour Street,
Hammer House,
London,
W1F 0UN

0207 0251 350
info@thephagroup.com

Are we a nation of constitutional illiterates?

Are we a nation of constitutional illiterates?

By George Livesey, Public Affairs Intern

As a people, politicos included, we seem to be (not so) blissfully unaware of the procedures that govern our institutions. In light of recent events this, apparent, mass misunderstanding has come to the fore; it was not only the impact on the constitution that the outcome of the Brexit referendum would cause that was not often discussed, but also, the actual act of holding a referendum itself. Unlike the faux constitutional ‘crisis’ that ensued after the result of June’s snap general election, the fallout and furore following the Brexit vote was predicted by some, many of whom suffered much constitutional consternation in fear of either result of the vote.

More of us should consider the advantageous and disadvantageous consequences, brought about by holding referendums, to the way we are governed. More of us should have seen through the media’s sensationalising of the outcome of the general election to notice that Mrs May was at the mercy of a well-oiled constitutional machine. Unlike our transatlantic cousins we leave our constitution almost completely untaught, resulting in it, more often than not, being a thing of derision not of reverence. Perhaps it is just political aficionados that notice it or care for it, yet many seem to have lost sight of our organic constitution whilst caught up in the recent turbulence of British politics.

Public Affairs Brexit EU

Image Courtesy of Rich Girard, flickr.com

Brexit is obviously the biggest constitutional challenge of recent times, yet, the constitutional conundrums thrown-up by holding referendums were not, and are not, discussed. It can be credibly argued that this type of direct democracy does not fit within our representative-trustee model, and can be viewed as ‘fundamentally unconstitutional’, as some scholars have dubbed it. Moreover, Kenneth Clarke MP, the Father of the House and arch-Europhile, was another one of the few that was asking such questions, coming to the conclusion that we should regard the referendum as a ‘glorified opinion poll’.

Ken Clarke

Image courtesy of the House of Commons

Whatever your opinion happens to be, should we not even be slightly worried that we do not seem to have paused and assessed whether this is the direction in which we want to travel? We have stumbled into an ancient debate, one which shaped our constitution, but we have not been delving into it, an exercise which would greatly assist us in deciding how we want to decide things in the future.

The constitution was always going to be strained whatever the outcome was on June 23rd 2016. In addition to the issues caused by leave’s victory, if it had been a win for remain then the issue would have been shunned as a done deal, even though it would have been far from it, continuing to bubble under the surface of public opinion. This catch 22 situation led even died in wool eurosceptics, such as Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, to take no part in the referendum itself.

The outcome has caused the Government’s powers over foreign affairs to be modified after a Supreme Court challenge, created friction between Westminster and the devolved assemblies/parliaments, altered the Westminster model and left a mammoth task of reversing decades of ‘Europeanisation’. Also, a matter of acute constitutional importance, but almost entirely uncommented on, is the fact that we now have a Government where we know beyond doubt that the majority of people in it disagree with their own biggest policy; that of removing the UK from the EU. This also applies to a Parliament that voted to trigger Article 50 even though it had an overwhelmingly remain make-up, although this doesn’t have such a grave impact on collective ministerial responsibility as applies to the Government.

We are in constitutionally choppy waters, yet, many don’t seem to care and see these issues as merely practical problems that can be overcome by any means necessary. We live in a country where we have a continued misunderstanding regarding our rulers’ rules and customs, exemplified by the hysteria following the general election where the constitutional process seemed to be inexplicable and elusive, yet, it was in fact working at its best. We must all accord our constitution with more care and attention, constantly with one eye on the future, particularly at a time when it is at risk of people losing faith in it entirely.

Contact us if you would like to talk to us about PR.

Does the power of celebrity have a place in politics?

Hollywood loves an underdog story. Rocky, Seabiscuit, Trump? Well, perhaps not quite. The world of celebrity (Clint Eastwood aside, no relation) was eerily quiet at Trump’s ascension to the presidency.

It seemed a script that even the zaniest Hollywood writer could surely not have dreamt up two years ago, and cast all manner of doubt on the impact of celebrity endorsement. With the might of the mainstream media and support from figures from Katy Perry, to Beyoncé, to Lady Gaga, to Chris Evans (no, not that one) behind her, Hillary Clinton still could not hold back the tide and beat a very average candidate.

Fast forward to June 2017, and Jeremy Corbyn achieved success in a way that Clinton simply couldn’t. It is worth quantifying that Corbyn did not ‘win’ the election, he was well short of a majority, but he did harness the potential of social media and celebrity to create a movement, amongst young people in particular, that led to a result that no political commentator had predicted (whatever he says now, The Guardian’s Owen Jones didn’t see it coming).

Nobody expected to see hashtags like #Grime4Corbyn taking off, but that’s exactly what happened. When even Grime MCs are wading into the debate, it is worth taking a step back to explore the role that the celebrity now plays in the political sphere.

First and foremost it is an amazing thing that the power of celebrity can play a role in bringing people otherwise totally disengaged into the discussion. The young, and many other people who felt disenfranchised before the election, were invigorated by the momentum Corbyn’s campaign generated.

Celebrities can also use their position to raise crucial issues, JK Rowling is an example of somebody who uses her platform to regularly do so (see below evisceration of Westboro Baptist Church), and Jamie Oliver is another who has done so to great effect.

But there are also drawbacks. In some ways, politics is now more reductive than at any other time in history. The influence of platforms including Facebook and Twitter has changed the very nature of political discourse.

It feels as though we live in a world of increasingly polarised opinion. Cropping manifestos and political opinions into 140 characters might well make things digestible, but there is less room for nuance than ever before. With Brexit and the General Election, there has been a very dangerous recurrent narrative on both sides of the spectrum of ‘them against us’.

The last 18 months have been characterised by a surge in vitriol and division as tensions reach boiling point. The world isn’t split into good and evil, but too often the content we read online gives the impression that it is.

In this atmosphere of heightened pressure, do celebrities have a greater responsibility to think before they tweet so as not to fuel the fire?

There is an elevated risk in what is a pretty poisonous political climate of appearing crass, condescending or even incendiary. Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins have both built their brands off the back of being controversial firebrands, and by saying what nobody else would (and there’s generally a good reason nobody else would). Milo Yiannopolous did the same until his Twitter ban. All of these ‘provocateurs’ delight in sowing division and taking ‘the left’ to task for all manner of perceived sins.

But fear not, the left is just as happy to fire back. Owen Jones takes great pride in deriding those with differing views, while Lily Allen is another who divides opinion, always ready with a forthright opinion and an unerring ability to upset people.

Even Rowling, the patron saint of millennials, was quick to point the finger at Nigel Farage and the now infamous ‘Breaking Point’ referendum poster in the immediate aftermath of the Finsbury attack. Some may agree with her, but others might contend that such a tweet was insensitive and misrepresentative. Many people disagree with Farage, but to imply that he advocates killing in the streets does nothing to advance the discussion and in the immediate aftermath of an atrocity looks like distasteful pushing of an agenda.

It feels increasingly that battle lines are being drawn. Celebrities have the clout to influence and effect genuine change, the recent election showed that, but with their visibility comes a greater degree of responsibility.

Social media is constantly changing the world around us. The power of celebrity has a place in politics, but exactly how far that power should reach becomes harder to quantify by the day.

In the increasingly factional current political climate, those with the greatest visibility in our society have a duty to think before they speak, pause before they tweet, and to seek to unify rather than divide.

18 Political Campaign Ads that made me question my reality

If anyone ever tells you they are having a bad day, don’t listen to them, because they haven’t spent the last five hours watching Political Campaign Ads/Songs. With the Snap Election just days away, let’s all come together and bask in how abysmal the human race really is.

These are in no particular order (anarchy – Take that establishment!) but let’s begin with something current anyway…

Sam Harrison – ‘I Feel Like Jeremy Corbyn’

At a point you have to ask whether people sit at home and think about how much their favourite politicians will love their videos. Is that what you did Sam? Did you think you were helping? ‘My girlfriend tells me that I’ve got a big mandate.’ Lord above. I don’t know whether to cry, vomit, cry or cry after this.

4/10 – People actually take the time to write these songs.

Votin’

Brexit dragged up all manner of anger, frustration, fear and insecurity. But nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – comes close to this atrocity. Where to begin? The irony of spelling learnin’ wrong? The fact that as part of the prime demographic (18-24) for this steaming pile of cringe I know that the letter ‘g’ exists and even indulge in usin’ it sometimes? I don’t know but please don’t make me talk about it anymore.

Typin’, Watchin’, Groanin’, Hatin’, Ratin’ out of 10 (-1000), Turnin’, off.

Ivan Massow – ‘Invite Ivan’

Eurgh. Look, I get it Ivan. No really, I do. You want to discover what makes Londoners tick. What better way than going to meet with and talk to them? But here’s the thing, that’s where this should have stopped. Meeting with the public? Great. Engaging with them? Fantastic. Listening to them? Sensational! Living with them? Abandon ship/Lock the door/Run for the hills.

1/10 – A nice idea executed with all the finesse of a pig using chopsticks.

Joni Ernst – ‘Castrating Hogs’

A scene from Simon Danczuk’s most intimate, sobering nightmares. This monstrosity is enough to make anyone shiver. If any men watching emitted an involuntary high-pitched squeal, don’t feel ashamed, even if that squeal is exactly what Joni wants. You can see Beelzebub dancing in Joni’s pale, merciless eyes as she viciously wills castration on everyone watching. If Joni comes up on your tinder, swipe left before she devours your soul.

666/10 – I cannot in good faith endorse satanic ritual.

Captain SKA – ‘Liar Liar’

Don’t hold back will you? This is savage, and it’s also blowing up right now (one million views and counting). Theresa May may think she’s Strong and Stable but she gets Captain SkA-ewered here. A tad (a lot) whiny for my taste though, we like fun and humour here.

5/10 -#KinderGentlerBlogPosts

Lyndon B Johnson – ‘Daisy’

Brexiteers might still moan about Project Fear, but as far as scaremongering goes this takes the biscuit. Its impact is somewhat lessened, however, by the fact that LBJ was famed for exposing his manhood to white house staff, foreign dignitaries and just about anyone who was within watching distance.

4/10 – An attack ad from a maniac who delighted in flashing everyone – thank goodness American Politics is so mundane these days.

Ted Cruz – ‘The Senator who saved Christmas’

If Ted had his way the Middle East would probably be getting carpet bombed out of existence with exploding bible extracts right now. But as distasteful and divisive as his foreign and domestic policy ideas are, it is those horrible, shifty eyebrows that make Cruz truly unsettling. Disturbing facial features aside, this is excellent. Bonus points for ‘The Grinch who lost her emails’ and ‘Rudolph the underemployed Reindeer’.

5/10 – Would be higher but Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer, so it’s not. I’d sooner spend my Christmas in Dante’s inferno than with the slimy senator.

Mike Gravel and his Rock

Stone-faced Mike Gravel, delivering a gritty message as he drops a rock into some water. We certainly think he made a splash.

7/10 – Is Mike’s message sinking in yet?

Dwight Eisenhower – ‘I Like Ike’ 

As far back as the 1950’s the Americans were pumping out content like this, and our last Prime Minister couldn’t remember which football team he supported (classic nutty geezer/pub legend/one of the lads Daveyboy Cameron eh). Once you’ve heard this delightful little number you’ll be bopping along to it for the rest of the week.

9.9/10 – ‘Ike for president, Ike for president, Ike for president…’

The Green Party – #GrownUpPolitics

How do you even pick a top moment? It’s impossible, but highlights are: Boris on his tricycle (I’m Prime Minister!), Jeremy’s nasty shadow cabinet (Put the rockets away) and, of course, lonely, lonely Tim Farron.

9.98/10 –If the Green Party were as good at politics as they are campaign videos we would be a single-party state.

Rick Santorum – ‘Game On’

It takes a special kind of ineptitude to be less electable than Mitt Romney, but hats off to Rick Santorum as he managed it in 2012. Skin-crawlingly cult-like – Rick’s devoted disciples demand ‘justice for the unborn,’ while lavishing praise on Rick for being: ‘Faithful to his wife and seven kids – he’ll be loyal to our land,’ (Ted Cruz/Danczuk/Berlusconi – take note).

0/10 – A torturous journey of fidget-inducing terror.

Zac Goldsmith – Who even knows what 

An aberration. Lines such as ‘he is worthy of appreciation’ aren’t doing Mr Goldsmith any favours but the video is even more excruciating, as we are treated to Zac looking out of place and unsettled in various ‘common folk’ locations, including the tube (come on Zac, who are we kidding?)

3/10 – There is something there, but it’s buried so deep that only someone who has spent the last 4 hours listening to political campaign songs could recognise it.

The UKIP Calypso

The words UKIP and Calypso just don’t look right when you write them next to each other. Unsurprisingly, they also don’t sound right when forced into this unholy union dating back to 2014. In essence, Nigel Farage performing the Dementor’s kiss/an exorcism on West Indian Culture – profoundly uncomfortable listening.

2/10 – In the words of Ed Milliband: “It’s just wrong.”

Silvio Berlusconi – ‘Thank Goodness for Silvio’

Behold, feminism’s Anti-Christ. Hasn’t got much going for it on a musical level and I don’t buy that anyone has ever uttered the words ‘thank goodness for Silvio’. Thank goodness for what? Economic disarray? Mass unemployment? Flagrant misogyny? If you’re thankful for Silvio, you need to stop hanging out with Simon Danczuk on weekends.

3/10 – It’s three X’s Silvio, but not the type you like you dirty old cretin. You’re out.

Conservative friends of India – ‘David Cameron’

In an age where political discourse is often muddled and confusing, this song is reassuringly familiar in that I have no idea what’s going on. Remarkably, the song makes less sense still once translated. ‘The Sky is blue’ – oh, okay. And yet ‘David Cameron’ repeated in metronomic fashion holds a hypnotic and alluring quality.

5/10 – Bonus point for the pitch that the female singer hits – a boiling kettle.

Tony Blair – ‘1997’

In the context of this list, ‘things can only get better’ is devilishly appropriate. Loving the nostalgic nineties feel of the video. Stay with it until the big reveal towards the end – Mr Blair looks like a man who has just remembered he left the oven on.

6/10 – No real surprise that Labour won the election after this.

Donald Trump – ‘The Trump Jam’

Donald Trump’s political career has plumbed sinister and vitriolic depths, but this is unquestionably the most unforgivable mutation that the frothing Republican candidates’ posturing has created yet. An exemplary demonstration of Trump’s devastating proficiency when employing the Imperius curse – watching these bewitched children stumble around stage is uncomfortable viewing for even the hardiest of folk.

4/10 – Despicable and quite Covfefe.

Kennedy – ‘Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy’

Ladies, Gentlemen, Donald, we have a winner. Indoctrination at it’s simple and masterful best. The message is clear, it’s easy to join in and the lyrics are about as fun as political brainwashing could hope to be.

10/10 – Just about pips ‘I like Ike’, but only just…

 

 

The Creative Industries must make themselves heard

Britain has always been a leader in the creative industries, but a question mark hovers over its future. At a time of Brexit, an NHS stretched to breaking point, and spending cuts, it is easy for industries that are doing relatively well to be overlooked by Government but to do so could be a disaster. This has never been truer than for the creative industries, who enjoyed a bumper year in 2016 (contributing £84 billion to the UK economy) but are largely ignored by policymakers. Yet the continued success of this sector is by no means guaranteed.

UK creative industries

Brexit will have far-reaching consequences for the creative industries in a myriad of ways. One of the most significant changes is likely to be to freedom of movement, which could negatively impact the sector’s ability to attract key talent from overseas. Likewise, any requirement for British citizens to have visas to work in Europe could be costly and time-consuming. This will be problematic for anyone in the industry who needs to frequently work in European countries, e.g. musicians on tour. Plus, a business’ ability to protect its intellectual property (which is largely governed by EU law at the moment) could be significantly reduced, affecting everything from design to publishing, film and music.

Additionally, the future funding that Britain’s creative sectors get from EU bodies could be at risk. Figures from Creative Europe show that it supported 230 cultural and creative firms in the UK in 2014/15. There are questions over what will happen to this, and other similar funding streams, after Brexit, and the government should take steps to reassure bodies who might be affected.

And it’s not just the questions over EU funding that could put the creative industries at risk. Continued cuts at both a national and local level have left many having to do more with less money. For example, it has been reported that Bristol Council will be cutting its arts budget by 40%, whilst Bath and North East Somerset Council is cutting all of its grants to arts by 2020. And with continued economic uncertainty, it is unlikely that the Government will prioritise any additional spending for the arts. Moreover, crippling increases in business rates could threaten venues, including theatres, up and down the country.

However, this is surely short-sighted. The creative industries are vital to our economy, and this will only increase after Brexit. The sector employs two million people (and rising) and is growing faster than the workforce as a whole. Last year the creative industries exported £19 billion to the rest of the world, including £644million in music exports and £1.3 billion in TV.

But the value of the creative industries isn’t just economic. The world without theatre, museums, music, art, video games and books would be dull and uninspiring. They encourage us to learn, boost our wellbeing, exercise our imagination and contribute to our national identity. They provide Britain with enormous soft power, moulding how we are seen through the rest of the world. Great British institutions such as James Bond, Harry Potter, Adele, Burberry, all create interest in the UK, attracting investment and draw millions of visitors from overseas. In London alone, it is estimated that ‘culture and heritage’ are the reason for 80% of visits, boosting London’s economy by £3.2 billion.

To their credit, the Government has introduced a number of measures to support our creative industries in the last few years, including tax relief on films (resulting in Hollywood blockbusters such as Star Wars being filmed in the UK), high-end TV and animation. They have also invested in skills, put coding onto the curriculum and acknowledged the importance of the industry in their new industrial strategy, by making the creative industries one of five key sectors.

Yet there is still much to do. If we want to protect them for the future, it is essential that the industry lobbies the Government and that they work together to meet challenges on the horizon. The creative industries deserve a seat at the table as much as any other and should be at the forefront of Government strategy.

 

Saving the special relationship

By Michael Lach, PHA Public Affairs

Trump May Holding Hands - Special Relationship

Image Courtesy of; thesun.co.uk

Donald Trump has been President for little over a week, but there has already been significant political change. In that time Theresa May held hands with the new President at the White House, mass protests broke out in London and the UK in relation to Trump’s controversial immigration policy, and 1.5 million people signed a petition in protest against Trump receiving a state visit.

These events mark the significant problems that Theresa May’s government face with Donald Trump.  On the one hand, Trump has been hugely supportive of Brexit, has spoken positively of his “Scottish roots”, moved Winston Churchill’s bust back into the Oval Office and talked up his wish to quickly secure a trade deal with the United Kingdom. This has reassured many within the Government that the so-called special relationship will flourish.

Thousands of people gathered in cities across the UK this evening, including Glasgow, Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff, to voice their opposition to Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting several Muslim majority countries. Take a look at the powerful scenes from London in our latest Instagram Story. Photo: @eleni.stefanou

A post shared by The Guardian (@guardian) on

On the other hand, Trump has shown himself to be volatile and controversial. His recent executive order preventing refugees from entering the US has resulted in his reputation amongst the British hitting rock bottom, with 10,000 protestors demonstrating outside Downing Street with just a day’s notice. The Prime Minister has also come under criticism for not being quick enough to denounce Trump’s Immigration ban, instead simply stating “the United States immigration policy is a matter for the United States”.

In reality, Trump’s Presidency represents a dangerous balancing game. If handled well, May could create a strong relationship with the United States, akin to the Reagan and Thatcher days. Furthermore, a potential US-UK trade deal would be hugely beneficial to the UK economy going forward and would be a threat to the European Union who Trump has denounced multiple times.

Actor Shia LaBeouf has been released following his arrest earlier this week at an anti-Trump art installation in New York. The "He will not divide us" installation aims to run for as long as President Trump is in office. People who pass by are invited to visit @movingimagenyc to deliver the words "he will not divide us" into a mounted outdoor camera, repeating the phrase as many times and for as long as they wish. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

A post shared by The Guardian (@guardian) on

However, if this relationship can only be achieved by May curtailing to every single one of Trump’s whims and wishes, and refusing to steadfastly oppose the policies he puts in place, she will face severe criticism in both the press and her party in the UK.

Coincidentally, however, if May decides to actively disagree with any controversial policies that President Trump might pursue, it could jeopardise any positive future relationships, trade deals, or cooperation on other important issues (e.g. NATO, intelligence sharing, etc.) that the UK might hope to work with the United States on.

Ultimately, it can be argued that whatever route May and the government take there will inevitably be pitfalls attached.  For the Prime Minister, the only option available to avoid damaging her relationship with the notoriously thin-skinned President is to somehow craft a personal friendship with him. This will allow her to challenge him on policy objectives whilst protecting British interests with the United States.

Theresa May Donald Trump White House Meeting

Image Courtesy of; www.mirror.co.uk

Trump, Brexit, Corbyn – the rules of political engagement have changed

Bandying about insults, interrupting his opponent, a winding monologue packed with hyperbole and absent of any detail.

Casual observers of US politics could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon an episode of The Apprentice. Except it couldn’t be The Apprentice, could it? Sure enough, that was Trump stood up on stage, but with Hillary Clinton alongside him?

No observer, this was not reality TV – this was just symptomatic of the direction politics in the US and the UK is lurching towards.

The less attentive amongst the public would have been left aghast at Donald Trump’s performance in the first US Presidential debate – how could such a man be anywhere near the race for the White House?

Donald Trump, US election

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore on Flickr

And yet to those who have been paying attention – Trump’s rise is part of a continuing trend in global politics. There has been a noticeable and collective rejection of the establishment permeating across the British and American political spectrums.

The political shift in the last twelve months has been as fast as it has unexpected. For people in the UK, it started in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election, with the Labour leadership race after Ed Milliband tendered his resignation.

Jeremy Corbyn defied the predictions of every pundit, expert and media outlet to secure the leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015 with the largest mandate in the party’s history. Why were people so drawn to Corbyn? Maybe it’s because he is different, he represents change – an alternative to the status quo.

What has followed is twelve months of utter turmoil for the Labour Party and the relentless savaging of Corbyn in the mainstream media.

From a refusal to sing the national anthem, to arguments over trident and defence, to the Labour anti-Semitism scandal, to the Virgin train farce – Corbyn has staggered from one PR disaster to the next, with the baying media falling over each other in their eagerness to sink their teeth into him.

David Cameron described it best, when he said that Corbyn is like the Black Knight from Monty Python, just as he seems to have been defeated and cast aside, he gathers himself and limps on.

Jeremy Corbyn

Image courtesy of Eric the Fish on Flickr

But what this really seems to be demonstrating, is just how wrong the mainstream media are getting politics – three of the most seismic political events of the last year have been the Labour leadership contest, the EU referendum, and the US Presidential race – and so far the media have got two out of three wrong.

Nobody gave Corbyn a hope of surviving a month, then he wasn’t going to see out the new year, then every media outlet told us that Owen Smith was a far more ‘electable’ candidate. The Telegraph, the Sun and the Mail ridiculed him, the Guardian lamented his destruction of the Labour Party. If people believed all they read in the news Owen Smith would surely have thrashed Corbyn with a 99.99% majority.

And yet here we are, blinking at Groundhog Day twelve months on, with Corbyn securing his re-election in a head-to-head with Owen Smith by winning a commanding 61.8% of the vote.

But then what about Brexit? This surely was something that everyone knew the answer to. Every political party beyond UKIP was united behind the idea of staying in the EU.

The Prime Minister wheeled out experts from every imaginable industry to warn against the dangers of leaving the European Union. A ‘Leave’ campaign was fronted by the hapless trio of the lamentable Nigel Farage, the abject Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – a man with all the charisma of a pencil.

All conventional wisdom pointed towards one result – a vote to Remain in the European Union. But another result came and went, and again it went against the prediction of almost every informed expert. Why were people so drawn to Brexit? Maybe it was immigration, maybe it was sovereignty but once again it represented change – and this is how the Leave campaign pitched it – an alternative to the status quo.

Eu flag, brexit

Image courtesy of Marlena on Flickr

So now here we are, with a matter of weeks left until the next President of the USA is decided. Hillary Clinton has the bulk of the mainstream media –newspapers and TV networks on her side. She has the celebrities, the business people, the backing of the political elite.

But it all sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Just how confident are the pundits feeling right now about who the next President of the United States will be? How confident does anyone feel in making any predictions over what’s coming next in politics?

Whatever you or I may think of Donald Trump (a great deal of it, I’m sure, is not printable) one thing he does represent is change. He may be incendiary, vitriolic, and arguably unhinged – but if there is one thing he doesn’t represent – it’s the political status quo.

First we got Corbyn, then we got Brexit. It’s crazy to think, but betting on Trump to win doesn’t seem so crazy anymore.

So buckle up, what happens next is anybody’s guess.

Are languages old business?

By Ruby Muir

‘Why bother when everyone speaks English?’, ‘There are other things that are more worth my time’ are just a few of the many comments heard about learning languages in playgrounds, universities and workplaces today. Throughout the country our priorities have shifted, increasing the void between apparently employable, practical and worthwhile skills and the study of foreign languages. With the removal of compulsory language study for 14-16 year olds in 2004, the number of students studying languages to a high level has plummeted drastically. This has resulted in a deficit of graduates equipped to transfer their language skills to the continually expanding global markets.

But what effect does this actually have on our businesses and global profile? There is some argument that a mastery of English is all you need when working and trading on a global level. Countless European countries raise their children to be bilingual with English and those that don’t are quickly implementing widespread bilingual school programmes to catch up. China, India and countless others, all operate with such a high level of English language that communicating haphazardly in other native tongues could be unnecessary.

But where does this leave us in reality? Practically this absence of language skills costs our economy £48 billion a year. Parts of this results from expenses to businesses who have to employ translators to carry out foreign exchanges where the level of English isn’t sufficiently high. For smaller business where this is unaffordable this means a loss of business. For a prospective linguist, this void creates huge advantage making them a valuable asset, able to communicate directly without an intermediary thereby improving their commercial opportunities. Even without a broad grasp of a foreign language, the ability to greet and exchange niceties in someone’s native tongue should not be underestimated. The care and effort of this gesture can very much enhance the tone and outcome of prospective negotiations and build beneficial relationships for the future.

languages, dictionary

Image courtesy of The Greatist on Flickr

Moreover, an understanding of a foreign language is accompanied by a cultural appreciation that can be useful when adapting campaigns and brands to foreign markets. Understanding the comedy and other reference points of a target nation can help personalise and enhance global marketing campaigns. It also allows adaption to cultural norms during exchange and negotiation. In this way, knowledge of foreign languages can change perspectives, remove perceived barriers and enable confident expansion in new markets.

However, with the looming execution of Brexit, the prospects of educating the future workforce in foreign languages are uncertain. Within days of the Leave victory, Danuta Hübner, the head of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, announced that English will lose its official status as an EU language after the separation. With this change, it could be that for the UK to continue with some European trade, language skills will need to become a key priority. It could be we will need to focus on educating our children in Mandarin, Arabic and Hindi to secure reliable trade from beyond Europe. It could be that an independent Britain and the US will be enough to retain the Anglo dominance in global markets. Currently, no one knows.

Nonetheless, the EU contributions to language education, such as the funding of its study abroad programme Erasmus and living grants for students, are sure to be cut and are unlikely to be replaced through government funding. This could inhibit the study of languages for many prospective students, to whom living abroad for the compulsory year would be an unaffordable luxury. Depending on movement and immigration changes, the resource of native teachers and language assistants could be depleted, reducing the authenticity of cultural and linguistic learning. Again, no one knows.

All that is clear is that the shape of post-Brexit Britain will for the foreseeable future remain uncertain. However, we know for sure that language skills are a fantastically valuable asset to have within our businesses and workforces. It is clear that as a country, we need to adjust our attitude that learning languages is other people’s responsibility. We need to fight for our youth to engage culturally and linguistically to keep up with their counterparts in China, Europe and the rest of the world. Most importantly, we need to stop telling ourselves that the skills we gained from that bit of French we learnt in school or ‘the get by in’ classes at the local community centre aren’t adequate, useful or able to make a difference in international engagements.

What will Prime Minister Theresa May mean for Britain and the Conservatives?

Theresa May

Theresa May. Image courtesy of the Home Office

On Wednesday 13th July, Theresa May will become Britain’s second female Prime Minister. After an intense yet short campaign, energy minister and Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom, Home Secretary Theresa May’s last opponent in the Conservative leadership contest, has withdrawn her candidacy after controversial comments on motherhood highlighted her inexperience. Following Leadom’s withdrawal, David Cameron announced that he would tender his resignation to the Queen tomorrow, and Theresa May would become PM straight after.

Theresa May, in contrast to Leadsom, was billed as the experienced candidate in the leadership contest.  An MP for almost twenty years, she became the Party’s first female chairman in 2002. In 2010 she became Home Secretary, making her one of the longest serving Home Secretaries in British history and the most senior female in the Conservative Party, singling her out as a potential future leader.

As a politician, May has been careful to distance herself from the old Etonian men’s club that has surrounded the likes of Cameron, Osborne and Johnson. In short, she has sought to make herself an alternative to the traditional political elite. She has been a cautious campaigner, not favouring loud statements which characterised her campaigning (or lack thereof) for the Remain campaign.

She is known to be one of the most hardworking cabinet ministers, and there have been doubts over her ability to delegate work; something which is difficult as Home Secretary but cannot be sustained as Prime Minister. She has also been accused of hiding behind her special advisors which came to the forefront during her very public head to head with Michael Gove in 2014. She has, however, enjoyed surges in popularity, particularly following the deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada, something which previous Home Secretaries had been unable to achieve. She has been known for taking a tough line on immigration, something which can be expected to continue in the wake of Brexit.

She is known for being “bloody difficult”, with a reputation for being a fierce negotiator, however, perhaps this is just what Britain needs when heading into Brexit talks. Indeed her background in finance (underplayed in the leadership contest) will perhaps help her combat the economic worries that will arise with Brexit negotiations.

As Prime Minister, Theresa May will also be able to reunite the Conservative Party. After a bitter split between the Leave and Remain camps, the Tories appears to be desperate to avoid the current instability that is engulfing the Labour Party. Despite having campaigned for the losing Remain camp, May enjoyed strong cross-party support, gaining 199 votes in last wee

Andrea Leadsom

Andrea Leadsom. Photo courtesy of Policy Exchange on Flickr.

k’s MP ballot, compared to Angela Leadsom’s 84. In her withdrawal speech, Leadsom emphasised Britain’s need for a strong and stable government, something which infighting amongst the party during a prolonged leadership campaign would prevent.

Furthermore, the speed of her selection as Party Leader means that Cameron will not be a lame-duck Prime Minister until September. This is a positive move, particularly for business, as drawing out the process would only increase uncertainty surrounding Britain’s EU exit and delay the recovery Britain needs to make following such a divisive vote.

Most significantly Theresa May has stressed her objective to re-establish trust in politics. The Brexit result was a real kick for the political establishment. The people of Britain voted against a political elite that they felt had failed them and did not represent them, with Tony Blair suggesting that the leave vote was a protest against the establishment. May appears to have heard this and understood the need to respond. Talking in Birmingham, May pledged to place the Conservative Party “at the service of ordinary working people”. In a throwback to Ed Miliband, she promised to be tough on big business, something which voters were keen to see in the last general election. She promised workers and consumers roles on company boards and strong rules protecting pay. May assured the disillusioned that firm change would come to British politics.

Finally, Theresa May has ruled out any chance of Britain remaining in the EU, putting an end to speculation by political commentators that Brexit may not happen, as the referendum was not legally binding. May has put an end to these rumours declaring that “Brexit means Brexit” and that she would not ignore the vote of the British public. Yet uncertainty surrounds what Brexit will actually mean, particularly for those EU migrants who May has claimed might not be guaranteed a right to stay, and exactly when Article 50 will be triggered, which May has said will not be before the end of 2016.

However, this will not end the period of political uncertainty in Britain, particularly in relation to calls for a snap general election. Following Leadsom’s withdrawal, Tim Farron tweeted his belief that the Conservative Party no longer has a mandate. This is particularly significant given Theresa May’s past criticisms of Gordon Brown for not calling an immediate general election after he succeeded Tony Blair, when she criticised him for the lack of a democratic mandate. However, during her leadership campaign, she said she would not call a general election, providing further stability for the country.

Only one thing is certain: despite being the ‘stability’ candidate Mrs May will certainly be thrown straight in at the deep end and will be put to the test with Brexit renegotiation and will have to act quickly to heal the rifts in the Conservative Party.

By Olivia Gass