This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph March 2018.
It’s well known that there are too many pairs of brogues strutting across the top of the glass ceiling.
Men have long dominated the boardroom, and advertising, the industry I work in, is as blighted as any other (indeed, there’s an argument that we shoulder more blame, having reinforced gender stereotypes through innumerous ads – but I’ll leave that one for another day).
It all goes back to how we react to stress. For years – and you’ll probably remember this from biology at school – science believed that when threatened, humans underwent a ‘Fight or Flight’ process: we either came out swinging, or legged it. However, around the turn of the 21st century, scientists realised that a lot of the clinical work supporting ‘Fight/Flight’ had been performed on men. Gender simply hadn’t been considered when it came to scrutinising the data. We had based our insights around only one half of the species.
Men certainly do appear to have a strong Fight/Flight instinct. In 2012, Dr Joohyung Lee and Professor Vincent Harley identified a particular gene (SRY, or ‘The Macho Gene’ as news stories dubbed it at the time) that triggers the development of the testes, secretes hormones to masculinise the body, and appears to nudge our adrenal gland into overdrive when under stress. The fact that women do not have SRY points towards a concurrent conclusion from the world of science: that women’s Fight/Flight instinct is calmed by Tend/Befriend, a process first identified in work by researchers at the University of California.
Evolution is at hand here to explain why. Fight/Flight fails as a survival strategy for women because historically they have taken primary roles in ensuring the little’uns become the big’uns. The same Darwinian forces that push men into Fight/Flight works the other way in females: high maternal investment favours responses that don’t jeopardise the survival of their children. Sociologically speaking, ‘befriending’ activity involves affiliation and collaboration within a group, creating networks to provide mutually assured support during stressful times. Tend/Befriend means reaching out, building trust, defusing conflict, putting the kettle on and breaking out the Rich Teas.
What does this mean within business? If I look without any prejudicial squint, I see clear indicators of Tend/Befriend in the businesswomen who help me run my organisation.
Recent research supports the idea that such an approach is simply more effective. A 2015 survey of 2,000 people by the University of Cambridge found that female CEOs generated more profits than their male counterparts. They were more likely to maintain business outlooks favouring controlled growth, reinvesting profits over taking equity out. They were more averse to risks that may mess up their employees’ livelihoods. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to take equity out at the earliest opportunity, taking more risks to do so.
In a related sphere of influence, while doing the research for my book I detected evidence of Tend/Befriend in a UN report about the type of policies that get enacted by male and female politicians. To give one example, the number of clean drinking water projects in India in areas with women-led councils was found to be a massive 62pc higher than those with men running the show. Plainly the guys think their constituents need to man up. Who needs water, right?
Does this stray too close to the cliché of female leaders as ‘nurturing’ types? Well, a study by US leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman of 16,000 leaders (two thirds male, one third female) suggested women outperformed men in taking initiative, getting things done, and driving for hard results; and pointed out that these were ‘not nurturing competencies’, inferring that they are commonly assumed qualities of male leaders.
Is it possible that these so-called ‘male’ business qualities are smoothed by the fine-grained sandpaper of Tend/Befriend? That women possess a wider spectrum of competencies, and therefore make more rounded leaders? If so, we men clearly need to explore whether or not we can ignore the klaxon call of our testicles and… woman up.
My personal role models in this endeavour include two female business partners on my management board. Both can engage their inner Boadicea in the hand-to-hand combat sometimes required in business, and in the next breath are elbow-deep creating an induction programme that ensures our newbies have a motivating experience in their first weeks.Their approach contrasts favourably to my past motivations, which have all been about competing for and closing of deals – actions borne of fight mode.
Since becoming aware of how male responses can colour business making decisions, I have actively tried to channel Tend/Befriend. It’s proved effective in the staple activity of ad agencies, the group brainstorm. I have noticed men seem to speak more in those meetings, not necessarily in a good way: often speaking over women and diverting the course of that person’s creative flow, refocusing the room to the interrupter’s idea. Many brilliant trains of thought are ruined in this way. We have put in place protocols to guard against ‘diverters’, including a 50/50 gender split, and someone is assigned to call out such behaviour if it occurs.
Can I continue to counter my male Fight/Flight instincts? Interestingly, the Zenger Folkman study ranked gender against 16 competencies deemed essential to success, including communicating prolifically, developing others and being collaborative (women came out top in 12). To describe these qualities as competencies is salient, because a competency is learned. I may be hardwired to fight or flight, but I can cling to the idea that, with practice, I could become a tenderer befriender.
Whether I achieve such a goal or not, it’s clear that inequality is holding business back. We really don’t need to be sat in opposing camps factionalised by gender (especially when gender is a spectrum). By making the playing fields level between men and women, we will not only improve the way we do business, but everything we do in life.
To reach that particular promised land, we need all the talent out there, working in harmony from a position of jointly held power.
The above article originally appeared in The Daily Telegraph on International Women’s Day (March 8th) 2018 as part of their Women Mean Business campaign. It is an edited extract from my first book;I Don’t Agree – why we can’t stop fighting – and how to get great stuff done despite our differences.
Public discourse feels more polarised than ever before. This article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on July 1st 2020 and is an edited extract from my first book; I Don’t Agree – Why we can’t stop fighting and how to get great stuff done despite our differences. It is published by Harriman House and out now….
In the early days of the pandemic many people were baking bread and rediscovering their kindness gene. That seems like a long time ago now. We’ve gone from clapping for carers to uncaringly slapping down anyone who may not share the same views as us on everything from race, gender, equality, class and the wealth gap.
Many people I know are capable of instantaneous combustion into a bin kicking rage at the mere mention of the ‘plan’ for reopening schools. I have seen the same level of frustration from those who are desperate for them to open too. It’s difficult for any measured argument to cut through the clatter but worse, it seems we’ve all stopped listening to each other anyway. Everywhere you look some shouty ‘influencer’ is pounding someone else for daring to see things differently.
This is most apparent in the conflagration of debates arising in the wake of the BLM protests: tear down a statue or let it stand? Legitimate protest or an act of vandalism? Venturing an opinion either way may attract a threat from the other side to tear you down. You don’t agree with them? Well you’re cancelled so there.
These arguments thrive on social media. Big issues are over-simplified by self-appointed citizen journalists, deliberately polarised to present someone or some group as the villains. Bubbling animosity can quickly become a firestorm. JK Rowling is threatened with rape and murder for her views; do concerns for male violence towards women trump the rights of trans people to express their identity? It’s all opinions (forcibly expressed) and no solutions.
What happened to the ability to take a deep breath and take perspective?
It should be OK to communicate the fact you see things differently. It should be equally OK for someone to disagree with your beliefs. That’s normal human discourse. At least it used to be. But it feels like real debate is being put into lockdown just as we emerge from it.
How do we agree to disagree and just get on with stuff?
In 2010, I spectacularly fell out with my fellow shareholders in a business I ran for a decade. Minor disputes over the direction of the enterprise turned into a power struggle, culminating in a firework’s display of red-hot emotions on the office floor.
We could have sold seats on Ticketmaster, but there was no going back.
In the period of reflection that followed the collapse of that partnership, one question kept coming back: was my partner’s position in the argument as valid as mine? Only now, with the benefit of hindsight, can I confirm that yes, it probably was. Actually, what an idiot, I’ve done it again – strike the word ‘probably’ from that previous sentence. Even after ten years, it’s hard to acknowledge the other side’s perspective.
One of the first things I learned during my research was why the argument I had with my former business partners ended up the way it did. I couldn’t recognise my attribution bias: a state of mind where the deadlocks that prevent everyone moving forward in a disagreement are likely to be blamed on the other side – by both sides.
We actively seek out evidence supporting our position in the argument and our negative opinion of those on the other side; becoming blind to any evidence that suggests the other side might have a point. In this way our prejudices are reinforced.
We have a preference for what the clever folks in lab coats call similar-others. Meanwhile, we dislike dissimilar others. It has also been shown we tend to hold positive expectations of people who look and act like us, anticipating that they will be fairer, more trustworthy and more intelligent than those who are different.
But if we remain vigilant to our biases, while sharpening our cultural sensitivities, we are free to explore less confrontational ways to confront an argument. We can become more generous to those who might just hold a different view point. And how do we do this? Practice a little of what is called Status Affirmation.
I learned about this from the work of Dr Corrine Bendersky at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In her 2014 study she showed how people with conflicting political views could be persuaded to view their opponent as less adversarial. Berdensky used the Dictator Game – a famous experiment in social psychology in which a player (the dictator) decides how to share a prize (often a sum of money) with a second player. The latter has no influence over the decision and no rights of complaint should the dictator opt to share nothing. All they have is their persuasive powers.
You might expect that when people play this game with strongly held opposing opinions it may result in dictators who keep all the prize, all the time.
Not so. Having screened participants for their political affiliations around a hot issue of the day (then it was the so called Obamacare legislation), Berdensky reported that dictators gave away an average of around 40pc more of their prize – a pot of 10 tickets for a lottery – to those opponents who disagreed with them about the Obamacare act but who had also affirmed the dictators’ status. Opponents who had merely shoutily disagreed with the dictator without doing the affirmation earned zilch a lot of the time.
So, how to affirm someone’s status in a disagreement?
It’s about careful choice of words. You simply acknowledge your different opinion to your opponent by saying something like…
‘I know we disagree about this, but…’
And then you begin to work in the affirmation. The exact wording will vary depending on the subject, but it might be along the lines of; ‘I really admire people of principle like yourself, who can persuasively outline why they stand by their beliefs.’
Or ‘I understand your position and I see your viewpoint is increasingly influential in the world.’
After you have affirmed the status of your rival you might then go on to outline your argument, subject to any concession you might make to their point of view.
Some words of caution: Silke Eschert and Bernd Simon, from the Institute of Psychology at Kiel University, urged for a recognition of equal status, not high status. A famous quote springs to mind – I disagree with what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Worth bearing in mind next time you wade into a dispute with any firmly held opinion.
Will people listen more in the future? There’s still much to do. But, back to my first point; that some of us aren’t really hearing the wider perspective. It is time to stop shouting down and listen up instead.
I Don’t Agree – Why we can’t stop fighting and how to get great stuff done despite our differences. It is published by Harriman House (£14.99) and out now.
The family gatherings I am used to attending usually end in a sing-along of some description. I blame failed musical ambitions and a taste for real ale. This Labour Party get together on the South Coast was unusual in that it started with one.
The now familiar refrain that is Seven Nation Army set to the chant of Oh Jeremy Corbyn was chorused to the heavens by the massed ranks of the Labour membership as they stood to applaud the opening of Conference 2017. The man himself, watching bemusedly from the stage had the good grace to look a little embarrassed as he accepted the tribute with a smile and a wave. Personally, after the electric summer Jeremy has had, I would have not been surprised to see him join in full voice while ripping off his shirt and insisting that Tom Watson parade him around the room at shoulder height. You will perhaps be disappointed to learn that this didn’t happen. Instead, the deputy leader stood at JC’s side and displayed equal good grace in appearing to be overjoyed as the throng echoed on.
After such a kick-off, it would be true to say that the rest of conference lived up to expectations. There was surprise and delight in equal measure. It was inclusive and inspiring. Sure, disagreement and dissent did materialise – conference is a family gathering after all, but the after effects of the general election result and all the super heated positivity it has created failed to lower any high spirits. We were even blessed with sunshine – the alignment of that particular star with what is normally a wet September weekend perhaps a metaphor too far for the newly energised Labour Party. Apologies for any further clumsy analogies – my only excuse is that I am a newcomer to the party conference scene.
It fell to Lloyd Russell Moyle, the recently elected and Tory ousting MP for Kemptown to welcome all to Brighton. Drawing on Labour’s national 2017 successes as a parallel with Brighton and Hove Albion’s arrival in the Premiership, Lloyd gave a consummate performance which did not betray the nerves he said he felt on being asked to open the show. There were however no calls from the floor for Jeremy to manage the Seagulls! A team that perhaps could do with a touch of the Corbyn effect!
The chair (Glenis Willmott) was then moved to speak on the wider climate of politics; Trump, Macron and the rumblings of the far right in Europe as a backdrop to the UK scene; in which the rejection of UKIP, austerity and the resurgence of Labour under Corbyn has given hope to all – and it was hope with a capital H that proved to be the on-going theme of all four days of conference.
On to the main order of business for day one – Harry Donaldson the Chair of the Conference Arrangements Committee outlined the responsibility of all delegates; To decide which 8 subjects from all the contemporary motions submitted by trade unions, socialist societies and CLPs would be prioritised for debate for †he remainder of Conference 2017. A responsibility that would create lengthy discussions healthier than a fully funded NHS with no private sector interest!
Dianne Abbot was the headline act of Day One, but before the queen of Hackney graced the stage, the first of the speakers from the floor were invited to make the first contributions:
There were voices from Bristol West,Birkenhead and Manchester Gorton who had reservations about Sadiq Khan’s invitation to speak at conference. All expressed views that London gets enough airtime. That the regional voices of other elected Metro Mayors would be refreshing for conference.
Just as we were all appreciating the subtext, thinking here of Khan’s criticism of Corbyn in the run up to the general election, a further delegate invited to the podium urged for Sadiq’s appearance on the grounds of his large personal mandate when elected to the office of London mayor. This received a mix bag of emotive outpourings. Cheered in some sections and jeered in others, the chair rightfully called the floor to order. This delegate has some sympathy; Khan’s victory was hugely symbolic as both the first Asian and first Muslim mayor of London and no one should forget the divisive and despicable campaign staged against Khan by his mayoral rival Zak Goldsmith.
Democracy broke out in a deep red rash: Harlow CLP challenged conference to consider the North Korea USA stand off. Stroud CLP questioned why there was only one motion on the issue of education, while Guildford South spoke against trigger ballots. Islington North reminded all that the membership is as important than any single MP. Several points were made about disabled access, and conference did seem to be ill prepared for this – the most poignant of which was the chair of Disability Labour who found herself in what must have been the embarrassing position of criticising her own party. All of this debate proved to be a dynamic precursor for the days to come; some serious challenges would be issued to policy and party bureaucracy from the gathered membership in the hall. Underlining to this observer that this party is a very healthy, very vibrant beast that is genuinely for the many, and not just the few.
When Diana Abbot did arrive, she was greeted with a standing ovation that was so much more than an appreciation of all that she has achieved in politics. This was also a very palpable gesture of solidarity against the personal abuse this particular MP had suffered during the general election campaign.
Diana has somehow pre-empted the mood of the crowd in her speech: declaring to further adulation the words “I’m still standing” Getting into her stride along the day’s theme of Protecting The Community, she spoke to the cuts in public services in the face of terror atrocities – committing Labour to reversing them. She spoke to the fact that austerity undermines law and order as much as it does health and committed Labour to recruiting 10,000 new police officers. She spoke movingly of Grenfell and promised 3000 more firefighters, and an end to deregulation – the fire brigade, she said, will be the lead agency for assessing and signing off risk in building regulations – as opposed to the private sector. She would end indefinite detention for immigrants and delirium ensued upon guaranteeing the rights of the 3 million EU nationals resident in the UK. The announcement of a full enquiry into Orgreave resonated profoundly – the potential correcting of an injustice more than three decades old spoke to the very reason the Labour movement was born. Download her full speech here.
Highlights: Other speakers from the floor Day 1: Daniel Harris from Hove CLP told a moving story of how his mental health issues had catapulted him into homelessness. His passionate exhortation to build more social housing than Labour has yet committed to was hugely appreciated in the hall. Meanwhile Lauren Stocks a blue haired future red firebrand described the experience of anxiety, pressure and mental health issues arising in the personal narratives of those young people studying their GCSEs. The record books have yet to confirm whether or not Laura was the first person to use the word bollocks from the podium at any party conference – A story which made it all the way to the Daily Mirror Watch here.
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi – A Jewish delegate from Chingford CLP spoke eloquently about how legitimate criticism of the government of Israel in their conduct towards Palestine did not amount to anti-semitism, a topic which seemed to dog conference proceedings, at least according to some sections of media. Most inside the hall would agree that the tone of the debate on the Israeli / Palestinian issue was passionate rather than prejudicial.
Andrew Gwynne Shadow Secretary of State for Communities; Download Andrew Gwynne Speech Here, Ian Lavery MP and Labour Party Chair, Ian McNichol General Secretary Labour Party, who made the first of what would be several name checks to Momentum over the course of conference, Mike Payne GMB and chair of Wales Executive, Rt Hon Carwyn Jones who opened up in Welsh and received an tsunami of appreciation when, in a testament to devolution, he informed conference that there is no privatisation in any hospital in Wales.
Announcement of policy directives – see Dianne Abbot, Ian Lavery and Andrew Gwynne speeches.
Agreement by vote to focus conference around Rail, Social Care, NHS, Housing, Grenfell, Growth and Investment, Workers Rights and Public Sector Pay. Our delegation from Brighton Pavilion had voted for Rail, NHS, Housing and Learn Direct – we felt that an educational theme needed introducing to proceedings:
The Conference Arrangements Committee report was agreed
DAY TWO: Oh Emily Thornberry
Brexit, the economy, jobs, living standards and equalities.
The molten hot topic of Brexit and Internationalism has liquified politics and it burnt a few fingers here! Underlined by a well attended pro remain demo outside the Brighton Centre the day before, the subject was prime focus for the reconvening of conference.
Glenis Willmott, leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party in what was her last major speech ahead of her retirement as an MEP spoke of her fight to remain in Europe. She underlined the need to extend that fight to any exit deal that threatens the peace in Northern Ireland, or undermines the peace of mind of EU nationals in the UK or those Brits who have carved out lives in Europe, or attacks workers rights and safety standards. Download Glenis Willmott speech here.
Emily Thornberry opened her conference address with a cheeky reference to Corbyn’s now infamous mistimed high five gesture as the general election results came in, and with comic prowess she described the Brexit process as a paternity test that Boris Johnson did not wish to take. She spoke to the precarious state of peace in the world,
calling out the world’s human rights abusers and sabre rattlers; openly referring to Trump as akin to a rogue dictator while calling for a Labour government to challenge international injustices. A stark contrast she said to the spineless unwillingness of the Conservatives to take on such a mission. Download Emily Thornberry speech here.Keir Starmer criticised the failings of the Tory Brexit negotiators which need no repeating here. He spoke to the need of a flexible approach that swept no options off the the table, suggesting that remaining in a form of customs union with the EU would be one of the possible end destinations for Labour Download Keir Starmer speech here.
John McDonnell was in combative mood, and in the main he delivered a Tory bashing speech for the gallery! Stand out points for me included the IFA study which indicated that writing off student debt would cost £10 Billion by 2050, and that action was needed now by the incumbent government. Calling out the scale of profits made from PFI deals in the past six years; some £831 Million, was also revelatory and eye watering. His subsequent announcement that companies based in tax havens should not own shares in PFI’ schemes as well as confirming that, under Labour, all PFI contracts will be bought back in house inspired conference to its feet. Download John McDonnell speech here.
Speakers from the floor: A common theme emerged of how the problems of the global economy have been visited upon migrants in context of Brexit – the emotive testament from an Italian migrant from Hackney CLP told how unwelcome she and her family now felt in post referendum UK touched all who heard it. Ian Page from Bath CLP went so far as to state that, as the evidence for remaining in Europe was overwhelming, a reconsideration should be on the cards. This was in contrast to Daryl Hannah from Hove CLP who reminded conference that, as democratic socialists, the result of the referendum should be respected. Turkey and Palestine were both mentioned. Jean Butcher from UNISON informed conference that supply chains spread poverty around the world and reminded us all to of Dr Martin Luther King’s quote – before you eat breakfast in the morning you have depended on half the world. It’s true – I had a banana and a coffee; from the Caribbean via Columbia to Brighton.
The beast of Bolsover; the legendary Dennis Skinner was also called from the floor. He gave a typically barnstorming performance in regard to where the money will come from to fund our manifesto promises – his advice, to emulate the private sector and borrow it:
Reference Back. There were two instances of note:
Nottingham South called for Brexit policy to be ‘referenced back’ to the National Policy Forum; the delegate concerned wanting the UK to remain in the customs union and the European Economic Area. Conference overwhelmingly voted against the delegate and this was reflected in the votes by the Pavilion contingency.
Taunton Deane referenced back a section of the National Policy Forum on welfare demanding the scrapping of all planned welfare cuts. The Pavilion delegation voted overwhelmingly to support Taunton, and it seemed, from our vantage point, that the rest of conference did too. However the chair recounted several times inducing a fair bit of tension, before the vote was carried in favour of Taunton to send that section of policy to be reconsidered by the forum. Much cheering ensued.
Votes – acceptance of the international policy commission report; Economy, Business and Trade Policy Commission Report; Work, Pensions and Equalities Commission Report
Affiliates vote only: Contemporary Composite 1 – Growth and Prosperity Contemporary Composite 2 – Public Sector Pay Contemporary Composite 3 – Public Sector Pay Contemporary Composite 4 – Workers’ Rights
DAY THREE: In the black with a white elephant
Early years, education and skills; investing in the future; health and care
A big day for conference democracy. Voting in the ballot for two seats on the National Constitutional Committee, alongside other votes to decide a number of CLP and NEC rule changes would lead to dramatic interludes on the conference floor, and no less than two Pavillion delegates made it onto the podium to express some firm views: Both were well supported from the floor.
Boris Johnson’s attempt to gatecrash Lab17 dressed as a white elephant did not fool conference security.
Diana Holland, national treasurer gave an overview of party finances, confirming to all that the party was now, largely thanks to a massively expanded membership, out of debt, mortgage free, and in the black to the tune of over 6 million quid – nice work!
Our very own Amanda Evans, resplendent in a very distinctive hat, and in her role as local treasurer stepped up to the lecturn and demanded to know why, given we had just heard the national party was in such fine fettle financially, that a stall in the exhibition hall was denied to us on the grounds that ‘the national party could not afford to give the space away! Adding insult to injury we found yet another Labour Party merchandise stand, to add to the other Labour Party merchandise stands present, in the space ordinarily reserved for the local hosts – us! The question went unanswered but the point was well made.
Pavilion secretary Claire Wadey moved an emergency motion on the issue of the ongoing suspension of local member Greg Hadfield during the fallout of the 2016 Brighton and Hove District Labour Party elections. Claire eloquently described the lack of information coming back from the NEC over an unnecessarily prolonged period of time as ‘justice delayed, justice denied’. Momentum had pressed for support of Pavilion’s motion and there seemed to be a lot of support in the hall – prior to Claire moving the motion I distributed leaflets outlining the full nature of our complaint and here again there was much sympathy. However, following a dramatic card vote, we lost in the hall.
The main speakers today included Rebecca Long Bailey who spoke excitingly of being at the brink of the fourth industrial revolution, and how the pace of technological change calls for new models of ownership, alluding to how intellectual property rights and the fundamentals of business are structured to benefit the few over the many. Download Rebecca Long Bailey speech.
Angela Rayner, my favourite member of the shadow cabinet was sensational, referring back to her own start in life as a young mum of 16 with no qualifications. Speaking to how Sure Start had been instrumental in giving her the confidence to get to where she is now. Her promise to rebuild Sure Start with an injection of £500 Million was both personal and emotive.
Naomi Klein, The author, activist, and eagerly awaited speaker to this conference was up next. Speaking to the global uncertainty in the world and how the new left movement centred in the UK continues to provide hope to the poor, oppressed, and under privileged people of the world. You really should watch this particular speech…
Tom Watson’s moment on the podium was remarkable in that he whipped the throng into (yet another) chorus of Oh Jeremy Corbyn. I later saw the Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack speak at a fringe event organised by the Labour Representation Committee. Matt joked that Tom Watson had not bothered to learn the words to that song until the general election results had come through – hilarious!
OTHER BUSINESS CONCLUDED:
Places on the National Executive Committee: Anna Dyer and Emina Ibrahim, also known as ‘the left candidates’ won 71 per cent of the vote at conference – a landslide. Both candidates were supported by Brighton Pavilion.
National Policy Forum report on education: A paragraph was ‘referenced back’ by show of hands because it failed to clearly commit to proper democratic control of schooling, with no clear refutation of academy type education.
NHS: Another section of the National Policy Forum was ‘referenced back’ because of a glaring oversight that had gone unnoticed by all except one delegate in the room. The current policy committing to make the NHS the ‘preferred provider’ to the NHS, when in fact it should have read, the ONLY provider! The show of hands in support of this reference back was overwhelming!
JC day today! The grand finale to four days of finely tuned debate was preceded by a selection of policy seminars in which delegates were invited to help shape ongoing Labour policy.
The Brexit seminar was well attended and the panel included Emily Thornberry, Kier Starmer, Glenis Willmott and Barry Gardiner – the full shadow Brexit team. Gardiner spoke to the notion that rising GDP is concomitant with rising inequality which Starmer underlined, drawing on the Tory agenda for post Brexit Britain as deregulation, deregulation, deregulation. Adding a poignant thought on why the phrase ‘take back control’ had such resonance with the public at the time of the referendum as a phenomena that Labour better needed to understand; the list of things that might have made it onto such a list would be potentially very long, but the issue of immigration caught Labour on the back foot he said, and the vote was further bound up in freedom of movement. The clarification of Labour’s policy on the customs union and freedom of movement as announced in Starmer’s earlier speech was very welcome. A delegate from Carlise CLP made the observation that her local council bins policy got more scrutiny that the EU trade deal proposals, a phrase which both Starmer and Gardiner threatened to steal for future usage.
The Work, Pensions and Equalities seminar hosted by Deborah Abrahams and Diana Holland was not short of delegates wishing to contribute. Pavilion’s Juliet McCaffrey spoke to the need to consider the Gypsy and Travellers community in equality legislation, and your very own correspondent suggested an equality idea that Diana Holland later complimented, and said would be considered as future policy: The legal obligation for all corporations to hire a Diversity and Inclusion manager to guard against unconscious bias in such equality issues as setting of pay, promotion and hiring, and to minimise gender pay gaps while expanding equal opportunities – BOOM!
Jeremy Corbyn – Oh Jeremy Corbyn – Oh Jeremy Corbyn etc, etc…
Corbyn quickly found his stride, plainly the endless campaigning has done wonders for his stage presence, and ability to capture a room. Ruminating on how some political theorising states that elections are won from the centre ground, he suggested that this might be true as long as you accept that the political centre of gravity has now moved – to the left. Check the leader out…
Debate, democracy, drama – tick
Energetic, educational, entertaining – tick
Inspiring? Absolutely. Frustrating? Sometimes. Would I come again? Hell yes.
To paraphrase Corbyn in his conference address, the Labour party in its current vibrant form is now the mainstream. As I looked around the packed hall teeming with talent, ideas, energy and the will to challenge party bureaucracy, it seemed hard to refute that Labour is the government in waiting.
With the gap in the opinion polls seemingly shortening, what measures might Labour take to accelerate their position, and is there the time, and a convincing enough argument to move ahead?
As I run a company working in advertising, it is irresistible for me not to contrive of prescriptive shorthand bullet points for how to achieve answers to all sorts of problems. I love an underdog too! Here’s 3 steps I would pitch to Labour’s 2017 campaign boss: Would it convince you though?
I am betting that like me, you would very much like to see a fairer, more equal society; a world featuring a balanced distribution of opportunity, wealth and power while embracing a diversity of opinion and beliefs. I reckon if I asked them, my three children would love to grow up in such a place and I would bet their school shirts that if they asked their mates, then they would be up for that kind of vision too. Who, regardless of whatever political stripe they are painted, would turn it down?
In my reading of the Labour Party’s actual policies, the stuff they believe in, I find that they also want the same society as the one described above. Amazing! It transpires that lots of other people who have taken the time to read Labour Party policy are also similarly moved to say yep, that chimes with me!
Especially if, according to a Yougov poll, those policies were not attributed to any party at all when they read them! The poll implies the respondents prefer Labour’s thinking, but that this does not translate to support for the party when it’s revealed whose policies they are. In other words, those surveyed were influenced by the tone and tenor of the fierce media furore that has existed around the current leader. It’s a problem for sure, but what to do about it? How wide and how many are the strides needed to step it up in the polls?
1. IDENTIFY THE EASY WINS AND WIN THEM!
There are circa 16 million Millennials (18-34) in the UK. That’s enough to swing an argument one-way or the other, and there is rock solid rationale as to why they should give their vote to the candidate wearing a red rosette. This age group, due to economic forces beyond their control, have been excluded from the opportunities afforded to previous generations. This is not new news. Your average millennial is struggling with the idea that they may never own their own home.
They probably won’t even get a chance to stand at the foot of the property ladder and hold it for their kids to climb!
Huge swathes of them are still bunking up with the folks; 30 to 34% of them according to where you read. Consequently, they are more than a little peeved. For this generation, this is a situation unlikely to get any better under the auspices of those who will be sporting a blue rosette on June 8th. Whereas team Red are offering hope with promises such as a living wage, axing university fees, building houses, reining in the excesses of private landlords, increasing corporation tax and diverting the proceeds back into society. These are the sorts of things a millennial with a grudge might swing behind.
To add insult to a slap in the face, this group will be most affected by the long-term fallout of Brexit. Especially the ‘hard’ version as envisioned by Theresa May. 73% of young people favoured Remain, and in the case of the 1.4 million university students, 94% of them registered to vote in advance of the EU referendum. As we now know, the sad truth is that they did not turn up to vote in such numbers, and as a collective they are now living to regret that.
Moreover, should they not wish to blame themselves, their current plight can definitely be pinned, like a wilted buttonhole, on the lapel of a former prime minister of the current government.
Voting Labour in this election will give young people a real chance to vent. The party’s election campaign needs to keep up the pressure in getting this generation registered to vote, and this time,keepreminding them, over and over again, why they should be angry. That should ensure they actually get down to the polling station come June 8th!
2. HEAT UP THE POSITIVES / FREEZE OUT THE NEGATIVES
Regardless of where you stand on the Corbyn debate, and lets face it, there is a very full spectrum of opinion here, it is now irrelevant. Theresa May has rang the bell and Corbyn is the man in the opposite corner, but who is Joshua, and who is Klitschko? To win out, Labour has to really amplify the positives, and even the most fervent detractor would admit to some, while deftly side stepping the negatives.
Corbyn’s so called ‘unelectable’ quality is easily cast aside. The man has proved he is in fact electable, in fairly spectacular style, in not one but two gruelling leadership contests. He has previous form! There is more to be cantilevered here;
If either of Corbyn’s leadership contests where actually an opinion poll to gauge the mood of a nation, then Corbyn’s sample size would be very robust in research industry terms.
Polls and most bodies of research are conducted by consulting on average, several hundred people, and at best several thousand. Obviously the more people in your sample size the more robust the research industry will consider your work. Take BARB for instance, which is a broadcaster and ad industry initiative designed to ascertain the TV viewing habits of the UK. This has a sample size of 5,100 homes and returns the data of some 11,500 people in those homes. This information is used to aggregate the behaviour of 26 million TV viewing households, and so help advertisers determine where staggering amounts of advertising money will get spent. It is considered exceptionally robust.
Corbyn’s second leadership election expanded Labour’s eligible voter base to well over 500,000 making it the biggest party in Europe. 313,209, or 62% of those eligible, voted Corbyn. A very robust sample size! Corbyn’s detractors seeking to undermine such a convincing endorsement have claimed a secret cabal of extreme left-wingers signed up in droves to vote. Which is a charge that would raise more than a few chuckles in court; the biggest far left wing organisation in the UK is the Socialist Workers Party with a reported membership of less than 6000. The numbers simply don’t stack up!
So, if its not left wing extremists who got him to the party top job, then a sample size of this magnitude would be highly likely to represent the views of a much wider body of ordinary people.
All of whom must have recognised other qualities they valued beyond pure leadership ability; which include the perception that he is an honest man, someone you can trust, who has integrity, and other such superlatives that don’t ordinarily trip off the tongue when the word preceding them is politician! And as we have seen since, he certainly possesses dignity under fire – a much needed quality in office. It is these descriptors that need to be amplified to out shout the too familiar narrative that Corbyn does not cut it as a leader in the traditional sense. Each and every time that singular argument is trotted out, turn up the heat on the positives and freeze out the negatives. Then turn the narrative back to the policies as quickly as you can! Make the vote about the party, not one man!
3. CHANGE THE TONE OF VOICE / STOP TALKING TO THE ENEMY
All advertising seeks to influence and change the behaviour of an audience, and there are some basic psychological rules as to how you approach such an objective. These rules hold true even if you are embroiled in the tribal heat of an election campaign. To close that gap and overtake, in this election, or the next, Labour are going to have to influence a chunk of people who may currently identify as blue, or are wavering but leaning to the right, or are in fact swayed by the hysterical obsession with the stylistic contrast between May and Corbyn as mentioned earlier.
To win over any crowd, and more so a tough crowd, you cannot open dialogue by introducing the barrier that will be inevitably pulled up because you started with the wrong tone of voice, by addressing your audience as the enemy.
And yet, this is exactly what happens time and time again in campaign communications and in party meetings up and down the land.
My advice would be to stop shouting Tories Out, and drop all reference to Tories as ‘the enemy’ in any campaign communication, whether that’s within a humble press release, a tweet, a clarion call when out canvassing, a strap line in your advertising and all points in between. In fact; negate the power of the word Tory completely by pretending it does not exist; In an election campaign it will always be right and proper to call out current policy failing and illustrate the negative impact it may have on society. But don’t call it a Tory failure! Sure, call it callous or uncaring, but always, always, always substitute the word Tory for the rather bland nomenclature of the phrase ‘ ‘current government’ when attributing such shortcomings.
In so doing it suggests, by the very use of the word current, that their tenure is temporary, but you also give permission to any wavering, or potential voter listening to you, to switch sides, to change their minds, to come over to your viewpoint, to not break tribal lines. Don’t think of those you need to influence as the enemy, think of them as an ally in waiting!
In summary; Press home the argument to the audiences with most to gain from a more equal society, make it about the long term party vision, not a single personality and…
Don’t go to war. Go on a diplomacy mission!
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