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Is the Conservative lead melting away or will they storm to victory?

In the last 24-hours all the talk has been of Boris Johnson’s carefully orchestrated election gamble being at risk of not paying off, with the prospect of a hung parliament seemingly growing as polling day draws near. In this article, we consider why this has happened and look forward to what it could mean for Friday.

 

Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party have remained ahead in the polls since the election was called in October. Their lead in poll of polls has been a near constant 9 to 10 per cent over the Labour Party since October 31st. Despite this, confidence in a Conservative majority is faltering and the odds of no overall control have shortened from 3/1 to 12/5.

 

Conservative success hinges on winning over voters in Wales, the Midlands and the North that have not traditionally voted for the party, while retaining its traditional southern base. Initially thought a tall order, the Conservatives have been able to tap into fatigue within the electorate and build a coalition that reaches beyond just the most committed leave voters to those that want the Brexit debate over. Polling from mid-November showed 67 per cent of voters that backed remain in 2016 and the Conservatives in 2017 intend to vote for the party again. Alongside this, the party leads among voters that back no deal (76 per cent), the Prime Minister’s deal (83 per cent) and Soft Brexit (56 per cent).

 

Where the party was once at risk of alienating voters that feared a hard or risky Brexit, the Prime Minister has pivoted from ‘Parliament versus the people’ to an election fought on enough being enough, best typified by Boris Johnson’s emotional and exacerbated remarks in his Brexit, Actually broadcast. It speaks to an electorate beyond the Westminster bubble that wants Brexit to be over. The  strategy adopted has also minimised the impact of the electorate’s growing prioritisation of healthcare as the key issue in this election, with Johnson’s Conservatives able to relegate it to a priority that will be focused on after Brexit is done.

 

With the Conservatives on course to win in places like Bassetlaw and Cheltenham – two seats never won by the same party in an election – one could see why election success for Johnson’s Conservatives seems the most likely outcome. However, the very reasons the party has this commanding lead is also the reason the party’s success is not guaranteed.

 

The hopes of radically altering the electoral map and the voter coalition of the Conservative Party is a tall order when voters have entrenched political loyalties. Whilst Brexit has tested this to its limits, with voters now more associated with their Brexit leaning than political parties, by attempting to win support from a wide range of voters the Conservatives risks alienating some of them. Dominic Raab is witnessing first-hand what it can mean when a devoted hard Brexiteer faces a concerted challenge in his traditionally safe, remain supporting constituency.

 

The Conservatives do not lack ambition though. YouGov’s MRP predicts the party will only retake 6 of the 33 seats it lost in 2017 and means its road to Number 10 Downing Street needs to be paved with constituencies that until recently have had large majorities against the Conservatives. Where traditionally parties would seek to recover old swing seats, the Conservatives have taken a different tact that requires it winning new ground in places like Wrexham, Stoke-on-Trent and Sedgefield. Yet fortune does not always favour the brave, with YouGov now predicting around 85 seats have an implied majority of just 5 per cent. Such small margins mean the result could still be anywhere between a hung Parliament and a Conservative majority of nearly 60.

 

What is worse for Boris Johnson is the seats still in play are not uniform. There are narrow margins in seats from Scottish marginals to left behind northern towns, and urban centres to the rural shires, that the party will have to win. If any one of these backfires on him, Johnson’s careful balancing act could be judged a failed strategic gamble.

 

In the first week of December, 13 per cent of voters were reported to have not made up their mind, with 19 per cent of them women. This is a risk for Johnson particular, given his poor polling with women compared to other parties. Additionally, a recent Ipsos Mori poll suggested 40 per cent of voters might still change their mind between then and polling day. It means that with so many seats still in play the party is right to fear that this election may be even closer than some polling or modelling (which excludes ‘don’t knows’) predict.

 

Where final days of election campaigns have typically focused on one group of voters in key regions, Johnson is still fighting battles across the country. Continuing to focus on voter frustration is an added risk due to renewed scrutiny of the government’s domestic agenda over the last year, typified by the recent Leeds hospital debacle. Whether voters truly believe the Conservatives will bring change after it has overseen a challenging decade in many of the communities it wants to win over remains an open question.

 

The Conservatives are walking a tightrope. If Johnson can achieve this, it will mark him out for his ability to do what other Conservatives have been unable to. All eyes will be on the exit poll but with so much scope for close local results it may not be until the morning until we really know whether the Prime Minister has achieved his latest act of political triumph.

 

Boris Johnson’s political future is finely poised. Come the morning of the 13th December he could easily emerge ready for the beginning of the next Conservative era or witness his legislative plans slipping through his fingers.

To arrange a complementary session with our senior consultants on what the new political environment could mean for you, please contact jamiecapp@wacomms.co.uk

WA Communications expands its Public Affairs arm with new director hire

Leading public affairs and corporate communications consultancy WA Communications has appointed a new Director, Naomi Harris, former Chief Operating Officer at Newington Communications, to support its continued growth of expertise.

Naomi brings a love of policy, campaigning and team building to WA Communications, and will be working alongside fellow Director, Marc Woolfson, to drive forward the expansion of the consultancy’s public affairs offer and client portfolio.

A trained journalist, Naomi began her lobbying career at the CBI, first in London and then Brussels, before moving into consultancy. She joined Newington, then Bellenden, in 2012 to build the agency’s award-winning energy practice.

Following Nikki Da Costa’s departure in 2015, Naomi took on the role of Managing Director of the National Public Affairs division. Following a period of sustained divisional growth, she was promoted to Chief Operating Officer in 2017 and left at the end of 2018 to go travelling.

At WA Communications, Naomi will be focusing on developing the consultancy’s footprint in specialisms including energy, transport and tech; education, health and social care. She will be working closely with the Directors of Investor Services and Corporate Communications to ensure the consultancy’s offer is tailored to the evolving needs of clients.

Naomi Harris, Director at WA Communications, says:

“I’ve seen how key sectors – such as the energy and transport – have come under increasing public scrutiny. Just look at how the average person is now far more aware of climate change and how more people than ever are actively involved in campaigning – whether that’s through changes in buying habits, community transport initiatives to improve air quality, social media, or participating in Extinction Rebellion protests.

“This growth in public awareness, understanding and activism is not specific to climate change. All businesses must be aware of these shifts in opinion, as well as clearly communicate their views to the public. My role at WA will build upon the agency’s sterling reputation in public affairs and ensure we are best placed to respond to the changing landscape of policy, politics and communications for the benefit of our clients.”

Dominic Church, Managing Director at WA Communications, says:

“A fundamental part of agency growth is ensuring we are able to offer a comprehensive service to our clients. As issues surrounding sectors such as energy, the environment and transport continue to grow in importance, we want to make sure we’re at the front of these developments.

“Ensuring that our clients continue to receive high quality policy guidance, with a modern-day perspective in mind is integral to our service offering. It is fantastic to have Naomi join our team, allowing us to continue pioneering effective ways of working, supporting our continued agency expansion and innovating practices.”

Double hire to spearhead corporate communications growth

WA Communications has hired Lee Findell and Sarah Gullo to lead the growth of its corporate communications practice.

Findell joins as Director and Head of Corporate. He brings 19 years of agency experience including Weber Shandwick, Freuds and FTI, and for the last four years as Senior Director at MHP, where he led a team focused on corporate communications and reputation management for brands such as L’Oréal, Coca-Cola, Zurich Insurance and the RAF.

He is joined by Associate Director Sarah Gullo, who has rejoined WA Communications after living abroad for the past 18 months. Formerly in the WA Health team, Gullo has a wealth of in-house and agency corporate communications experience across the health, utilities and development sectors and was a senior political media advisor in Australia.

Together, they will be expanding WA’s corporate communications offer to focus on corporate narrative and positioning, integrated campaigns, crisis communications and business change communications.

Welcoming their appointment, WA Communications Managing Director Dominic Church said: “Lee and Sarah bring impressive national and international corporate comms experience to WA and will build an exceptional team as we expand our reach in the corporate communications field. We are absolutely delighted to have them join the WA team as we continue to grow the agency and bolster our corporate communications credentials.”

PRWeek recently named WA Communications in the top 5 of UK public affairs agencies, and ranked the consultancy 81 in the top 150 PR consultancies.

Findell added: “WA Communications has a strong reputation as a leading public affairs consultancy helping business to address complex commercial challenges, and I am excited to come on board to expand the nascent corporate communications practice as the consultancy continues to go from strength to strength.”

Fast growing WA starts 2019 with new hires and promotions across the company

Following 25 percent growth in revenue in 2018 across core public affairs, health and investor services, WA Communications is starting the year with a raft of new hires and promotions. These follow a game-changing year for the company, achieving high-profile clients wins and expansion in its service offer across public affairs, investor services and corporate communications.

Dean Sowman joins WA’s health practice as an Associate Director from Portland Communications, bringing a decade of experience in public affairs, market access programmes, disease awareness campaigns and crisis management. He will work alongside Director Caroline Gordon in growing WA as a leading player in the health public affairs and PR market following significant client wins including Bayer and Sanofi.

Internally, Angus Hill has been promoted to Senior Account Director, recognising his pivotal role in cementing WA’s creds across the transport, utilities, and consumer rights sectors. Further promotions include Josh Aulak becoming a Senior Account Manager, and Beatrice Allen an Account Manager.

Announcing the promotions, Dominic Church, Managing Director of WA said:

“WA Communications is at a really exciting time in its growth. Our insight-driven approach and relentless focus on delivering against our clients’ core objectives are making the difference in a crowded market place.

But more than that, we’re determined to be known for being the best people-centred business in the industry. By showing genuine commitment to supporting and developing our team, we’re seeing our whole business thrive. It’s the solid foundation that we’ll build on – for the benefit of both our team and for our clients.”

WA shortlisted for PR Moment Awards

WA is delighted to have been shortlisted for Independent Agency of the Year in the PR Moment Awards 2019.

The PR Moment Awards are a major fixture in the UK PR and communications calendar and are judged by eminent industry professionals. The awards celebrate excellence and recognise and reward exceptional campaigns and talent in the UK PR and communications sector.

As a company, WA has had a truly outstanding 12 months. We’ve moved to new offices, won exciting new clients, and bolstered our team with new talent, whilst continuing to deliver innovative and creative strategies for existing clients.

Our strong work ethic, commitment to collaboration and real understanding of each of our clients’ businesses mean that we can deliver exemplary public affairs advice on policymaker engagement, corporate communications, crisis management and political risk time and time again.

Growth and client success sees WA rise into top 5 PA agencies in the UK

WA has been ranked in the top five in the PRWeek top 150 UK Public Affairs Consultancies 2019, rising from tenth spot last year.

WA’s Managing Director Dominic Church said:

“We are delighted to be recognised as one of the five leading public affairs agencies in the UK.

“This is thanks to the incredible talent and dedication of our team, and reflective of the real results we achieve for our clients.”

WA has continued to build on its significant growth over the past 24 months and was also ranked 77 on the PRWeek Top 150 UK PR consultancies 2019, rising from the 89th spot in 2018.

“We are continuing to expand our wider corporate communications offer and we look forward to providing our clients with a more integrated service for all their communications and public affairs needs,” he said.

Bayer appoints WA Health to lead government affairs for cardiovascular disease

WA Health, the specialist health practice of WA Communications, has been appointed by Bayer to lead the government affairs brief for their blockbuster cardiovascular brand.

WA was brought in following a competitive pitch and will focus on supporting market access preparations for their expansion into coronary or peripheral arterial disease (CAD / PAD) as well as Bayer’s traditional stronghold in anticoagulation for stroke prevention.

The account is being led by WA Health’s director Caroline Gordon, who joined the company last summer from Incisive Health, reporting to Bayer’s Government and Industry Affairs Manager, Andrew Brown.

Andrew Brown, Bayer’s Government and Industry Affairs Manager said:‘We’re very happy to be working with the team at WA on our cardiovascular disease government affairs brief. WA’s ideas really stood out to us during the pitch process and we’re excited to be working with them during this critical phase. We’re confident it’s going to be a strong partnership.’

Caroline Gordon, Director at WA said: ‘This is a flagship win for WA Health and exactly the kind of work we thrive on. We’re delighted to add Bayer to our growing client list. It’s been a really strong few months for the WA team across our specialisms in health and wellbeing and we’re all hugely looking forward to building on this success in 2019.’

This win comes off the back of a successful period for WA Health, having recently secured projects across Sanofi’s oncology portfolio, corporate communications for Takeda and retained work supporting the UK launch of Camurus’ opioid replacement therapy treatment.

Birmingham Airport launches plan to invest £500 million to grow passengers to 18 million by 2033

It was a privilege to celebrate the launch of Birmingham Airport’s draft Master Plan at The Cube in Birmingham City Centre this morning, detailing ambitious plans to grow by 40% to 18 million passengers per year by 2033.

Birmingham Airport’s Chairman Tim Clarke and Acting MD Simon Richards were joined by Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, Leader of Birmingham City Council Cllr Ian Ward and Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Transport and Highways at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, Cllr Ted Richards, to welcome partners from across the region to mark the launch of this exciting plan that will unlock huge economic potential for the region.

The draft Master Plan sets out a self-financed new investment of £500 million, which will improve, modernise and extend facilities.  This investment will deliver increased capacity and enhance the passenger experience, to drive international trade, investment, employment, inbound tourism and the success of the region’s many universities.

The draft Master Plan further reinforces the integral part the Airport plays as a catalyst for growth across the Midlands and in the UK’s economic prosperity.  It outlines the Airport’s role in driving future economic benefit to the region which will increase by 42%, totalling £2.1 billion a year and 34,000 jobs by 2033.

An ambitious yet sustainable plan, it outlines how the Airport will provide more flights to cultural hubs, business centres and a greater choice of outbound holiday destinations.  Furthermore, the Airport will continue to expand the existing wide range of short-haul and long-haul scheduled and charter services and destinations, with both full-service and low-cost airlines, whilst maintaining its strong commitment to balancing growth with a responsibility to the environment and the people who live and work in the Airport’s vicinity.

Ahead of the final Master Plan due to be published in early 2019, today’s launch triggers the start of a 12-week public consultation, ending on the 31st January at 23:59, for stakeholders to feedback their views on the Airport’s Plans.

WA shortlisted for PRCA’s Public Affairs Award

We are delighted to announce WA Communications has been shortlisted for the Consultancy Campaign of the Year in the Public Relations and Communications Association’s (PRCA) Public Affairs Awards.

A panel of experts from the industry chose our campaign to save the UK’s cash network with Cardtronics as one of the most successful campaigns of the past 12 months. The winner will be determined by the judging panel.

Our strategy blended together hard evidence and emotive storytelling to illustrate the impact of a reduction in access to cash through ATMs would have on people right across the UK including vulnerable groups, rural communities and businesses. Through this we stopped the development of “cash deserts” across the UK. By engaging with parliamentarians, officials, regulators and third-party stakeholders, WA was able to raise awareness of the impact and rally support to scrutinise the decision further and secure political commitments to protect access to cash in the UK.

Commenting on WA’s campaign, Duncan Faithfull, Director of Corporate Relations at Cardtronics, said:

“The WA team were absolutely central to the success of Cardtronics’ campaign to ensure the interchange fee in the UK remains at a level that supports universal access to cash. Their ability to access ministers, officials and parliamentarians was impressive, and they tapped into the agenda of the day to ensure the threat to ATMs was front and centre of the policy debate.

WA applied pressure in all the right places to ensure government was fully aware of our campaign, leading to the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirming his commitment to access to cash in his Spring Statement; an invaluable breakthrough.

WA went to great lengths to understand our business needs, and to make sure they worked with us in a way that suited our culture. They were always on hand to support the team and were a vital resource, both in terms of their insight and responsiveness”.

WA Communications gets to the heart of our clients’ policy, regulatory and reputational issues to develops insight led campaigns with maximum impact. We help out clients engage in the decisions impacting their commercial environment and build bespoke and creative strategies which suit their needs.

The awards ceremony, where the winners will be announced, will take place on 29th November 2018 at Park Plaza London Riverbank, 18 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7TJ.

WA Investor Services shortlisted for Specialist Due Diligence Provider of the Year

We are delighted to announce WA Investor Services has been shortlisted as the Specialist Adviser of the Year in Unquote’s 2019 British Private Equity Awards.

The shortlist was selected by a panel of experts from the industry, to showcase innovation and excellence within UK private equity.

The winner will be determined by a public vote, considered alongside the judging panel’s decision. Voting is now open, you can support us by casting your vote here.

Investors look to WA Investor Services for in-depth and nuanced analysis of the political risks impacting their decisions. We help our clients understand risks, forecast and scenario plan, and provide ongoing intelligence gathering to track issues.

Our insight and ability to reach the heart of the commercial implications of the current political situation have proved invaluable for our clients and their investments. Over the last 12 months we have expanded our global and technical expertise, working on projects as diverse as the Polish legal framework and UK broadband regulation.

The awards ceremony, where the winners of the awards will be announced, will take place on 1 October 2019 at The Brewery, London, EC1Y 4SD

 

Prosecco & political insight for WA’s summer party

Thursday 11 July was a warm, balmy evening – perfect for our Annual Summer Party! The evening was a great opportunity for us to celebrate and look back over the first half of what has already been another successful year for WA – and of course to look forward to more success for the rest of 2019.

We were delighted to be joined by Katy Balls, the Deputy Political Editor of the Spectator and host of the Women with Balls podcast, who was on hand to talk us through her understanding of the current political landscape and give us her predictions for the Conservative leadership election. Katy quipped that it was great to be at a Westminster Summer Party where the speaker wasn’t vying for the job of Chancellor – not yet at least.

Whilst much of Westminster has all but accepted that the next leader of the Conservative Party is going to be Boris Johnson, this is not a dead cert according to Katy, who told us that not as many Tory party members have returned their postal ballots as had been anticipated. This means that there is still a lot for both Johnson and Hunt to play for, and a lot of room for both candidates to get things wrong.

As to the candidates’ respective popularity with the parliamentary party, Johnson is now a lot more popular amongst his colleagues than had been previously thought – which we saw evidence of with his dominance of the parliamentary ballots. The parliamentary party needs a Brexiteer like Johnson to fend off the threat of the Brexit Party. However, Katy told us that it could also be put down to the Johnson campaign being a tighter ship than it was in 2016, being comprised of a strong team of experienced and respected advisers.

So, if it is to be a Johnson premiership, what would the government look like? Where May was often perceived to be threatened by the big names in her cabinet (leading her to choose loyalty over ability), Katy’s view is that Johnson is happy to have a team of Tory party A-Listers, and that he wouldn’t shy away from playing factions off against each other. Expect to see former leadership rivals in senior posts, and the return to the frontbench of Johnson loyalists.

Yet it is important to remember that the change in leader does not change the numbers in parliament, and the new leader is set to face many of the same challenges faced by May in terms of trying to push a Brexit deal through parliament.

Interestingly, Katy told us that Johnson is not as opposed to holding a second referendum as many might think, though it would be a last resort and he would, of course, campaign again for the ‘leave’ faction. Yet he would also likely pitch himself as a centrist and a liberal, Cameronite “One Nation” Tory to try to appeal to the middle ground of the electorate.

It was an informative discussion that helped to make the political climate seem a lot less murky – for now at least. We hope that everyone who attended found it as interesting and entertaining as we did.

A special thanks to Katy Balls for entertaining us with her insights, and to all our guests for joining us for a fantastic evening.

We hope to see you all at our next party!

Industry’s future leaders enjoy an evening with The Times’ Esther Webber

This week, WA Communications hosted its first evening for young professionals. This was to demonstrate the importance of young people across the industry sharing networks and information, as well as reflect the diversity of experience here and across sectors. It was an opportunity to ensure often overlooked voices within the industry are heard, as well as for young professionals to find out what was really happening across politics and policy. WA welcomed young professionals from across politics, policy, public affairs and industry to our offices for an evening of discussion on the current political milieu, taking in Brexit, the Conservative Party leadership race and what the future might hold.

Hosted by WA’s own Rebecca Brake, The Times’ Esther Webber delivered the key note speech and summed up the entirety of British politics in just a few short minutes…almost. Esther began by saying she was glad she could make it given this week was supposed to be the last throw of the dice for the Withdrawal Agreement, and although the Prime Minister had since resigned, if anybody could still bring forward the Bill after that it was her.

Reflecting on the relief of journalists no longer having to talk about the Snell Amendment, Malthouse Compromise or the Cooper-Letwin Bill, discussion then moved on to the Conservative leadership race. From Hunt’s foreign languages to McVey’s views on Brexit (she quite likes it!), Esther covered all the key people and what their ascension to the throne might mean. And of course if there was anything we needed clearing up, Rory Stewart would no doubt be along shortly. Unfortunately he was otherwise engaged, but we’re sure he’ll make his way to our offices soon.

Concluding that Boris Johnson was the most likely to combine the necessary characteristics of ardent Brexiteer and populist, discussion moved on to what the year had in store: a first Brexit Party MP; Prime Minister Johnson; Prime Minister Corbyn; and the seventh or eighth splintering of Change UK. The bar for surprise in modern politics seems to be extremely high, and yet we keep on raising it.

In an informative Q&A session, topics ranged from Brexit (surprisingly), the Tory leadership contest, and when things will return to normal (answer: who knows). You can find a full summary of questions and answers on our Twitter feed.

To round off the evening there were drinks, dips and deep house, and no small amount of networking across sectors. This was an opportunity for all attendees to find out what was really going on across the industry and in politics, away from the headlines and official statements. We hope all those who attended found it as useful as we did.

A special thanks to Esther Webber for providing her valuable insights and trademark humour to the evening, and to all those who attended to make it as interesting and informative as possible. We hope to see you all again soon.

WA will be hosting a number of further events over the course of the year aimed at all sectors and demographics, including additional young professionals events. If you would like to stay up to date with what we’ve got going on email info@wacomms.co.uk to subscribe to updates.

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