Late nights, long walks and much dashing about

A day spent tackling Burma, Gaza, four Oxjam concerts, four recruitments and a potential office move

As Head of Media for Oxfam, the party conference season is an important place to go and spend time with Britain’s most senior and influential journalists, to discuss issues of the day. There is a rich cast of characters who either are there hunting in the margins for something new, or for new ways to present old problems (Darfur being a classic head-scratcher for many), while others use it as an annual sojourn to keep up appearances.

Most of the newspaper editors come down and join their foot soldiers in the bunker of the carpark under the conference centre. Here, everyone from Jon Snow to Nick Robinson are crammed into a grey jungle of wires and tape, planning their verdicts on Brown’s speech.

One floor up, it was good to see old friends like Ros Wynne-Jones from The Mirror and Dave Wooding from The Sun who have both helped get Oxfam’s issues out in their respective but very different papers. At the same time, you also bump into the Head of Comms for the Premier League, Marketing Directors of Newspapers or Comment Editors who are all interested to hear how they can support Oxfam’s work.

We have been building up for the conference with our Go Gordon campaign which has been aiming to challenge him on having a fairer foreign policy, taking more drastic action on climate change and ensuring that they keep their aid commitments from two years ago.

From a campaigns and political perspective this has been very successful with some 11,000 people signing up in support of the campaign http://www.oxfam.org.uk/get_involved/campaign/actions/

At the conference we have had a massive Gordon Brown head handing out our ethical fairtrade bags to delegates. That has been very well received. Even Sarah Brown, the Prime Minister’s wife, commented on how much she liked them.

In terms of publicity for our issues, it is hard to cut through, with space dominated by the political elite rather than commentators. Everyone takes your quotes and wants to know your opinions on subjects, but sadly, the space they have in the papers is often only for comments from the politicians themselves.

We trailed a poll in the papers in advance of the conference on the Saturday, which showed that only the British public have yet to decide whether Brown’s foreign policy is fair and just. This was picked up in The Independent and The Scotsman http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article2987779.ece

The speeches on Darfur suggest this may be about to change, as this crisis was a dominant theme in the conference hall and fringe events. This was very positive to see. However, this is a conflict that still rages and 4 million people need the statements made in Dorset to turn into protection and safety. News from New York at the UN suggests that, sadly, the deployment of troops still looks like being a long way away.

At the event itself, we did manage to get a couple of good bits out on ITV regional news, and should make it into a package for the BBC politics show this weekend. But the real value from these events comes in the follow up conversations back in Westminster or with national newspaper editors, one of whom has agreed to travel with us to Darfur to give further publicity to the crisis, as we reach critical decision points in the coming weeks.

Despite the late nights, long walks and dashing around we have had a good conference with ministers being very receptive to our ideas, relationships with new outlets being developed and lots of food for thought for next year.

I am back in the office tomorrow to deal with Burma, Gaza, 4 Oxjam concerts, 4 recruitments and a potential office move. In comparison to the Labour Party Conference, it should be a nice relaxing day.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.