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Doing politics: a hands on examination

Students work with former MP to understand the jobs undertaken in politics

Thursday’s focus for Parliament Week events was employability, designed to show our students how they can be the change they want to see in the world.  We brought in Public Relations experts and a former MP to outline the differing roles and challenges facing people who chose to work in politics. The day focused on the importance of political communications and was split into a hands on workshop and public lecture.

Political Communication covers a broad of activities and can be found in many different jobs and roles, but at its heart it includes how information is spread to influence the political environment and how public policy is made and developed. Political communication, or as it is sometimes also known - public affairs - is about helping organisations understand how political decisions affect their business. It is about helping organisations – such as a charity, an NGO, or a business, or government bodies communicate with decision-makers and opinion-formers. The work varies enormously. It could involve research and analysis, understanding processes, ideas and creativity, judgement and experience, advice, campaigning and presentational skills.

Hands-on’ Workshops

This event provided our students with a unique opportunity to attend a one-day ‘hands-on’ workshop, led by experts in the field. It was specifically geared towards students with an interest in current affairs and research skills - such as data analysis - but open to all students – including those who just wanted to find out more about what a career in Political communication might be like. The days’ event was focussed on a specific case study. The case study that was used by our external guests throughout the day was a fictional proposal that NTU was wanted to build a new campus, (which included new student accommodation) on the Greenbelt. The workshop was led Craig Leviton (Managing Partner at London-based consultants Oakhill Communications), Olivia Gordon (account executive at Oakhill), PIR staff and ex-Government Minister and former MP Gerry Sutcliffe. During the session a series of workshops 'explored the political communication challenges and issues that would arise from this fictional proposal.' The workshops provided students with an opportunity to work closely with our external experts to develop and produce briefing documents, ‘stakeholder maps’ and campaign strategies – with an opportunity to report back and receive feedback from the experts at the final plenary session.  Students gained insights into the intricacies of lobbying processes, the connections between public-private initiatives, and the mechanisms, devices and strategies needed when planning public projects. While the day was long, feedback was very strong and at least one student participant became inspired to change their career plans!

Public Lecture – Gerry Sutcliffe (Former Labour MP for Bradford South and ex-Minister)

Gerry Sutcliffe concluded Parliament Week’sThursday events with an apposite and very enjoyable public lecture entitled ‘Passed Glories and Future Challenges’ that gave insight into how the Westminster Parliament operates and the conduct of its day-to-day business. There was a palpable sense of theatre to proceedings as Gerry’s ‘warm-up act’ was live coverage of the BBC’s report on Theresa May’s decision to stand firm in the face of cabinet resignations following the publication of the Government’s draft withdrawal agreement from the EU. The air crackled with tension! When Gerry spoke he picked up the theme by expressing regret that we in Britain have become a ‘nation of political orphans’ without a clear home. Globalisation, the 2008 financial crash, new technologies and new industries were all seen to have contributed to a loss of identity and increased anxiety. Internal splits within the main parties have only made things worse and voting allegiances have become more cultural than economic. The 2016 Brexit vote was thereby seen as both symptom and cause of dislocation. Gerry pondered whether it was perhaps time for a new party.

Gerry’s service in Parliament spanned over two decades until he stood down in 2015 as the Labour Member of Parliament for Bradford South. In his varied career, Gerry served as minister in several government departments and roles – Employment, Consumer and Competition Minister, Prisons and Probation Minister but his favourite position was undoubtedly as Minister of Sport between 2007 and 2010. For Gerry, sport has the power to change and it was difficult not to see how he saw it more generally as a metaphor for life and politics in particular. Sport taught Gerry about team work, camaderie, respect and friendship. For him, it is not just about physical health but also about what sport can do increase societal well-being and poor mental health (depression, anxiety, ADHD etc.). To Gerry, the decline in sport within schools is a public disaster. Like politics, sport was seen to be at a critical juncture given the challenges faced by both (lack of engagement, corruption, sexual harassment, exploitation etc.). Like politics, sport had to renew itself, cleanse itself and once again provide the public with something to be inspired by, to look to for leadership and a better future. Although a Manchester United FC fan, Gerry was a very popular and humorous speaker who offered tremendous insight into the country and hope for the democracy we live in. At the end of the day it is still good to know that we still live in a place where a working-class kid can become an elected representative, first as a local councillor in Bradford for 14 years, then a Member of Parliament for over 20 years in a city and area he grew up in.

The session highlighted the value we can provide students and strengthens our desire to provide real world challenge based experiences for our students.  We look forward to hosting more in the years to come and hope live political theatre can be present at each session.

Dr Jon Gorry Deputy

Head of Department, Politics and International Relations


Nottingham Civic Exchange

Nottingham Civic Exchange has been established by Nottingham Trent University to maximise research, policy and practical impact by bringing together university expertise with partners seeking to address the needs of local communities. Nottingham Civic Exchange acts as a resource to look at social and economic issues in new ways. This means facilitating debate, acting as a bridge between research and policy debates, and developing practical projects at a local, city and regional level.

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Doing politics: a hands on examination

Published on 23 November 2018
  • Category: Current students; Nottingham Civic Exchange; School of Social Sciences

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