Defeating the Assisted Dying Bill
PHA Media worked with public policy think-tank Living and Dying Well on its presentation of the case against Rob Marris MP’s 2015 Assisted Dying Bill. PHA’s work has since been recognised with a 2015 Public Affairs Award for “Best Consultancy Campaign”.
Our “No need. No Safeguards” campaign demonstrated well PHA’s modern integrated approach to public affairs; utilising a rigorous audit of parliamentary opinion, targeted support development and multi-channel informational provision techniques, combined with an energetic media and social media campaign. It achieved remarkable results.
PHA’s activity established Living and Dying Well as the main voice opposing legalisation of assisted suicide, helped to move the overall narrative of opposition from emotion to evidence-based argument, and was influential in the rejection by MPs of Mr Marris’s Private Member’s Bill on 11 September 2015.
LDW approached PHA Media in the Spring of 2015 for specialist communications support in getting across to Parliament and the public the case against legalisation of assisted suicide, which was expected to be the subject of a bill in the House of Lords in the coming session of Parliament.
The ink on our contract with LDW was barely dry when Rob Marris MP came top of the Private Member’s ballot and announced his intention to table his own Assisted Dying Bill in the Commons, which would be debated on a much shorter timescale than the almost identical bill in the Lords. Mr Marris’s Bill would have permitted doctors to supply terminally ill patients with lethal drugs with which to take their own lives.
PHA’s brief was to bring about greater exposure to Parliament and the public of LDW’s considerable expertise and experience in this field through linkages to the main media organisations and to gauge and influence parliamentary opinion by placing the facts before MPs and inviting them to engage in discussions. The timescale was just four months, which included summer recess.
PHA determined to run an integrated campaign, utilising PR and digital communications alongside traditional PA techniques to ensure LDW’s credibility was established quickly and its voice amplified.
PHA were commissioned to run an integrated campaign, utilising PR and digital communications alongside traditional PA techniques, to raise the profile of LDW’s analysis of the Marris Bill and to ensure that the evidence surrounding legalisation of assisted suicide reached MPs.
With such a short timescale, devising strong, clear and consistent messaging (no need, no safeguards) was vital. This was supported by LDW’s solid evidence and expertise, which allowed their arguments to stand up to scrutiny in the face of a strong opponent.
PHA’s parliamentary information provision needed to be targeted and diverse, utilising as many mediums as possible to reach the maximum number of MPs. As a think-tank rather than a campaigning body and with neither the role nor the ability to mobilise the public to lobby on its behalf, LDW was reliant on effective deployment of its own experts to ensure that the strong evidence-based case against legalisation was given proper exposure.
Core to the success of PHA’s strategy was a sophisticated audit of existing parliamentary opinion.
We utilised LDW’s evidence-based publications and experts, including leading professionals in the fields of the law, medicine and mental health, to coordinate a programme of education to ensure that the facts surrounding legalisation were made available.
We prepared and distributed pamphlets, leaflets, letters and emails, as well as approaching MPs on social media. We also organised a large number of meetings and briefings for MPs.
We placed case studies and comment from expert spokespeople and identified parliamentary champions who shared LDW’s perspective.
PHA also managed LDW’s social media strategy, constructing and sharing a wide range of content in a bid to grow LDW’s social pages and build awareness of the case against legalisation of assisted suicide. Shared content included video, images, press coverage, website promotion and report awareness.
The Bill was defeated. On 11 September 2015, 330 MPs voted against Rob Marris’s Bill, 118 for.
Debate re-framed. The campaign helped LDW to shift the terms of opposition from the emotional and religious arguments seen in the past on this issue, to a clear and evidence-based case against legalisation. This shift was critical to the defeat of the bill as it allowed more MPs to be persuaded of the case against legalisation. Many MPs used the materials and messaging in the debate.
Opinion Shifted. Our own data, based on MPs’ public views on this issue, demonstrated a tripling of opposition to the bill between initial audit and the vote.
Data captured. On the day of the vote PHA’s audit had correctly established the positions of 468 MPs (72%).
National coverage secured. Achieving balance in media discussion of the issue was a major success of the campaign. We helped LDW secure 124 pieces of coverage and regular broadcast appearances.
Online share of voice increased in social media discussion of assisted suicide from 1.5% to 25%.
PHA Media delivered a high-quality service for Living and Dying Well between June and September 2015. They enabled us to reach large numbers of MPs and to brief them on the key issues in the 'assisted dying' debate. PHA also connected us with the print and electronic media and ensured that our voice was heard in the run-up to the debate in the House of Commons on Rob Marris's Assisted Dying Bill. They also established for us a strong presence in social media, a field into which we had not ventured previously. We believe this raising of awareness of the issues played an important part in the outcome of the parliamentary debate.