Browse Category: Political narratives

winning elections - who calls the shots?

The Conference Speech and Winning Elections

Ed Miliband’s conference speech actually had an impact. Speeches are supposed to do that and they very seldom do. So I stand and salute. But will it help him win the next election?

Let us pretend for a minute that  our Pseudo-Dem, Nick Clegg, hadn’t turned his pouty back on an actual electoral reform – making sure that every parliamentary constituency had the same number of voters.

Politicians have a range of audiences to appease, engage, convince. The most basic difference, the one that tripped up Mitt (47%) Romney and still threatens the Republicans, is appealing to the selectorate and the electorate.

But a Party Leader’s conference speech at conference, when people actually half-listen, has multiple audiences. The selectorate; the electorate (i.e. the general public); the leader’s ambitious colleagues; the donors; the media and the increasingly important commentators; business and ” interested” third sector groups.

Let us assume there was a “focus on winning elections” thought process in The Labour Leader’s Office and that the content of the speech was the result of a strategic decision. What about Ed’s poor speechwriter if Ed had actually tried to appeal to all? Ed had a 3-way split selectorate of Brownites and Blairites and the Unions – who, annoyingly for him, also inhabit the major donor category. Plus the standard stuff – ambitious colleagues; normal donors, the media and the business community and third sector groups.

The Blairites who campaigned and voted for Blair don’t seem very happy. Owners of shares that lost value yesterday following the speech can’t be delighted.

Owen Jones and others, like Kinnock, seem very happy. But who else were the comrades going to vote for? Are there enough of them to win an election?

I know someone here in Sussex who has voted Labour all their lives who popped around and told me that now they would rather have Cameron in Downing Street. Whether they will bother to vote is, of course, another question. But that’s definitely one vote lost for Ed.

But there is a long time to go still, we still have Clegg’s “unfairer votes” constituency legacy to factor in, and Lord Ashcroft’s current polling says Ed will be PM.

Ed’s speech made  more headline than most conference speeches because his choices were tougher than normal and, at last, he made a call. Which will always please some and lose others. He has definitely helped frame the question. I quite like him as Leader of the Opposition.

Public Speaking – When Bill Clinton bombed

Effortless public speaking is a result of hard work. And coaching

Ever since a colleague of mine translated for him in Berlin in the early 90’s, I have been a fan of Bill Clinton’s speeches and his causal, disarming and natural delivery and it would be easy to argue that he is the best speaker in the world today. The way he performs in 2013 is where everyone should aim to be – he speaks “authentically” as if to you alone, he uses natural everyday language that includes and that is digestible and he gives the impression that this is a cosy exchange rather than a one-way broadcast.

But he wasn’t always like that. The Salon have a brilliant article called “When Bill Clinton died on Stage”  which compares his performance nominating Barack Obama for a second term in 2012 with his dismal nomination speech endorsing Michael Dukakis in 1988. The speech was slammed by national papers and even by his home state paper summed it up like this:

Gov. Bill Clinton’s big national moment, his prime time speech Wednesday night in nomination of Michael Dukakis, was an unmitigated disaster.

A gentler, more charitable assessment would be less than honest, considering the reaction of delegates, network commentators and the national press.

All trashed him, some unmercifully, for being boring, ponderous, long-winded, disjointed and seemingly unfazed by the convention crowd’s clear desire for him to sit down.

Sometimes you have to fall on your face before you realise that you need to get some help. Clinton may have been coached before the 1988 performance but I would imagine that this failure and all the associated bad media coverage made him up his game and his focus after that. He hired Michael Sheehan and the rest is American and world history. Of course you can argue that he has loads of practice (true and important) and that he ought to be a good speaker after having been President for 8 years. But would he have become President without Sheehan’s help?

Have a look for yourself at this clip of what Governor Clinton was like in 1988 at the age of 41 – the reaction from the Democrat convention is astonishing when you think how he is idolised now.

Speaking in Public.Take your job seriously, but not yourself.

This YouTube clip is glorious. How could it not be? Two Oscar winners and George Stephanopoulos – perfect! Plus it illustrates two of my favourite tips for speaking in public in less time than I can write this post!

Stephanopoulos is the guy who worked with Bill Clinton before and throughout his entire first term and wrote a brilliant book about it afterwards. But he is just the extra in this ABC news clip! h/t Denise Graveline

It has Jack Nicholson being Jack Nicholson without a script, without a Director and without an Editor. He is naughty, funny and real. He is right at the very top of my very short list of people who I don’t know but who I would love to go drinking with, and I am delighted to see him being just as I imagined. After all, according to his wikipedia page, while at school he was in detention every day for a whole school year.

Then there is “the refreshingly real” Jennifer Lawrence, a gorgeous and successful Oscar-winning actress, being wonderful and natural and herself. She is fun and likable and unedited. I often tell clients that they are world experts at being themselves and mediocre to rubbish at being anyone else – so they should stop trying. Ijust hope that she doesn’t get “training” that mutes or hides her personality.

The worst trait, and the biggest turnoff, that I have to address with clients is pomposity, snobbery and arrogance.

My standard instruction to all my clients is: “Take your job seriously – but not yourself.” Unless you have a monopoly on something that people must have – hardly relevant in my coaching sectors – you cannot flourish unless you are at least competent AND likable.

Anyway, enough of me – watch and enjoy.


winning elections

Winning Elections – What to do about UKIP?

Depending on who you listen to, UKIP are either a temporary blip to be laughed at, or ignored, or constitute a permanent threat. Andy Coulson gave CCHQ some anti-UKIP advice yesterday in GQ, rebutted here by UKIP’s Michael HeaverTim Montgomerie is as wise as any Conservative and he thinks UKIP are here to stay. Stephen Tall thinks that the new unbalance of power means that, if the Conservative Party wants to stay in power, we have to form an alliance with UKIP or the Lib Dems.

I agree with Tim that UKIP are a long term fixture of UK politics. I also think that the Liberal Democrats are as tough as weeds. They may be doing badly in today’s polls – but they will do much better than the polls say. Lib Dem MPs seldom lose elections.

UKIP members are evangelical about their party in a way that most mainstream party activists aren’t any more and they campaign and recruit enthusiastically. They have positioned themselves contentedly and well against the “political class” and are happier when under attack than when ignored. The more abuse they get – the more convinced  they become that they are right and the more their energy levels rise. UKIP will do well in May 2014 (duh) which means that they will have lots of new paid staff who will be keen to invest their free weekends in campaigning for their party and looking to be part of the campaign that gives them their first MP. Plus they will have the benefit of hundreds of gallons of PR ink in the media – everyone likes the cheeky-chappy underdog.

Winning elections in the UK just got a whole lot harder. Most campaigners and strategists only have experience fighting two party politics.

Now we have to raise our game:

  1. The two party, plus a protest vote party, contests are over. We need new thinking and new approaches to win 3-way or 4-way elections contests. Just slagging off the “other” party is not good enough. We need to convince people to vote for us as much or more than we need them to vote against someone else. I worked, briefly, with a candidate who told me to my face that the campaign message should be that locally the Lib Dem council was rubbish and the Conservatives would be better and that nationally the Labour Government was rubbish and the Conservatives would be better. End of messaging – nothing positive at all to say. It didn’t work very well for that candidate – it will work even less in the future.
  2. Social media means that our  messages have to become more consistent, more believable, more positive and more real. More honest. In 2015, you will be caught out if you say in one part of your constituency “Vote for me/Party C if you don’t like Party A,  because Party B is a wasted vote ” and in the other part of your constituency you say “Vote for me/Party C if you don’t like Party B – because Party A is a wasted vote”. There is a very real risk that campaigners from Party A and B and UKIP may (!) notice and may point out your two-faced messaging to the electorate.
  3. Pledge data needs more work than ever before. More canvassing – less preaching. Pledge data has often been more ancient fiction than current fact. Now more and more people are changing their minds and their loyalties as well and acting like consumers. Much of the existing pledge data could do with being treated with extreme caution and campaigns should focus on authentic and honest surveys.

According to a YouGov poll for The Spectator in Feb 2013, while 60% of UKIP supporters voted Conservative in 2010, 15% of UKIP supporters voted Lib Dem in 2010 and 7% voted Labour. As Michael Heaver says, UKIP aren’t just grumpy Tories and there are some Labour and Lib Dem MPs who should be anxious too.

The mix of the Scotland independence vote, the state of the economy and a European referendum around the corner means that politics will become much harder to predict and may even increase turnout. Anything that raises interest in policies, proper debate and scrutiny of manifestos should be welcomed. It might get bumpy along the way but I guess good politics is bumpy politics.


getting selected

Getting Selected – Becoming a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate

Getting Selected is a tough and demanding process.

Getting Selected is tough – but first you have to decide whether you really want to go through with this. You have to decide whether you are seriously ready to turn your life on its head.

Then you contact the Candidates department at CCHQ who in turn arrange for you to meet someone in person who assesses your level of insanity.

That is the easy bit. Then, suitably certified, you apply to go on the parliamentary assessment board – the PAB. This can be incredibly tough and consists of an interview, a speech, two essays, an in-tray exercise and a group exercise.

CCHQ have an unusual marking process for the PAB and there is (allegedly) no appeal process. They have got the judging criteria spot on, though, so you have to demonstrate that you possess them all.

Opinions vary as to how good the PAB process is and, like anyone, I have my thoughts on the process. But it is what it is and CCHQ isn’t going to change it anytime soon, so consider it as hoops that need to be jumped through. Being an MP is tough and has many challenges, but at least as an MP you have real people and real situations to deal with.

Getting past the PAB and being able to apply for real seats is a huge breakthrough. The stakes are now higher and, depending on the seat, you are now within spitting distance of becoming a Parliamentary Candidate and even an MP.

Now you have to wait until CCHQ releases the next tranche of seats which you need to assess in terms of winnability, doability and whether you have any affinity for the seat. Then the next stage of your journey to getting selected starts.

Then you have to summarize all your life’s details in an attractive and compelling way and set them out in a 2 page formatted Word document CV. This CV is incredibly annoying and time consuming to work with as the formatting keeps moving around like a sulky, scowling, arm-folded kid having a strop. But you HAVE to get this bit right as the ‘paper sift’ is often the most brutal stage and is aimed at excluding rather than including.

Then CCHQ and the association officers meet in London where your CV will be coldly assesses and eyebrows will be raised and discreet nods will be nodded, in ways eerily reminiscent of Sir Humphrey.

Get past this stage and you are nearly in the Getting Selected game. All you have to do now is pass two selection interviews consisting of a 5 minute “Select Me – I am Wonderful” speech and 20 minutes of questions – one in front of the Association Executive and one in front of the full membership.

Then you are a Parliamentary Candidate. All you have to do now is get elected. Easy huh?

This can be a long and emotional roller-coaster of a journey that can take a huge amount of time and money. It also can impose a significant amount of pressure on your partner, family and personal relationships. But if you are doing it for the right reasons, you will manage it. If you want to know more about my Getting Selected and Getting Elected courses please email on (You will have to prove to me that you are genuine here btw!) Feel free to have a look at my track record here.

The Daily Politics Show interviewed me for a piece on Getting Selected as an MP – have a look here.

Here is what one of my clients wrote to me today – he has just been selected for his home patch of Sutton and Cheam.

Hi Peter,

Thank you again for your help in getting me through the Parliamentary Assessment Board and getting selected for a seat first time of asking.

So many potential candidates have to tear around the country repeating that process before perhaps securing a winnable seat. I know that I would not have done anywhere near so well if it wasn’t for you.

Years ago I was told that like when taking medication, it was better to respond than to react. Building up an armoury of stories and responses helped me do just that, responding in a way that allowed me to answer the unasked questions as well rather than simply batting back the original question.

The key lesson for me was to have succinct responses that go beyond simple platitudes.

The simple question “Why do you want to be an MP?” has started a process across my borough of ensuring that our local council candidates each have a positive vision to share rather than simply to beat the other guy. The former leads to the latter but follows a different, more productive path.

You certainly put me through my paces but by the time of the interviews I felt ready for pretty much anything. …. I look forward to seeing you soon. Paul— Paul Scully. Conservative PPC Sutton and Cheam

Interview preparation

Interview Preparation – Using Keywords in your CV

Interview preparation – You have to GET an Interview first

Interview preparation is all very well. But first, you have to GET an interview!!  Many clients come to me saying that they want interview preparation but often ask: “How do I get to interview in the first place?” The ‘paper sift’ is the most extreme – often reducing hundreds of applicants down to a shortlist of may 10 to 20 people. This is also the stage where generally ‘they’ are looking for reasons to exclude rather than include. You should spend at least as much time on your CV and your covering letter as on your preparation for the interview.

What is the best CV format?

There are millions of gurus who claim to have the perfect CV for a format. I don’t think there is one – but it should be clean and simple and easy to read. No use of block capitals for a start! Then it should outline skills and abilities and achievements rather than just listing job titles.

Key words in your CV – are they the secret to getting interviews?

The other thing you should think about when writing your CV is whether you are using the key words relevant to your industry – the jargon and the trigger words – in your CV. These should emphasise your soft and hard skills.

Of course, you first need to know what industry and which type of job you are targeting. Do some research in  existing or old job adverts and identify the works that are being used. Remember functions and skills count as much as titles and positions. Use these key words in your CV, not excessively or unnaturally, but visibly.

You can use these keywords in a headline profile summary as well as in the main body of the CV.

How to give a compelling speech and not just make noise.

Compelling Speeches Make Points and Get Results. They compel.

  1. Prepare, Practice and then Practice the speech some more.

    Some “experts” say that you should spend 20, 30 or 40 times as much time preparing and practicing your speech, as you spend delivering it. Of course, the more important the speech is, the more time you will be able to budget/justify for the speech – but reading it out loud 7-8 times are an ABSOLUTE minimum. The most important bits of the speech are the beginning and the end – if your time is limited, focus more time on the beginning and the end, even learning them off by heart. This will also help you relax and calm the fear.

  2. Be You, Be Real and Be Authentic.

    Tell personal stories in your speech to underline what you are saying. Parables work – so do personal stories. Remember to only tell the part of the story that the audience needs to “get it” – don’t clutter your stories with unnecessary details, words and phrases. If they don’t have a job, get rid of them.

  3. Take your job seriously – not yourself.

    Self-deprecating humour is not just useful, it is almost mandatory. Ask Boris Johnson. Don’t mock members of the audience, forget jokes as a general rule and be careful of jokes against the opposition.

  4. Know Your Stuff

    If you don’t know why you are giving the speech, what you are talking about or why you are talking about it, why are you even thinking of talking? Know your stuff, know the issues, know the causes, the alternatives, the enemy, the victims and, above all, know the solution.  

  5. What do you want them to do?

    Know what you want. You must be speaking for a reason, either to persuade people or to move people to action. Be specific, make it easy for them and clear about how to do what you want them to do. Political speeches want to convince or activate votes, corporate speeches usually want money. Good political  speechwriters are used to asking for votes and money – as a Conservative speechwriter it is a basic requirement!!  Some call it “deliverables” or, even worse, “required outcomes” – whatever you want to call it, ask for it!

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