Browse Category: political messaging

which words to use

Merton Conservatives Campaign Video

A great campaign video from Merton Conservatives outlining their manifesto pledges and entitled: “Unlocking Merton’s Potential 2014”

It is fun, snappy, tangible and specific. It speaks about real issues and uses short words – like normal people do. I like it.

You can visit their website here.

What makes a Political Legacy

I drove to a friend’s funeral in the Midlands yesterday. I have been to a lot of funerals in my life – this was my first to a Labour politician’s funeral. On the way I got a premonition of the size of Lord Bilston’s funeral when I saw the street signs on the dual carriageway to Bilston. The town where he was born, the constituency he represented and the name he carried in the House of Lords. Bilston.

LordBilstonDennis Turner aka Lord Bilston was a Labour Party trade unionist, councillor, MP and Peer who I met and worked with on the NO2AV referendum campaign. The word plotting is overused but he, Lord Bruce Grocott and George Howarth MP and I plotted, schemed and worked together for a solid month – the result being the extraordinary alliance between the Conservative and Labour Parties to defeat the Lib Dems and their proposed Alternative Vote. Without the input of these three men we would never have got Labour’s big beasts (John Prescott, John Reid, Margaret Becket, David Blunkett and Charlie Falconer) on board.

But,  intense and busy as it was, working with these tribal political opponents was great fun. Bruce told me yesterday that he had enjoyed that campaign more than any other and Dennis certainly took great delight in reminiscing about the campaign whenever we saw each other in Strangers Bar. Bruce, George and I were together again yesterday to bury a friend.

The church was packed and the service was long. 1 hour and 20 minutes long. There was standing room only at the back and people waiting patiently outside for the whole 80 minutes. Luckily the sun shone. These were not political people – not duty attendees. We estimated that there were 750-800 people there. It was, inevitably for a man with over 40 years of public service, a political funeral – with some political speeches, a number of Peers, former Cabinet Ministers and Labour MPs attending and therefore missing PMQs. The coffin bearers wore red ties. But – all the speeches were real and personal and I bet they were all written by the people giving them. They were raw – as funeral speeches should be. One of the best stories was how teenage chorister Dennis had led a strike of the choir – timed on a Saturday just before 3 weddings were due to take place.

Two of the speakers mentioned the fact that walking through Bilston with Dennis took ages. Both explained that he literally knew everyone, their names, their kids names and even their dogs names – a plus for a dog lover like me.  But the line that really got me yesterday was “Dennis was one of us”.

Much is made in both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party of candidates being “parachuted” into seats and how this doesn’t go down well with the voters. Research has shown that an ACTIVE candidate can negate an incumbent’s advantage if selected over 2 years before an election and I have candidates like that right now. Much is also made of how Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney 81-19 on the question “Does he understand/get people like me?” But what a great line that “Dennis was one of us” is. What an epitaph. What a summary.

Politics is important business and we need good and competent people in politics. They can’t all come from within their own communities. Or could they? Maybe if they did we would have more politicians getting over 700 local people, non-duty attendees, coming to their funeral. Funeral attendance is clearly not the only test of a political legacy or a sign of whether a politician made an impact on people, in legislation etc – but it is a human one. And politics is at its best when it’s about people.

Picture from

As this article makes clear – I wasn’t the only Conservative there.

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.

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.


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