Whilst reading the huge amount of, post vote, literature that has followed both the Leave vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the USA, it seems that the navel gazing and need for external excuses, for defeat, have been taken to new heights. If those on the losing sides do not regain some perspective and honest self appraisal they will not reverse their errors or even represent their stated constituents. Here are five areas in which both Hillary & Remain were seriously lacking, oddly when I started noticing these they had something in common!
Punchlines: These are also known as frames, logos and catchphrases. These can be used to ram home a message and summarise the essence of the campaign in a very few words. If you can get this right it is as near to intravenous influence as you can get! Trump and Leave had differing types of Punchline but both were enormously superior to the opposition. “Make America Great Again” is very positive whilst implying that America has problems. It is also vague and can mean many things to any voter. “Take back control” was both descriptive of the problem and offered a solution. Better Together, Stronger In, Stronger Together are all vague and can be easily questioned. So, get your punchlines straight and then use them. Also be prepared when another one comes along during the rough and tumble of a campaign. Despite Trump being reluctant to use it (yes really) “Drain the Swamp” was a superb summary of a widely perceived and deeply felt problem. The New Labour adoption of “Things can only get better” came from a pop song but caught on and seemed to sum up the mood in 1997.
Personalities: Yes I know, it’s not supposed to be about personalities but it is! Trump should be final proof that if you have one side that can convince through personality and one that can’t, or is significantly less convincing, the advantage can be overwhelming. In the case of the Leave campaign Johnson & Gove & Stuart (with Farage) versus Cameron Osborne & Corbyn. The only time the Remain campaign looked even vaguely at the races was with Ruth Davidson, or Sadiq Khan, being allowed to run free. Clinton had virtually nothing in the personality scales. Trump had an overdose of almost everything good and bad!
Passion: In combination with the personality this is a heady mix. It should also be noted that it is not always expressed the same way but is hugely persuasive if genuine, believable and visible. Micheal Gove, for example, had never been seen as a tub thumping passion driven politician, yet during the referendum campaign he was perceived as passionate, intelligent and reasoned. His personal stories and determined demeanor ensured that no one doubted his passion for the cause. Even his “…..experts” line was delivered with the passionate adjoiner that he trusted the British people to be their own experts. Tony Blair in the early years could convince regarding education and economics at least partly through a passionate and persuasive delivery. David Cameron twice tried passionate set pieces during the EU campaign. Both times left the audience unsure whether they had witnessed desperation or set piece falsehood. Both the emergency press conference and the Churchill moment fell very flat with voters and undermined the Remain campaign still further.
Policy: Yes, despite the idea of image and media being all-encompassing, policy is still vital. It is not just that a particular policy may appeal to the voter, or even tempt a swing voter, it can create an image of the overall direction of travel. Donald Trump’s “Great Border Wall” probably upset as many people as it pleased, but many more in between will have been tempted to believe it showed a determination to act, not just in this area but in others. Vote Leaves‘” Australian Style Points System” gave voters a demonstrable feeling that it was not racist or extreme, to vote leave, but fair, and reasonable. Even clearly stating what you are not going to do can add reassurance. New Labour included a “ no tax increase” pledge in their original, and much copied, 1997 pledge card. David Cameron’s promise to hold an in/out referendum may well have ensured that Tory voters returned home in the 2015 general election, while UKIP turned its guns on Labour voters.
Positivity: The last of the five P’s listed here is one that seems to have returned to prominence in recent times. For many years the predominant messages of campaigns seemed to have focused on things that are wrong or the disaster of electing the other side. Attack ads, negative posters, scare stories about what the other side really want to do etc. Recent events indicate that, whilst negative tactics will not go away, those lacking a positive message will really struggle. Project Fear, in both recent UK based referenda, was only effective to a certain point. Whereas “Yes to Scotland” and “Take Back Control” in the UK promised a more optimistic and creative view. Trump went strongly positive in terms of making America great again and bringing back jobs and security. Wisely he twinned his approach with a merciless attack on “the system” and the “elite”. Positive themes can be seen to galvanise, and inspire, even if the same side is running negative themes concurrently. Those that rely only on fear and bashing the other side seemed both jaded and dated.
Non of the above five P’s are blindingly original, yet if you look back at the most recent campaigns, it is clear to see that the winners had massive advantages in at least two of the above and competed in the others.
Bringing it all together, a campaigning politician must know what they believe in and what they are trying to achieve, have a handful of clear headline policies that can catch the imagination, be passionate about their vision, summarise their biggest aims and assets in punchy statements and logo’s and use their own or their surrogates personalities to ensure that these are communicated in a strong and positive way.
Combine the above with constant checking of campaign progress, whilst of course ensuring that the opposition is being heavily outgunned on two or three of the 5 P’s.