Post-poll lessons to be learnt for public sector PRs

This month's local poll results aren't just of interest to us in terms of who's now in charge, or how we'll help promote their manifesto policies now they're directly feeding our official organisational priorities. It's also worth setting aside the time to reflect (and we're always good at that, aren't we?!?) on the lessons to be learned in PR terms.

Peter holt: Local election turnouts are an embarrassment
Peter holt: Local election turnouts are an embarrassment

First there’s the level of engagement in local elections.  Average percentage turnouts in local elections in the 30s aren’t new to the UK – but they’re no less embarrassing for their familiarity. 

Once the dust settles, the places that have bucked the trend with higher turnouts will be worth studying and learning from.  At least, those where the effort to increase citizen engagement and thus voter turnout has appeared to have an effect, rather than just those where the higher polling numbers are down to a controversial issue or a particularly spicy fight between candidates.

Then there’s the near-deafening silence in relation to the public’s apparent appetite for constitutional change.  Last year’s alternative vote referendum and this year’s directly elected mayor referenda in ten of England’s largest cities has shown low turnout, and a clear nationwide rejection of each city having ‘our own Boris’.

With only Scotland and Wales bucking this trend over recent decades, how much evidence do we require before we get the message that English voters tend to find referenda on constitutional reform uninteresting?

For those in central government responsible for promoting these decisions, I dare say they’ll be fully ready with the lines to justify why the voters in England’s ten big cities are trusted with the decision on whether or not to have a high-profile directly-elected bod in charge, when all police force areas in England and Wales (except London) will this November have elections for a police and crime commissioner without this concept being tested and approved first by local voters.

There’s also the lessons from London’s campaign post mortem.  It was a bold and unexpected new tactic from Labour’s campaign supremo Tom Watson MP to so publicly damn his own candidate, when suggesting that Labour supporters ‘hold their nose’ when voting for Ken.
(I’m guessing that that tactic won’t now become standard issue.)

So – Thursday 3rd May was an ‘interesting’ day.  ‘Interesting’, that is, in the sense of the Chinese curse.


Peter Holt is communication & marketing director at Bristol City Council, and also chair of the CIPR Local Public Services Group.  He tweets, prolifically, as @peterholt99

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