OPINION: The Big Question - How can PR help to revive public interest in the political process?

A House of Commons committee last week called for the formation of

a 'Democracy Commission' to promote the benefits of political

involvement among the general public

MARC MONINSKI, Fishburn Hedges

'Voter apathy doesn't mean people don't care about politics . What

people don't care for is the way the political system plays out in the

public arena. People hate spin, dogmatic assertion and the lack of

debate. It's not just politicians at fault - the media are culpable,

too. The real PR challenge is to convince people that politics is

meaningful. PR for the people should be about showing how political

decisions affect us all in simple terms, not spinning to make sure The

Sun headline is on message. Far better to concentrate on the human

stories of politics rather than the humans who do politics. But don't

expect PR to get us back to mass participation. People are too busy

getting on with their lives.'


'There is a myth the public is not interested in politics anymore; this

is untrue, the same proportion say they are interested now as did 20

years ago. But it is true to say the 2001 election failed to connect

with voters. Voters' priorities were public services such as health and

education, not Europe or immigration. There was too much coverage of

non-issues. Voters were given coverage of national politicians, whereas

they wanted more information about their local candidates and policy

detail. There is a perception that politicians seem to be more involved

with the media than the public. To revive interest, PR must show how

voting can affect people's lives.'

SIMON MILLER, Hill & Knowlton

'Politicians often over-promise and give evasive responses - they need

to listen more. Despite the wealth of consultations brought forward by

the Government, the suspicion is often that Tony and Gordon have already

decided what they are going to do anyway. This turns people off

politicians. A big priority for Labour in its second term is to deliver

clear improvements to public services. If they happen, PR will have a

role in communicating the improvements and could help persuade doubters

that politics can make a difference. If they don't, the Government will

still tell us that the garden is smelling of roses. This will win Labour

the next election but won't re-engage politics with the public. I

suspect the other PR - proportional representation - may be the single

most effective step.'


'Voting figures are appalling but this is not surprising when at the

height of each campaign, all the public sees and hears is a right to

left slanging match led by patronising ads and fuelled by tabloid-style

comment. MPs criticise the Government for not setting targets for new

measures to counter the problem, such as increased use of the internet.

But will introducing and promoting devices such as online voting

processes increase the number of votes? In my view, no. What we need is

trust and this is where PR truly can help to revive public interest in

politics. Politicians need to know when they are spun too far; they need

to understand that honest communication works best in the long run. Only

when we feel we can trust those in power will the polling stations,

whether off or online, start to fill up.'

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