CAMPAIGNS: Judge and Jury; ‘Steady as she goes’ doesn’t keep the punters happy

Hugh Colver, former director of communications for the Conservative Party, explains how the Budget could have been used as a brilliant PR opportunity to jolt the public out of its political ennui

Hugh Colver, former director of communications for the Conservative

Party, explains how the Budget could have been used as a brilliant PR

opportunity to jolt the public out of its political ennui



The trouble with political communications is that, in order to ensure

your ‘product’ will outsell that of the opposition to a broad customer

base, you have to change its substance and packaging all the time while

remaining crystal clear about identity.



Take Kenneth Clarke’s Budget. Imagine devising a communications strategy

for that! Yes, I know nobody apparently attempted any such thing but if

it had been tried, it would have required recognition that the many

audiences have very different aspirations and expectations - and react

in various ways to the same ingredients.



The risk of disappointing everyone in these situations is obvious, but

if the very survival of your product is judged by some to be at stake,

then that should focus your attention on what is most likely to appeal

to the most important part of your customer base.



If you are Chancellor of the Exchequer you have a complex set of

audiences to consider. In simple terms they divide into the mass of the

voting public, the Party faithful and not so faithful, the City,

industry, commerce, media, economists and the markets.



Some of these groupings are ill-defined and certainly overlap, but we

all know how they rate in the electability stakes.



The simple presentational task is to give ‘the electorate’ warm feelings

and confidence, while not leaving the experts too uncomfortable.



If you are the governing political party, 16 years in power, trailing in

the polls, regarded as tired and stale and the subject of considerable

disillusionment, then you need to come up with something that will

produce a reaction something close to ‘gosh!’.



This is especially so when expectations among your own core group are so

high. With the summer leadership challenge producing unity, a successful

Party conference cementing it and a new legislative programme

demonstrating the existence of new ideas, the Budget could have been the

icing on a political cake in desperate need of it.



Cut taxes, cut public expenditure, cut borrowing, cut interest rates and

give a boost to education, law and order, small businesses and maybe

even housing. That is not ‘steady as she goes’ or ‘keeping the markets

sweet’, but it excites some of the punters, encourages them to sit up

and take notice and reminds them that you want to be market leader

again.



Instead, Mr Clarke continued with safe economics. This is no doubt

sensible in purist terms, but politically there are times when you have

to take risks to survive.



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