I thought I’d follow up on Nick’s post about Neil O’Brien’s important piece in the FT – because this is about who wins next time, and how to do it, and it’s absolutely essential that the government – more importantly from my perspective, the Conservatives – sort this out.
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote an article called, Competent, Caring, In Control and communicating – is that ALL?! I’m disappointed we’re still having to say the same things. My basic point remains that a radical, improving, imaginative government is in there – somewhere – and it needs to let rip.
It is imperative that it improves its communications effort. It must proof its policies against attack better, and it must explain why and what they are doing differently, and how it all fits together. The daily ebb and flow of news is not listened to by normal voters with the attention that you (and I) pay to it; they remember the big (and almost always bad – not so much the good) things but they have shorter and shorter political memories because everything else is getting more responsive. As I wrote a few weeks ago, and as was followed up on Coffeehouse and PoliticalBetting, it’s not enough to simply assume that people will continue to think Labour are rubbish.
But this isn’t just about comms (much as I would like it to be, because that is relatively easy to fix). This is far bigger than that: what kind of government do they want to be? Do they want to fulfil all those promises they made in Opposition – about openness, transparency, fairness, paying off Labour’s gargantuan debts, broadening our economy and fixing our society – or do they just want to scrabble about, kind of managing to keep heads above water but not really changing anything?
‘Being in coalition’ is, yes in some ways, more difficult than having a single-party majority but frankly it should make it easier to argue through and thereby attack-proof the policies that are announced. It is also obvious that a big coalition majority should make it easier than a tiny single-party majority being held to ransom by some people determined to make life difficult. And yet. Here we are.
Every so often, I do a Populus poll and one question they ask is, “Imagine David Cameron knocked on your door. What one thing would you say to him?” The thing I would say is, do you remember why you wanted to do this? Then get on with it.
Get it right. Stop making avoidable mistakes – for whatever reason, whether it’s that the civil service is too big relative to the political bodies, or that the media misinterpret, or that it’s too big a project on a day when you’ve got 97 meetings on 165 top priority tasks. Put the right people in – more of them, lots more – and make sure every single one of them knows what you want to achieve and why. Make sure that you remember the promises you made, and the things you said, and why. Listen to those who try to remember that we’re still, as a party, mistrusted by many people on many things, and we need to make sure that we show those people why they can trust us. Make sure that every single action you take is consistent with your overall vision and that every single part of the vast machine you’re in charge of understands that and can talk it fluently.
The fundamental point is that if you actually do what you say, explain why, deliver what you promised, and are authentic to your values, people will understand and support you.
Yes it’s really difficult. It’s hard finding enough people, it’s hard not to get bogged down in daily nonsense, it’s hard to take the tough path, and it’s hard remembering to listen to the people who don’t make the most noise. But it has to be done; it’s the only way that the Conservatives will win.