George Bridges* has written a very sensible article in the Telegraph this morning about – basically – the need for strategic communications rather than hyperactive ‘something must be done’ reaction. He is right in almost every way, of course: focusing on what matters and making sure that the proper lines of responsibility are adhered to should be a given.
One of my ongoing complaints about Number Ten, the government and the Conservatives’ communications is that they do not have a big picture to communicate. Actually that is a little unfair – they do have a big picture, they just don’t tell anyone about it. I was asked recently whether I thought this government would be seen to have been a success – I think it will be. The reforms it has introduced in education, welfare, restructuring of government spending, action on the deficit and planning for that ‘global race’ that everyone is talking about will eventually bear fruit (indeed, there are some little buds already but they are hugely long-term, strategic decisions). The problem is that there is not enough presentation of why they matter, and what they will do.
Charles Moore wrote at the weekend (also in the Telegraph), “The strength that ministers need comes ultimately from the top, but no sense of purpose emanates from No 10″. Every so often, there is a speech – I’m thinking the conference speeches for example – where this is set out in a way that does not patronise, that makes a complicated argument, and treats people like grown-ups in believing that they will understand it. But this is a sadly rare occurrence, and so often is then diluted by what George describes as “a hotchpotch of policies, a blurb of new initiatives designed to win pockets of voters.”
Governing is hard. Everyone wants something from you. Everyone assumes that the state will take responsibility. Everyone wants their thing paid attention to. But politics is about choices. A government has to choose what it’s priorities are, and hammer them home at every opportunity. Shifting and eliding and trying to say different things to different people is not the way to gain trust, a reputation for competence or a compelling reason to vote for those people again.
* George was head of the Conservative Research Department while I worked there