Well, here we go again… The first shots have been fired in a new battle for the hearts and minds of the British electorate. In the run up to June 8th, expect a rash of sabre rattling sound bites, dashing one liners and oodles of platitudes that claim to place the electorate’s long term future at the centre of politicians’ words. So, what do we make of the opening salvos of this new campaign?
Theresa May certainly caught us, and many in her Government, by surprise as she took to Downing Street for her early morning snap election announcement having “just chaired a meeting of the cabinet”. Leading the advance, she adopted a stateswoman like tone in her conservative dark blue dress, the iconic Number 10 door clearly in view, her speech measured and deliberate, eyes moving purposefully from her notes to her audience, projecting power and confidence.
Her decision to call an election was explained using a strong narrative emphasising the ‘British people’ and the “certainty, stability and strong leadership”. She told us, somewhat gravely, that “there can be no turning back” on Brexit, but her tone was upbeat and inclusive, offering a vision of a “United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world… free to strike trade deals with old friends and new partners.” Then came the killer blow, pitching ‘us’ (the Tories + the British people) against those that oppose and divide, as summed up by the stinging pronouncement that “the country is coming together, but Westminster is not.”
The problem with spinning a carefully crafted narrative (as any children’s entertainer or magician facing down a pre-school birthday crowd will know) is that you are pitching to an audience that may well call you out. We shall see as the weeks unfold… Note too, the sinister effect created by the fast moving clouds which periodically eclipsed the bright sunshine, casting a somewhat vampiric shadow over sections of Mrs May’s speech, something her spin team will no doubt have been kicking themselves over!
Setting the tone, managing the situation, taking control of the narrative and boosted by the element of surprise, Mrs May stepped back and left her opponents scrambling to catch up. Tim Farron, was an immediate casualty, looking as if he’d just come off the back of a long bank holiday weekend and squinting into the bright sunshine.
Out on the road with Lib Dems campaigning for local elections, on the one hand he looked like a man of the people… but unfortunately on the other, not so much a leader of people. His assertion that the country needed a strong opposition, which would only come with the Lib Dems, was cruelly undermined by the distracting waggle of an orange sign in the background. Perhaps the Lib Dems need to consider a bit more spin in the way they manage Mr Farron’s campaign.
Jeremy Corbyn got it right on presentation – looking smart and vaguely statesman-like in his airy office with a vase of red flowers in the background. Unfortunately, the bubble burst when he opened his mouth and delivered a speech that had obviously been prepared, mostly avoided the ‘B’ word and was delivered with all the aplomb of a Sixth former pitching to become head boy. If Mr Corbyn is going to make an impression in this election, he needs to inject some passion into his speeches.
Nicola Sturgeon, was perhaps best prepared to respond, coming off the back of a month of sabre rattling for another Scottish referendum, and the snap election decision fed seamlessly into her own narrative. Upbeat, smiley (slightly too smugly), Mrs Sturgeon was quick to turn Mrs May’s argument back on her and accuse the prime minister of putting party interests ahead of the national interest. A competent politician with fizzling charisma, expect Mrs Sturgeon to hold her ground this campaign.
Of course, the big obstacle that these and all politicians must struggle to overcome is a sense of national election fatigue. In the past three years we have had two referendums, a general election and two party leadership contests intruding into our lives. This sense of fatigue was captured beautifully by a BBC interview with Brenda from Bristol, probably the stand out star of day one of the campaign. Her response to discovering an election had been called probably reflected the first thoughts of many in the country – red, blue, orange, green, nationalist, remainer or leaver – and her reaction spoke for many…
Luan de Burgh
Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.