Keep Calm and Carry on up the Election

There’s a phrase that we have been using ironically as a nation for the past 10 years or so. It started off by appearing on artsy posters and moving swiftly on to mugs and t-shirts before colonising pretty much every printable surface, not only in our nation but across the globe.

I am talking about ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’ of course, that quintessentially British phrase that embodies, reserve, resilience and a stiff upper lip. It originated in 1939, a Ministry of Information sponsored message to the nation not to get panicked by the declaration of war and the imminence of attack from our enemy.

If we learned anything from Week 3 of the general election campaign it was that Theresa May is firmly in control. Despite her coolness, robotic charisma and moments of social awkwardness, her popularity rating amongst voters is astoundingly high. Faced with the prospect of Mrs May or the alternatives, it appears that the electorate has accepted its Brexit fate and has decided to (non-ironically) ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. At a time of great uncertainty about the future direction of the country, Mrs May is seen as a safe pair of hands.

This election is fascinating to watch as it provides so many lessons in how to make an impact. Mrs May is displaying consummate leadership skills and she and her team have identified their audience which is the key to winning over any crowd. Know your crowd and you know your message and can work on the detail of how best to present it. By wrapping herself up in the Union Jack, Mrs May has created a powerful symbolism that speaks to the Leave vote in the same way that Donald Trump made in-roads with his ‘Make America Great’ sloganeering.

Her Downing Street steps address to the people publicly blaming Europe for meddling in the UK election campaign last Wednesday seeming to lift another tactic from the Trump playbook. The performance left many Remainers feeling dismayed, but it was a masterpiece of political positioning and may well have had a significant influence in UKIP’s dramatic fall in the local elections. From the beginning of this campaign (and actually throughout her career), Mrs May has used the tool of demonising ‘opponents’ to win favour with other sections – from blasting the (elite) citizens of nowhere to lambasting Westminster politicians seeking to divide the British people.

The big question that looms from last week is; ‘What’s happened to the 48%?’ This election has certainly given ‘Leave’ its voice and that’s the point Labour has been missing by (still!) avoiding the ‘B’ word! The Lib Dems have overshot on the Brexit issue – too many Remainers have accepted the democratic process to back yet another referendum – and have failed to gain ground as a result. Common sense should’ve dictated a more palatable pledge (perhaps a vote on the final deal), and the consequence has been a Remain bloc drifting with no real political party to call home.

One thing is certain, the blandness and disconnect of the 2015 general election now seems a generation away, let alone just two years! So, *deep breath* let’s see what Week 4 brings!

Luan de Burgh

May 2017

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.