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Is it Time to Re-launch the Political Brand?

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The UK faces challenges of such enormity that we urgently need to reconnect with, and put all our trust in, the political class.

But such a leap of faith may require a complete re-launch of the political brand. Just one in 10 people trust politicians to tell the truth. If UK politics were a High Street label it would be teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

Politics really matters. It is the means by which we get done many things that would otherwise simply not happen.

But successive scandals and betrayals of trust have weakened the political brand. Nick Clegg and his party's pledge to oppose student fees is only one example in a long line of assurances that have been dropped after votes have been cast. Recent history is littered with exaggerated claims and broken promises.

The art of the possible

Part of the problem may be in the way that politicians work. The political class regularly deploy a range of devices, as Disraeli might have said, to malign their opponents and glorify both themselves and their ideas. Commonly we are subject to misrepresentation, exaggeration, obfuscation, misinformation, misdirection, distraction and even, it has been known, disinformation.

No other High Street brand could work in this way. Those that do invariably become the focus on investigative journalism, lose custom and die.

Another challenge politicians face is the need to engage everyone, not just the wavering voters in marginal constituencies. Such is our allegiance to Party Tribes that many will follow their leaders blindly into the political mist anyway. Undecided voters get all the attention - the visits from political big guns, focus-group tested announcements carefully timed to create the most pull and judiciously placed leaks that undermine opponents.

Winning over the waverers

Never in the field of human conflict has so much been dedicated by so few to so many who really don't know which day it is.

And any re-launch would need to address the ungraspable nature of political rhetoric - like trying to nail jelly to a wall as one wag put it. Politicians routinely elude any attempt to force them to be clear. Careful training (and natural ability) enables political heavyweights to ignore questions, to sidestep challenge and to ever more creative ways to "put things in their own words".

And that's on top of the efforts made by advisers and apparatchiks to construct "lines" and assertions that would outshine the most talented insurance policy underwriters.

Punch and Judy

Some politicians, doubtless aware of bleeding credibility and belief, have attempted to draw lines in the sand. Mr. Cameron talked of ending "Punch and Judy politics" whilst Mr. Blair launched a Third Way. Neither took.

If election turnout is an indication of anything it surely must say that more and more people just can't be bothered. But apathy coupled with a lack of opportunity for many sections of society and an emerging sense of growing inequality is a dangerous combination.

Still the show trundles on with leaders shunning clear long-term vision in favour of sniping and undermining each other, as well as dredging history for utterances, comments or actions that could be replayed to the electorate in ways that will embarrass or shame their opponents.

Entertaining, frustrating and fascinating it may be, but a recipe for addressing the UK's major long term challenges it is not.

And they are many:

  • How to ensure the UK can compete and win business in the global market
  • How to ensure the UK can pay for old age pensions
  • How to ensure that we can afford the health service so many believe in as mounting costs outstrip increasing demand
  • How to create a hungry society that shuns benefits and will fight to be enterprising

There are so many others. Each raises uncomfortable questions, as well as unthinkable and unsayable things. At present, in spite of recent commentary about changes to the health service, benefits regime and pensions arrangements, we're probably not even scratching the surface.

Old challenges, new brand

So if there were to be a re-launch of the political brand, what would it say on the new tin?

Is it too much to expect politicians to be judged by the same standards as we expect of our most trusted brands?

Prestige brands set out clear promises and assurances. They do not blame changes in circumstances or unforeseen (or unforeseeable) events for non-delivery. They immediately address urgently any issue that undermines trust or confidence. They do not spring changes upon us that they should, rightly, have mentioned when it really mattered. They do not so carefully word product descriptions that nobody knows what, if anything, they are buying. Nor do they introduce new features that do the exact opposite of what was anticipated at the point of sale. And importantly, they listen to their customers, who, if ignored, will tend to shop elsewhere.

Politics matters more than any High Street brand. It can offer us more than we could ever buy - a chance to secure our future.

But first we need to believe in those who represent us.

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