Last Friday I was in London and had the privilege, as Honorary Fellow of the CIPR, to participate to the Annual Fellows Luncheon which is held in the austere House of Lords, in the Cholmondeley Room: a truly fantastic setting on a gorgeous day overlooking the River Thames.
I will not tell you all the gossip which old cronies like us tell one another when we meet once a year…but I will tell you about the truly brilliant presentation offered by the very, very bright Andrew Hawkins from Communicate Research which focussed on post Blair politics.
And this because some of the remarks have direct reference to many contents of this blog. Also, I will end up with an amusing story I had never heard before (but you might have heard it one hundred times before…), which has to do with Premier’s McMillan great reply to an ugly question on his wife from an American journalist.
Andrew, supported by charts with many numbers and sophisticated arguments, said that Tony Blair’s move out of Downing Street in the next few days and Gordon Brown’s entrance will in no way cause a call to anticipated political elections.
To the contrary, all other variables being equal, he said that the incoming Premier will remain in office until the last day of the legislature (2010), and election results then will likely give conservative more votes than labour, but not sufficiently to run the country effectively, thus it will take some time following elections for conservative David Cameron to be able to really govern.
The point is, he said, that while Brown will have no will to call for elections if he is not absolutely sure that labour will comfortably win (and this is very unlikely to happen), conservatives will also not press too much because they are well aware that the relative majority they will be able to obtain will not be sufficient to effectively lead the country.
Thus the stalemate.
In describing three different methods to interpret political public opinion trends Andrew cited the popular belief that issues such as health, education, immigration or the war in Iraq and others are the primary shapers of voter decision; then he said what he identified as the late xxth century belief that voter choices are shaped mostly by their perception of party leaderships; finally he hinted to a third model of interpretation, which he believes is more adequate today, related to the concept of political party branding where party unity and activist, as well as leadership, day-to-day behaviours have a growing relevance in the ballot box.
He also claimed that online elections will be on by 2010 and that the apathy curve which has over the years reduced the number of voters will by that time register an upspring, bringing voter participation back, at least temporarily, to what it was some ten years ago.
He finally mentioned a point which has great relevance for us public relators. In enumerating Brown’s attitudes Andrew clearly indicated communication ability as the new Premier’s first weakness.
(By the way, today and independently from Andrew’s presentation, on www.spinwatch.org Nicholas Jones addresses an open letter to Michael Ellam, Brown’s newly appointed spokesperson, suggesting various communication policy changes, which are useful also for our day-to-day work).
Getting back to Brown’s weakness, of which he is well aware, and his notorious disrespect for spin, it could very well be that -particularly after Tony Blair’s recent Reuters speech in which he adamantly reproached himself for having been, in his early ‘cool Britannia’ years as well as during the whole Irak affair, at least partly responsible for having injected the country and the british media by horse’s dose of spin- the new Premier will possibly wish to ‘spin an antispin campaign’…and this, for a CIPR only one year after having received a Chartered status and with only one year to go to hosting the fifth World Public Relations Conference and Festival on The Public Benefit of Public Relations, could be a blessing or a headache according to the degree of its willingness to go out public, much more public than it has in past (although it is only fair to say that it has been more open and adamant on this issue than any other professional association I can think of). We shall see.
And now to the McMillan story I promised: the premier was visiting Washington DC during the Jack Kennedy presidency and went with his host to the usual closing White House press conference. During the q&a period a journalist asked him bluntly to comment the widespread rumour that Lady McMillan had become a drunkard….
Silence and embarrassment in the whole room…. Jack Kennedy, taken off guard, quickly moves close to the British Premier as if to protect him and begins muttering something like ‘lets cut it off here…’. McMillan amicably stops him and, while pointing his finger directly at the journalist, loudly replied ‘ and you haven’t yet even met her mother….’ .
Well….I confess, it’s much better said than written down….