Conviction Politics and PR

The increasingly heavy influence of PR in politics is not good for conviction politics. With the Tory Leadership race on, I can’t help but wonder, which candidate has the gumption to take unpopular decisions and see them through?

Long-term political decisions should never be taken on the premise that they are popular or WOKE. They should be taken because they are in the best long-term interest of the country and its people.  The problem is that we are seeing less conviction politics and more consensus politics than ever before. Why is that?

One theory is that with social media and a 24-hour news cycle, politicians have become over sensitized and too reactive to the media hype around them. The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics also means they can see the impact of the news on ratings in real time. So yes, it must be uncomfortable having the courage of your convictions.

I wonder how Mrs Thatcher would have dealt with today’s 24/7 media environment? She was famously a conviction politician who got things done and saw confrontation as evidence of progress. She constantly asked, “why does it have to be that way?”

Thank goodness she asked. Imagine the UK if the unions still ran it, or our international standing if the Falkland Islands were no longer British (both decisions taken by Thatcher). Conversely, imagine how much better off the NHS would be if long-term decision taking (beyond a five-year election cycle) was removed from politicians.

Love or loath Nigel Farage, he was a true conviction politician. He certainly achieved, almost single handed, what he set out to do.

No doubt the political elite have a tricky few years’ ahead of them – with the economy in tatters, world-war three still a real threat, and post Brexit deals looking troublesome – and all when trust levels in politicians are at rock bottom.

It would be naïve to suggest that opinion polls shouldn’t have any influence on political decision taking. After all, politicians represent the great British public. But it’s also a mistake to allow them to influence decision making too heavily.

As communications advisors we would also do well to remember that we are there to tell the truth well, not lobby to change leaders’ decisions based on headlines. And yes, that does make our job more difficult. But let’s celebrate communicating difficult and unpopular decisions – because they will most likely be made with integrity and conviction for the greater good.

While I am not convinced that either Rishi or Liz are strong conviction politicians, I will be delighted if one of them proves me wrong. Either way, to the successful Tory candidate, I say this – relish the prospect of battle, and know that if you don’t constantly face adversity, or if you ever feel comfortable in your job as Prime Minister, you are not trying hard enough. And most important, please keep asking – “Why does it have to be that way?”