Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Politcs and Promises



“A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.”

That was one election promise that was never met.

Do you know who and when?   Herbert Hoover 1928

Ooops!  The Stock Market crash of 1929 happened just seven months later so not too many chickens in pots or cars in garages.

Election promises are a whole breed in themselves. They sometimes have a vague connection to already constructed party platforms and policies.  More often than not they are designed to appeal to people’s emotions, fear being the biggest.

I’m not writing this from a political point of view, rather from a communication one.   How are we being communicated to?  (Or ‘at’ as I said in my blog last week).

Last minute election promises often feel hastily put together and come out of recent polls or focus groups or twitter trends or media headlines or Facebook ‘likes’.  They’re reactive rather than proactive.  And inevitably there’s a goodly bit of slung mud to ‘do down’ one or more of the other parties.

Election promises are almost the opposite of good communication.  They sometimes feel like threats as much as promises and seem to tap into people’s dreads and apprehensions.  “Vote for me and I’ll rescue you from your worst nightmares.”

Election promises also on occasion seem to reflect an underlying disdain that the electorate is made up of lazy thinkers who are happy to go along with the overblown verbiage, the guarantee that all will be well, the assurances that may not exactly be backed by too many concrete facts. 

The word cynical has been bandied about for as long as there have been elections – politicians are cynical manipulators of people’s emotions and you can’t trust anything they say. There is certainly a degree of truth in that – politics often seems to speak to the lowest common denominator rather than asking the electorate to think and question.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has created an evidence based research and policy analysis hub (General Election Hub) and in a recent blog said:

As we approach one of the most unpredictable general elections in recent history, one thing is certain. The facts behind the policy statements will be in dispute – and the public know it. This week’s NatCen poll for the UK Statistics Authority shows that while the public do trust official statistics, they just don’t trust the media or politicians to present them honestly.

The way politicians communicate with the populace has become so predictable that I really do wonder how much most of us actually hear when we listen to them speak. 

I took a survey recently, www.voteforpolicies.com (tag line – ‘Vote for policies not personalities’) and found it was a very thoughtful approach to help with clarity of thought.  Without the rhetoric, bombast and anxiety-producing language , with just the words, my emotions weren’t being ‘controlled’. Granted, it was a survey so there wasn’t a lot of detail, but it still struck me that once you take away all the external influencers and stick with the words it was easier to formulate questions, to identify things I wanted to know more about.  I wasn’t doing my usual talking back to the telly or the newspapers or the twitter feeds. 

As I’m writing this I’m thinking – “What a shame!”

I want to be challenged, stimulated, excited and engaged.  I want my vote to count, and unfortunately for me to even make a decision, I’m the one who has to wade through the sea of exhortations, grandiloquence and speechifying. 

I don’t want to be sceptical and feel manipulated – and I do.

I want to be communicated to not in sound bites or over the top emotive language but in straight-forward facts, even uncomfortable ones.

Which brings me smartly round to the whole issue of communication.  Do we ourselves communicate in a straight-forward fashion or do we shy away from honesty if we are concerned we won’t get the response we’d like?  Are we as effective as we could be?  Do we avoid the tricky questions and put a gloss or spin on things we find uncomfortable?

Are our politicians simply communicating on a larger platform the way many of us do in our day to day lives?





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