So there we are, the government here has announced the measures it is taking to start clawing back the deficit in public finances. On the whole – though I regret the cut in overseas aid – I think the approach is correct. What I am less certain about it whether they are communicating the message effectively. The presentation yesterday by the Taoiseach in the Dail (parliament) was curiously low-key, and I cannot help thinking that the government would gather a lot more momentum if he were to make a direct address to the nation on television; the seriousness of the situation certainly warrants it.
Of course the real basis of political success is having the right policies; but almost as important is the ability and willingness to communicate the vision effectively. This is particularly important when people are being asked to make sacrifices. This is what has been called ‘rhetorical leadership’, and it has been identified as perhaps the key ingredient in securing popular support during times of crisis [see for example Ryan Lee Teten, "We the People": The "Modern" Rhetorical Popular Address of the Presidents during the Founding Period ", Political Research Quarterly 2007 60: 669-682]
It is unlikely that the government has just asked for the last sacrifice we must make in order to recover our economic and social stability. It seems to me to be important that it takes much more visible steps now to communicate the strategy and the vision, and to hold out the prospect of ultimate recovery and success in a way that people can grasp and respond to. Otherwise we risk failure in our national efforts because nobody has stirred the imagination and determination of the people.