Talking our way out of the crisis

Here is an interesting news item from yesterday, referring to the political crisis in Britain in the aftermath of the local and European elections and the future of Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

‘Labour MP Tony Wright said that while Mr Brown was a “clunky communicator”, he was a “towering figure” in the aftermath of the financial crisis.’

Well yes, a ‘clunky communicator’ (an expression I’ll remember and use). What the statement doesn’t acknowledge – indeed, what it denies – is that you can’t really be a ‘towering figure’ in politics if you have difficulty communicating the message. Politics is all about ‘the message’, the ability to persuade the public and key decision-makers in industry and public life that you have a strategy and that this strategy will make a difference. A tongue-tied Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg would probably not be remembered today; or Winston Churchill, if he had been unable to express to his people the sense of determination and courage that carried them through the dark days of 1940 and 1941. In politics, communication is not an optional extra, it is everything.

In Ireland, we have similar issues to address. I would argue that the losses suffered by Fianna Fail in the elections are to a major extent about communication. I suspect that by and large the government has the right policies. But it has not so much been bad at communicating them, it hasn’t really tried at all. I cannot begin to understand why, in Ireland’s worst crisis since independence, the Taoiseach has not been addressing the nation on television and radio, indeed several times. We need to know where we are going, and why it’s worth making sacrifices, and how the government is going down this hard road with us, and what the rewards will be at the end. We don’t need to read that from Dail reports, or from newspaper accounts of party meetings – we need to hear it directly, addressed to us. Without that, all we see and feel is the pain, and all we want to do is lash out at whoever is inflicting that.

There are big lessons to be learned from Barack Obama, who has understood all this really well, and who is a master at having a good message and communicating it skilfully. Here in these islands, and for that matter in Europe, we seem to have lost sight of this. We had better catch on quickly, for widespread popular anger is a very dangerous thing.

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2 Comments on “Talking our way out of the crisis”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Re; Brown. While he is the figure of hate from the Tory ranks. He must be doing something correct.

    With our own lot where communications is concerned. You have to remember that most of the parties came about within a War setting. And from that there followed that ‘need to know’ idea. That they managed to continue with that level of B S for as long as they did is down to emigration, education joined to the feeling the State was under threat.
    These days, there are a whole hell of a lot more of us around with the trained ability to find logic gaps and drive a cavalry regiment never mind a coach and six through it. But this gives one hell of a headache to politicians brought up in the era of diktat.

  2. Hugh Says:

    I think what sets Barak Obama, Winston Churchill et al apart is that they are so obviously speaking their own minds, and not parroting the collected thoughts of a bunch of spin doctors. George Bush had no credibility because you just knew that he didn’t understand most of what he was saying. The quicker that politicians (and others, e.g. corporate communications executives) realise that people are not stupid, and that most are instinctively able to recognise spin, the better.
    I share your surprise that we haven’t been getting the message straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. It can hardly be the case that Brian Cowen hasn’t the courage to address the nation, so what’s the problem? Maybe they don’t respect our desire and our right to be kept informed. Well now they know – maybe!

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