Credit: Drawn by the author, based on a Pacific Newspaper Group photo

#IAmLinda: turning a momentary stumble into a full-on faceplant

If you follow the BC election, you’ve probably heard about #IAmLinda. The trending Twitter hashtag began with an incident where Premier Christy Clark was gladhanding at a grocery store. That’s when she met Linda Higgins, a voter who started to say she wasn’t going to vote for Clark. Clark cut her off with a remark about how great democracy was and swivelled deftly away to the next conversation.

There it might have ended… except there were cameras running, and what came next out of Clark’s campaign only fuelled it further.

First: The incident itself.

If the BC Liberal campaign team wanted to reinforce the perception out there that Clark’s only there for her wealthy donors, and doesn’t listen to the rest of BC – mission accomplished.

It’s not that a leader has to stand there and take abuse. But listening to someone with respect, responding to their concerns, and ending the conversation gracefully if the other person becomes abusive… if you don’t know how to have that conversation, you have no business being in politics.

And a politician whose popularity is flagging, who has a reputation for condescension, and who has suffered a long string of pay-to-play corruption headlines? That politician should be looking for opportunities to be seen being more open and down-to-earth.

Second: The campaign’s response.

You know how in crisis communications, one of the first things you learn is that a panicky frenzy of pushback can make a bad situation so much worse, and turn a one-or-two-day story into a full-blown fiasco? Well, I’m clipping this story for my next training session.

The initial discussion after the incident seemed to be fading, the trending #IAmLinda hashtag notwithstanding. But then senior Liberals started calling Higgins an NDP plant – an evidence-free accusation which not only escalated the stakes, but flagged for reporters there might be legs to this story. (Clark herself poured gasoline on the embers with her highly-embellished account of Higgins’ comments after the incident.) Hence Mike Smyth’s definitive piece, now trending on Facebook.

Third: The campaign bubble.

There’s a natural tendency in a politics to develop a you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us mindset. And under the pressure of a campaign, it’s easy to fall into the trap in a campaign of seeing every inconvenience, every inopportune moment as the result of some evil force (i.e. their opponents) conniving against you.

Don’t fall into that trap, whether you’re on a campaign bus or just tweeting about stuff. People will disagree with you—not because George Soros hired them through Comet Ping Pong to work with Hillary’s body double to throw you off-script—but because, to quote our (for now) premier, that’s why we live in a democracy.

And if your government has spent 16 years making decisions that have hurt those people, you’re going to hear about it.

(Disclosure, for those of you who don’t know me: These views are my own. I’m not speaking on behalf of the NDP, but I’m a supporter and I have worked for the party, its campaigns and its elected representatives many times.)