UK General Election: A forum on authenticity — what’s missing from UK politics

By Nichola Seeley

The authenticity manifesto — what’s missing from UK politics

Though the date is predictable, little else is. The 2015 general election is the strangest that Britain has seen for many years.

Millions of Britons are reawakening, gloomily, to a crowded political field (surprisingly many don’t have a thirst for the ebb and flow of Westminster). In an era of coalition governments and mixed messages even the discerning amongst us would find it difficult to differentiate between the main political parties let alone the scores of disengaged voters.

As a strategic branding agency we know that successful brands have a clearly differentiated and distinctive positioning that resonates, inspires and creates a following — something politicos could learn from. Unlike the main UK parties, strong brands understand the “target” in audience and recognize what their consumers want. And just as the consumer is always right, so is the voter.

Authenticity matters

In the last election, leader image stole pole position as a deciding factor for voters, yet right now the candidates to rule Britain are pretty unpopular, heightened further as each party aims to vilify their opposite leaders. An election is normally a boxing match whilst this one is a variety show and we sure do have a variety of colors and bland acts on show.

Labour goes into this election with a leader who seems more comfortable on a protest march than in a boardroom. Ed Miliband’s problem is partly presentational, which these days matter. Labelled as a “North London Geek” by Jeremy Paxman, he has an adenoidal voice and the resemblance he bears to Wallace, a character often outsmarted by his dog, Gromit, is uncanny. He is clever though and genuinely motivated to improve Britain — but will voters recognize this?

The attitude from our Labour team was that “the public feel sorry for Ed. He’s framed as disloyal for running (and then beating) his brother to lead the party, he’s knocked for eating a bacon sandwich, Jeremy Paxman asks him if he’s okay on national television. He’s battle-hardened but he needs to be bolder to show he is tough enough to run the country.”

And then we have the stockbroker’s son trying to present himself as a man of the people. With David Cameron at the helm, the Conservative party has struggled to shake off the Tory “out of touch” and “elitist” brand image. Mr Cameron is often mocked for being a “posh boy who doesn’t know the price of milk.” He does, however, have an easy manner of command, vast self-confidence, and an ability to project empathy. A case of style over substance, as out of them all he most looks and sounds the part but it is not entirely clear what Mr. Cameron stands for.

“Too preoccupied with political mud-slinging, David Cameron and the Conservatives have failed to define their own position as a brand or as a party,” commented our Conservative party spokesperson. This lack of clarity has probably made his battle to keep his job harder than it should be. Not helped by letting slip that if he wins a second term in this election he would not seek a third one five years later. Prime ministerial terms, he said are “like Shredded Wheat: two are wonderful but three might just be too many.”

Whilst being a bit-part player has been disastrous for the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg — he is now quite possibly the most reviled public figure in Britain. Hence why Clegg has probably been so well hidden in his party’s campaign bumf. As our Lib Dem representative commented, “the Lib Dems have lost their stance through being the support party, now they’re just ‘muddy’. Constrained by coalition, they allowed the rise in university tuition fees they had foresworn.”

All are restrained next to the leaders of the smaller parties and one leader in particular: Nigel Farage. The UKIP leader has been indispensible to UKIP’s surge from the irrelevant fringe of British politics with his acumen and bloke-y charm. “Without Nigel the party would slide back into obscurity, he has done something the others haven’t, he has enlivened British politics and is the most authentic,” said our UKIP party spokesperson.

And that’s what’s coming through from electorates, the need for authenticity. Only those who authentically connect with their electorates and show personality will win over the voters.

Politicians are a tainted brand

Since 2010, the combination of various scandals and broken manifesto pledges has cracked the covenant of trust between voters and politicians with many voters now unreceptive to most forms of political marketing.

Politicians, in this day in age, are fundamentally a tainted brand. Often maligned for failing to tell the truth, or accused of obfuscation. Party leaders now have the challenge ahead of them to sway an electorate that has become disinclined to believe anything they have to say. Mr Miliband has been steadfast in his approach, pitching himself as the first Prime Minister to “underpromise and overdeliver.” Setting promises he knows he can keep and thereby striving to restore trust in politics.

With trust in their messages severely lacking — 63% of voters believe the three main parties in Parliament will promise anything to get elected according to Ipos MORI — how are they doing so far to convince such a jaded and suspicious audience?

Simple messages

With around a third of voters likely to decide which candidate to vote for during the course of the campaign, there is ample opportunity for their communications to sway them.

The Tories have been particularly disciplined in hammering home their message with their “Let’s stay on the road to a stronger economy” campaign.

Whilst fear has long been the cornerstone of political marketing and UKIP’s exploitation of fear about the immigration issue is a key example. The right-wing party’s rising popularity in recent years can be explained quite simply: the gloomy vision UKIP conjures up of what life will be like if we don’t take a hard line on immigration taps into a primal human impulse to defend our own and prioritize our security.

Time will tell which message proves to be the most effective but there is wisdom in UKIP’s thinking. Their messages are easy to understand, statistically based but not baffling and, despite the brevity, address concerns through simplicity. “They may be using fewer words but they have more meaning and resonance in order to bring about a change they passionately believe in,” said our team UKIP: “They are the Ryanair of politics.”

At Siegel+Gale, we know that simplicity cuts through complexity and from a simplicity perspective, UKIP are adeptly leveraging this quality in the clarity of their campaign messaging. It may seem like a blunt tool but fear is an incredibly effective political marketing weapon and is working well for this party. Will voters turn against the “political elite” and into the arms of this “outsider” party?

What became clear through our discussion was that it’s the political landscape that is in part to blame. Politics hasn’t kept up with the people. It has made itself irrelevant to its consumers. Failing to innovate and failing to engage, voters feel partially wooed for the duration of the election and then forgotten about, cast aside like a mere accessory rather than the reason that politicians and political parties exist.

Nonetheless, in a few short weeks, we will be asked to place our trust in politicians at the ballot box. What we want from our next leader is authenticity and competence.

If the 2015 election were a competition on personality politics, then we would find the key party leaders failing miserably. Ed, David, Nick and Nige take note, you should be: hopeful, not negative; strategic, not tactical; and more candid, by admitting errors as well as boasting about success.

So while many politicians are frightened of slipping on the proverbial banana peel the consequences of not “getting stuck in” could lose them the votes. Politicians need to take action and start talking. Preferably clearly. Preferably simply.

The UK General Election Political Party Debate is an ongoing blog series that aims to examine the communications and brand positioning of the UK’s four major parties through the lens of simplicity. As part of the series, our UK office divided into four teams that represent the major parties — Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP — who will post analysis of how each party’s actions are living up to their respective brand identities. Our teams are providing a professional and objective analysis for each party — they are not affiliated with these parties, or endorsing their views.

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