Fishing for hearts and minds: What the political parties should do to rebuild their tattered reputations

 
Andrew Mulholland
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Two out of three leaders may be gone - but all the political parties must work to restore their reputations (Source: Getty)
So now the election has been won and lost, we can finally start talking about something else - or can we? The thing that interested me most about the days immediately after the campaign had ended was how swiftly the parties moved from winning votes to building bridges.
The slightly tricky thing for the Conservative Party is how to extend the hand of friendship, when the moment people mention the word “Tory” (as opposed to Conservative), many of us still see loud men in shouty pin-striped suits yelling into eighties-style mobile phones.
Whatever you think of the Conservative Party’s policies (and to be clear, I support them), they still haven’t been able to shake-off this brand perception. Meanwhile, Labour is seen as being governed by the unions. And the Lib Dems? Difficult to say...
To my mind, that’s a problem - most people vote, whether consciously or not, for the party whose brand they like the best, rather than an in-depth knowledge of the comparative policies (if you like, they use their heart rather than their head).
So how do the parties tackle the issue?
The first thing to keep in mind, is that when feelings run this deep, it’s going to take time. Nestle is still dealing with the fall-out of its powdered milk marketing from 1977. And this despite one of the largest advertising budgets in the world (reportedly worth more than $3bn - £1.9bn - a year).
The second is to find a deeper reason for being than just your policies.
Let me explain: a quick look at the mainstream parties’ communications suggests the focus is unremittingly about tactics, rather than more deep-seated values and beliefs (perhaps a function of focusing on PR and ad agencies to push their messages, without thinking what a branding consultancy might offer...).
This is all well and good at election time, but if you get deeper below the surface, there really isn’t much more on offer.
Sure, we’re left with an understanding of what they say they’re going to do, but very little in the way of why they’re going to do it. At a more fundamental level, I’m none the wiser about their values, and have no idea what their beliefs are.
As I’ve already said, for die-hard advocates, this isn’t a problem, their faith is generally absolute - handed-down through generations, and can’t be shaken (I’m thinking the political equivalent of the blind love of Apple fans).
But for the more curious consumer, things are a little harder. I gave-up looking for what drives the Labour and Conservative parties (just because I can buy a fridge magnet of a waving Maggie does not mean the party is acting like a brand). I had a brief glimmer of hope when I spotted the Liberal Democrats’ website had a tab entitled “What we stand for” - but was then instantly disappointed. As was the electorate, it would seem.
Type “definition of a political party” into Google and up pops “…an organised group of people with at least roughly similar aims and opinions”. Nothing about beliefs or values.
It’s a shame really, because if the Conservative Party really wants to move the needle and shake off the negative associations of the “Tory” image, it’s going to have to think a little differently.

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