To: Independent Group members
From: Paul Blanchard
Date: February 23, 2019
Subject: Strictly confidential: PR advice for your new party
Well done on having the guts to launch The Independent Group! It led the news agenda for that day and for much of the following days. You've already attracted new recruits and, at the time of writing, are a similar size to the Liberal Democrats. More from both main parties are predicted to follow. There's a lot of media interest and (apparent) public goodwill towards the new party you helped create.
Well done also on eschewing the traditional rules of politics by not having a leader or becoming a formal political party. Instead, you decided to create something akin to a limited company. You’ve focused on your core values (pro-European, a mixed economy, reducing inequality, safeguarding individual freedoms) rather than attempt to rush out detailed policy. It looks to me like you’ve done your cost-benefit analysis.
Whatever your political views, it’s an exciting development that has been discussed for a long time. Some experts doubted that it would happen - but today’s political climate is a far cry from the days of Tony Blair, when I was a loyal member of the Labour Party.
You’ve already got one of PR’s golden rules right. You’re already making an emotional connection with people through rhetoric. Plus, your group’s lack of hierarchy and its earnest and heartfelt “statement of independence” conveys transparency and authenticity.
However, before we we get carried away, it's worth noting the daunting challenges your group faces. These include include getting enough MPs to join your party so that you become a viable political force in Parliament and election, becoming more than a single-issue party (anti-Brexit), picking a leader(s) and avoiding a media backlash, not to mention increasing positive public opinion and getting enough concentration of local support to win seats in our first-past-the post electoral system.
With that in mind, I’d like to share some tips for a PR strategy that will maintain your early momentum and increase the chances of longer-term survival.
One, turn your perceived weaknesses (e.g. no leader) into positives. If your party has one leader, she or he can promote a new policy or government announcement on a limited number of media outlets ‒ for example, by appearing on the Today programme, then maybe BBC Breakfast and ITN news. But there’s only so many interviews one leader can do in one morning or day. By contrast, your party has 11 members (this number may change by the hour) who can each for the moment all talk to the media with equal authority about their party.
Two, go into listening mode. Listen to voters’ concerns, many of whom feel thoroughly let down and ignored by the main political parties. Take a trick from Corbyn’s Labour party and Momentum, the grassroots political campaign group and harness the power of social media to bypass traditional media and appeal directly to the public.
Three, be yourselves! Thanks to being spoon fed Brexit for more than two years, the electorate is sick; public interest in policy is dead. So is interest in professional, slick and managerial politicians. Of course, parties need policies, but to enthuse voters and change society they need to make an emotional connection with voters. Use your your group’s lack of baggage to strike this deeper bond and you’ll reap the benefits.
Four, us Brits love the underdog. Paint yourself as a plucky new movement challenging a stale and dysfunctional establishment. The political parties you’ve just left will try to use their party machinery to crush you by pressuring you into contesting a by-election. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have given you a chance. But in these populist, volatile times, political certainties are being upended - so who knows? It worked for President Trump after all.
In the old days, I would have ended this email by saying that time will tell whether your new group will create lasting change or burn out. Maybe a year or two, even a few months. But considering the pace of political change these days, particularly the volatile world of 24-hour news and social media, we won't have to wait anywhere near that long. I’ll give it a fortnight before we know if your group will succeed or fail.