CGM blog: Get your story straight

I’m writing this blog a week before the General Election so it is possible much of what is here may change or turn out to be wrong (it has been known!) – but I doubt it.

The election was called by Prime Minister Theresa May to seek a mandate from the British public so she can negotiate the country’s exit from the EU from a ‘strong and stable’ position.

In fact, strong and stable leadership is the ill-chosen ticket May has stood on – not least because it has never been her personal political trump card.

Small wonder her campaign has been weak and ineffectual. Far from being the ‘coronation’ many predicted, the outcome looks far from certain and could possibly be the biggest turnaround in British political history.

How so? Because she has tried to make a virtue of something she isn’t – and there’s a lesson in that for all of us.

In telling our story – be it in business or any other facet of public life – we need to play to our strengths not publicise our weaknesses.

May’s constant U turns – firstly on increased self-employed National Insurance payments in the budget (by the way has anyone seen ’spreadsheet Phil’ Hammond during the campaign?), reversing her decision to hold an election this summer and the ‘dementia tax’ debacle doesn’t smack of decisiveness.

The strong and stable narrative means you have to walk it as you talk it.

The fudging of TV debates with rival politicians – and let’s face it the current lot are just about as tame as you’ll get – has alerted people to the thought that there may be trouble ahead for the PM to successfully negotiate Britain’s EU exit.

And it gets worse. Home Secretary Amber Rudd, to her immense credit, stood in for May for the BBC debate on May 31 – two days after her father died. The strong and stable leader… hid.

The miscalculation has been compounded by a lack of ideas. Labour’s ‘for the many not the few’ manifesto has resonated – and offered a radical and surprisingly detailed alternative vision.

Do Labour’s figures add up? Can their spokespeople conjure the exact figures in broadcast interviews? Who cares? The Tories, dismissively, hadn’t even bothered to budget theirs.

So May has achieved the seemingly unachievable – she’s made Jeremy Corbyn not only appear electable, but reliable and steadfast. Calm and casual in contrast to her awkwardness.

All this from a universally agreed previously popular, capable, experienced and widely respected politician, who once had the courage to tell her own party they were ‘nasty’ and cleverly turned the phrase around on Labour last year amid allegations of anti-Semitism.

Her strength has always been listening, then responding tactfully rather than broadsiding. Devising sensible solutions rather than barking out empty phrases. She is a skilled political operator – and widely respected for that. Why not focus on that rather than trying to portray fake toughness?

We live in changing times. More of the same from professional politicians doesn’t work anymore. That’s why Hilary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, who promised to ‘Make America great again’. By contrast, Clinton offered very little.

It is also why the Remain campaign lost the Brexit referendum and why Greece’s anti-austerity party Syriza swept to power in 2015. Even Corbyn’s double Labour leadership victories in 2015 and 2016 seemed to defy apparent logic – until you realise people are voting for a change.

Corbyn, for example, has reached out to young people – attracting tens of thousands to join the Labour Party then corralling 200,000 new young voters to register for the General Election. Theresa May’s Tories avoided any such schmoozing. They want an older electorate for their own expediency.  

The media world has moved on too. The political dogs of war in the right-wing press are largely meaningless to most of those new, young, voters who absorb their news selectively via social media.

All and all the wrong story is being told by Theresa May and her courtiers – and it could come at a huge price.

So what will Britain’s political future look like next Friday? A hung parliament? A smaller, not larger mandate? No change? Who knows? The final page has yet to be written.

It could all have been so different…

Strong and stable? Nah, as Nike would say – Theresa May should just do it. She should have got on with negotiating – which is her key strength.

Telling your business story is the theme of our Worcester Business Media Club meeting on Friday, June 23 at Worcestershire County Cricket Club.

Visit Business Media Clubs for further details and to book your seat or call 01905 453908 or email info@chrisgreenmedia.co.uk

Chris Green is an award-winning author and broadcaster and managing partner of Chris Green Media – our aim is to inspire business people to communicate better.