PRmoment Awards Tickets 2024 PRmoment Leaders PA Mediapoint PA Assignments PRCA PRmoment Awards Winners North

David Wilson, chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Relations, says todays’ politicians are hardly inspirational

The controversy over MPs’ expenses sent the reputation of UK politics plummeting to new depths. I’m told politicians in overseas countries were bemused by the fuss … But long before moats, bird houses and pornographic movies hit the front page (97 per cent of the electorate apparently knew about MPs’ expenses – I’m unsure where the other 3 per cent were hiding), we had already begun to question ‘who can we trust?’ and more importantly ‘has trust gone bust?’. 

My colleagues in Opinion Leader began researching this point given the dramatic change in how people now shape their views. Society has moved from a position of deference to an empowered reference-based world, so people no longer trust officials and elders in society, let alone politicians. We shape our own views more from family, friends and complete web strangers. Third party opinion really is now king.

But what of politicians? Utter the word in the past 12 months and you’d prompt an onslaught of collective anger that stimulated unpredictable voting and polarised results country-wide. No political party managed to shrug it off and capture widespread, Obama-like enthusiasm to carry them straight into Downing Street.

It wasn’t a web election. Television debates played their part, as did the ‘red-tops’ and their brethren. The world of campaigning had changed, for sure. Up and down the country, voting decisions were taken not just on the national parties, but also on the person canvassing on local doorsteps. The electorate wanted to see the whites of eyes and judge candidates for themselves. One poll said 31 per cent still didn’t know which way to vote on the eve of the election.

National parties had become a busted flush. This wasn’t an election about Brown, Cameron and Clegg, but equally about those individuals directly seeking to represent us. Our hung parliament is now being led by a coalition whose colours are barely recognised in Scotland and Wales. How can the Tories have failed to inspire after 14 years of Labour rule? Clegg-mania briefly captured attention, but lost momentum and seats when policy detail was required. The final result was disappointing for all political parties! The frustrating weekend wait for a new pact led the Conservatives and Lib-Dems to turn their back on election pledges and present a case for shared beliefs.

Why was it such a close race? Perhaps because the leaders lack real conviction, compassion and empathy with the electorate. And was I alone in thinking they were all, in their own way, simply over-trained and too polished to really connect with voters? We turned out in large numbers, but no leader or party really captured our imagination. Perhaps they should look at commercial brands for guidance.

Think of brands that have great longevity – brands that constantly are good, look good and do good whilst making their money. Look at Audi, Pepsi, Sony, Disney and John Lewis (sadly I do not represent any of them). All appear to have a clear strategy and continually reinvent themselves to change with the times. If politicians can begin to remember that a brand is determined not only by what you say, but also what you do and by what others say about you, then they might truly begin to re-secure our support.

Trust can be regained…even though the stench coming from Westminster might take a time to dissipate!

David Wilson is Chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Relations, David will be writing a regular column for PRmoment.com

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for free to our twice weekly editorial alert.

We have six email alerts in total - covering ESG, internal comms, PR jobs and events. Enter your email address below to find out more: