#Election 2017: The same, but shitter

It’s had some time to sink in now but like an over-zealous application of cheap moisturiser, it’s still refusing to budge and smearing greasy stains on pretty much everything it touches.

A strong and stable PM whose election campaign has resulted in her being too weak to rearrange her cabinet and pick her own advisors and left her forced to arrange a coalition with people who sound an awful lot like what she said Jeremy Corbyn was.

A Europe united further against us through collective laughter is willing to start talks with know-it-all England ‘whenever we’re ready’.

And Jeremy Corbyn. He was never going anywhere anyway whatever happened on 8 June, but losing the election has proved his critics, who said he’d lose the election, wrong and now he’s here forever. Vindicated by an absolutely huge vote for socialism or a vote against whatever the other chaps wanted, at least. Either way, a victory which will no doubt strengthen his and his supporter’s hand – and, I guess, mean more protests and demos about stuff too.

Teresa May activated the Queen yesterday, but this whole process may just have activated the young people finally and it turns out it’s social media wot won it.

And while you can criticise The Daily Mail and the others, whose power it seems has been proven massively diminished, the power of the alternative one-sided story on the Internet (see this for a summary) is probably not much better.

True balance is an aim that, like perfection, is never actually achieved but the excitable headlines that spread on social media are no better than the right-wing traditional media’s stories.

But to all of this there is a communications angle: a Tory campaign which poorly communicated bad plans, and a Labour campaign that sought to interest people with a list of (perhaps) unattainable nice stuff, framed as “it doesn’t have to be like that.”

PR is not only about ‘doing comms’ as it so often seems to be seen, not only about digging an organisation out of the shitbucket, but also about advising how decisions might be seen.

Effective communications is in effect a negotiation and the tight-nit Team May top-down approach seems to have proved the consultative, research-based approach of the Crobyn team right for our times.

Labour’s policies may have been grounded in populist opinion rather than attainability – such as profit being an evil that harms us, corporation tax being a progressive way of taxing and improved public services paid for by someone else – but an effective dose of that is what’s needed in any political campaign.

Letting candidates go out and pitch local campaigns, on local issues, while basking in the relevant bits of the manifesto as showing a commitment to improving things for everyone, has been proven more effective than the ‘standing with Teresa May’ strict ‘lines to take’ approach of the Tories.

I read my local Tory’s campaign promises and I’m not sure what, other than Teresa May, he was promising to do for us locally. On the other hand, Labour and the Lib Dems both told me they’d save the local tip and fight against parking charge increases. Both things that matter.

There are lessons to be learnt here for future campaigns – positivity, hope and all that are essential ingredients of any campaign but keeping people involved, on board and feeling they have some power and will ‘get something’ for their vote is also a big part of framing yourself as the one people want to pick.

That and many other things, including the now-certainty that certainty in any public vote is nothing of the sort.

But this result has produced some questions: is, as some have suggested, a hung parliament the electorate saying ‘none of the above’, or is it more like ‘all of the above’.

What comes next is going to need to be very different indeed to the campaign and what went before if it is to have any sort of legitimacy and risk causing anger against the Tories which won’t subside even if – as seems improbable – the next election isn’t until 2022.

May cannot do what she appeared to be doing yesterday: pursuing ‘business as usual’ on Brexit and her stability.

Even without details of what Brexit with May was, the electorate has not given her a mandate for her interpretation of “yes, we would like to leave the European Union” and that means BAU isn’t an option.

She must now consider her next move, and – as well as becoming more open about her leadership – become more open with us too. Mirroring the EU’s approach wouldn’t hurt her reputation, nor her hand – as she is so adamant it would but doing the opposite absolutely will.

This election was all about May’s strong and stable leadership, strengthening her hand for her negotiations and – although we did enough that she could remain Prime Minister, we haven’t given her free-reign.

When we were shafted by the EU 27 before, the foundations of the narrative for it being Remain and Johnny Foreigner’s fault were there to be built up into a skyscraper slowly and steadily over the course of two years.

Now, the narrative for it being May’s fault has not only got foundations but – in Grand Designs style – has arrived as a pre-built wooden structure which could be put up in just a couple of weeks, even by Jeremy Corbyn.

So everything is pretty much as it was before, but a bit shitter.

#Election2017: If the chat hasn’t moved on…

As the General Election trundles on, my fear is only increasing that once again I’m going to have to watch an all-night programme which would make great drama, but makes me fear for the future of the planet.

I can recall knowing that from the moment I heard David Cameron would be holding an in-out referendum on the European Union that we’d end up voting out (I can recall the exact conversation where I said it, months before, and considered whether I wanted to do something about it) just the same as I didn’t bother staying up for the US election coverage because I was resigned to a Trump victory.

This time it’s different of course: both of those victories, as someone I was expressing my fears to noted, because the ‘oh god no’ results were both right wing and the result I fear this time is staunchly not.

But without wanting to sound like a column from immediately post-Brexit, I’m still not entirely confident we’re working in a left-right world at the moment. Brexit and Trump were both tails of the unattainable, but nice, outcomes.

A vote for Brexit was a vote to have our cake and eat it (according to the polls) and would be simple to do, the reality perhaps not so much. A vote for Trump was a vote to Make America Great Again – and I’d recommend a listen to the Pessimist’s Archive podcast on exactly when the ‘great’ times were for a precis of how realistic that might be.

This time we’ve got two dreamy stories set against one another: a magic money tree of nationalisation and a free owl for everyone, or a dull, strong and stable Brexit which will somehow deliver us into the Utopia Brexiteers imagined when bus liveries were but a twinkle.

What this election should have been about was honest conversations, but it hasn’t been. We’ve continued the great traditions of kicking difficult conversations and decisions down the road while the media have reported more on the management of the election and the polls than on what each of the parties promises to do (or what they’ve done before).

With a conversation that’s not moved on much since 2015, should we be surprised if the result hasn’t either?

#BEDM17 My favourite quote, and why

I’m blogging every day in May, for no particular reason other than I can. I’ve come up with 31 topics and I’m going to bash on my keyboard about each of them. If you enjoy them then you’re welcome; if you don’t, then why are you still here?

“Everything will be okay in the end, so if everything is not okay then it is not the end.”

OK, so it’s an overdone one and although most of the Internet seems to be convinced it’s a John Lennon quote, while others seem to say it comes from an Indian proverb. I’m not sure what the truth is, and I’m not sure how true what the quote says is either but it’s a nice thought, and we should all hold as many of those as we can.

Each year about 6,500 people in the UK decide that everything is so not OK that it is the end for them. More men make the decision than women, making men about three times more likely to take their own life than women.

Back in 2010, at the end of May, my dad became one of those 6,500 people a year and, although I can still re-live each aspect of the day (and even the evening before, when I spoke to him by phone), I still can’t really put much of this stuff into words.

My dad, alone on that night in May, decided that everything was not OK, and that it was the end. And as someone who, aside from being very clever beyond that he’d ever have admitted or realised, was well known for being stubborn and dogged this quote, when I heard it in that film about India, joined up some neurons that’ve stuck.

It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to ask for help. And it’s OK to just do your best if people in your life need you to help them.

He’d have been 62 today.

#BEDM17 The call to PR: too late or too early?

I’m blogging every day in May, for no particular reason other than I can. I’ve come up with 31 topics and I’m going to bash on my keyboard about each of them. If you enjoy them then you’re welcome; if you don’t, then why are you still here?

Today’s another of those posts where the title’s been in my head for a while, but I’ve never quite managed to put the words down. Maybe my #BEDM17 ‘write and publish’ approach will make it easier?

It’s something that at work I’m plagued with. Some people think that communications about a project should be a healthy step ahead of the reality while others are cautious to the point of concern.

There are risks either way: if you’re doing things no one else is then talking about them is a scary thing. It can go wrong, it can end up not happening or – even worse I think – when real people start hearing about it they can point out the down sides you’d not considered.

On the other hand, going too late carries a risk too because there’s a good chance that by the time you are confident talking about it someone else will have already done it, talked about it and made what you’re doing seem either normal or copy-cat-ish.

And that’s even before you consider the internal aspects: stakeholders’ objectives are often the complete reverse of one another, and the opinions of what you’re doing, introducing or changing ‘on the ground’ might not match with what you want to say too.

This is especially true of technology projects, where the tech might be good and even delivering good outcomes like you’d hoped, but the experience of using them – for someone who has done it the other way for 30 years – isn’t seen an improvement.

Sometimes it’s possible to manage them all: I pushed for the ‘go earlier’ approach on one particular announcement a few months ago and the coverage was great, even being picked up for a discussion by a professional body with some more positive coverage and discussion around it on Facebook.

It was, undoubtedly, positive for reputation.

But I had to manage internal issues for more than a month after, because the view internally was that it had made a bad impression and what we’d said was ‘spin’.

I’ve been through and checked and everything that’s been included in the release we sent out can be backed up with data. The release was signed off as it should’ve been, too.

So while it achieved my objective of scoring positive coverage for an achievement, it’s probably made things more difficult for line managers and perhaps even caused a ‘them and us’ situation.

It’ll probably make getting the next release signed off that title bit harder.

Going earlier isn’t always the right call, but in this case I think I’d not have been doing my job right to let it get delayed.

It’s a tough one.

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee via Foter.com / CC BY

#BEDM17 Encouragement

I’m blogging every day in May, for no particular reason other than I can. I’ve come up with 31 topics and I’m going to bash on my keyboard about each of them. If you enjoy them then you’re welcome; if you don’t, then why are you still here?

Encouragement is great isn’t it? It’s an essential part of life, a part of why stuff happens and an absolute essential if you’re line managing people.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned that’s different about managing people in an office-type job instead of a shop-type job it’s that encouragement is not only an essential in the former and optional in the latter but also is something that people don’t produce all for themselves.

I’ve always been rather self-sufficient in this department. Lucky enough to only have to do stuff I enjoyed or, as I like to see it, I’ve been lucky enough to think in a way that means I can find a reason to do almost anything I’ve ever been asked to.

There’s no other way that I’d have survived those years sat in a call centre asking people what they thought about a recent visit to a bank branch otherwise.

But encouragement is a tricky thing, so it seems. I found myself mightily discouraged a couple of months ago by what the giver probably thought would be tremendous help.

You see, I think encouragement becomes significantly demotivating when it’s used to try and encourage something which is being viewed as impossible. I received just this kind of effect recently when my tutor emailed me about deferring my final submission on the CIPR Diploma in Public Relations which I was originally due to finish in April.

You see, work got a little bit hectic as we grew the amount of work we were doing by half and it all culminated on 31 March – the same day as ‘hand in’ for the 6,000 word final research project was due.

I enquired about deferring and my tutor gave me the information I needed, including confirming that there was pretty much no reason not to ‘go late’. No penalty, and a hell of a weight off my mind.

But she followed it up with an encouragement to do as much as possible and try and head for the first deadline anyway. Most people loose momentum if they don’t finish it first time, and I might be surprised by what I could get done she reasoned.

It’s a fair call, but it continued. Having confirmed by reply that I wanted to go ahead with the deferral I was again encouraged to ‘get it out of the way’ and go for the earlier deadline.

As it was I managed to complete about 1,500 words ahead of the deadline – and all in the lit review.

While the (demotivating) encouragement didn’t really have a negative effect on my work, it really did make me question whether I was being monumentally stupid and missing something in making the decision.

She seemed very keen, and seemed to be inferring I was making the wrong call. I’m sure she meant nothing by it, and otherwise her advice has been spot on, but the issue remained.

So after a year of learning how useful encouragement can be (and that other people need it, too) this year also taught me that encouragement can be discouraging if someone’s made their mind up.

So if someone comes to me in a similar situation I’m going to make sure I encourage their decision, provided they’re not missing something of course, instead.

We all face so many pressures from so many directions that helping the tide of good decisions along probably isn’t a bad thing.

Photo credit: Foter.com