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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 11-Jun-17


Sunday 11-June-17

Politics, Brand and the Detoxification Problem

As I predicted in last week's blog, the UK parliament is now 'hung', with no party having an overall majority. Prime Minister Theresa May ran a dreadful campaign based on a presidential personal appeal, during which she often appeared nervous and unsure, where she would not even engage in a leader's debate. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn demolished a 20 point poll disadvantage with a very human presentation in which he came over as honest and committed to 'good' socialist principles. Even with the appalling terrorist events that should have played to the natural 'law and order' territory of the Conservative party, May got wrong-footed as she had just presided over a cut in police numbers of 20,000 while Corbyn was proposing restoring 10,000 of these.

So here we are. The Conservatives are trying to make up the numbers for a majority by allying with the DUP party from Northern Ireland. In some ways, it is a natural match as the DUP are right wing. However, it is not that easy. First of all, the DUP represent one side of the Irish divide, with the Catholic Sinn Fein on the other. Sinn Fein are not going to be too pleased with the DUP getting a seat at the top table, especially as the rift between the two means there is currently no functional NI governing assembly.

The other problem is that the DUP have fairly extreme views on topics including gay marriage, creationism and climate change. This is a particular issue for the Conservatives, who are occasionally labelled as 'the nasty party' and who have had a long project to improve their brand image. This has been called 'detoxification' or, more vaguely, 'modernisation'. They have worked for a long time on this, which is natural as changing one's image is hard work. An example was where the previous Conservative government legalised gay marriage. However, they declared it as 'done' far too early. Now, even if the DUP hold fire on attacking this, the mere association with them sets the Conservative image back years. It's a calamity in the making.

As 'Kingmakers', the DUP are also flexing their new political muscles. After the Conservatives announced they had come to an agreement with them, the DUP contradicted this by saying that they were still negotiating.

Meanwhile, the Europeans, who are due to begin Brexit negotiations with the UK in a few weeks must be laughing into their beer. In trying to get an overpowering majority and a strong mandate, the Conservative government has collapsed into a weak pile.

Their biggest mistakes?

  1. Hubris. Taking the electorate for fools. Assuming that Brexit would be the main concern, and with such a large poll advantage they could walk in with a harsh manifesto.
  2. Brand. Not understanding how important this is and how easy it is to damage. Brand is about image and trust, and the Conservatives have played too fast and loose with this.

A key lesson for many of us is that brand is more central to reputation than we may realize, and that if we want to 'detoxify' it, removing elements that harm our reputation, then this is both hard work and requires constant attention. In practice it often means culture change, whereby those who sustain unwanted old views are corrected, contained or ejected. Personally, we also need to realize that when we make friends with a person, then all of our other friends will notice and may change their opinion of us based on what they think of that new friend. This can cause moral as well as personal problems, but it is a reality and we need to be aware of the dynamics of our personal brand.

Back to politics. Here's my prediction: The Conservatives will stagger on for a while in this damaging relationship. Theresa May will be kicked out as leader before too long. They will develop a new manifesto that avoids some of the more toxic elements of the previous one (such as the 'dementia tax' where people pay for elderly care with their houses). The new leader will be much better at self-presentation. And they will call yet another general election. Probably in the Autumn or next Spring. In this, I suspect they will get more seats, perhaps returning to their former position with a reasonable, but not large overall majority.

Let's see.

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