Our advice to the Tory leadership candidates does not differ from our advice to clients in the spotlight. It is only the substance and the level of scrutiny that is challenging.
Our Advice: Get the Lines on Brexit Watertight
- Have your stance on Brexit clearly thought through and articulated so that anyone voting for you knows (and can repeat in your words) what you stand for. It is not the ideas that count, that is just the starting point. It is the exact words you want to have crafted and rehearsed. And of course, prepare answers to the tough Brexit questions. This may seem like stating the obvious, but preparation includes arming yourself with answers to all possible challenging questions. It is surprising how many politicians can trot out their prepared pitch confidently and then become flustered and inarticulate when a journalist asks the obvious tough question.
- Have one or two stand-out ideas that are not Brexit related, to indicate life after Brexit. Boris Johnson’s tax cut for those earning more than 50k is an example. Hunt is talking about abortion limits (deep sigh from me), while Gove wants to change the VAT system.
Our Advice: Don’t get Personal, Don’t get Nasty
- Be tough but respectful. Leadership requires a sense of ‘grit’ – giving the impression you will not funk difficult decisions. At the same time mud-slinging, attacking or undermining opponents smacks of weakness, not strength. (This is why political leaders tend to get others to do their dirty work. I am old enough to remember the Brown-Blair feuds and the machinations of Charlie Whelan.)
- Learn to answer a question before landing a message. After Theresa May, commentators will be super critical of a candidate who appears to ignore every question put. My colleague Eric Dixon blogged about this a few weeks ago.
Our Advice: Don’t Lie
- Don’t lie. The private prosecution of Boris Johnson for lying over the £350m a week to Brussels claim in the Brexit referendum failed after a legal challenge. But the fact that it was brought at all shows there will be a section of the audience watching out for any outright lie. Given the uncertainty around Brexit and the need for leaders to ‘sell’ confidence if not certainty, this may be a hard one. The question ‘is there a chance there will be food shortages after a hard Brexit?’ is, for example, difficult for a politician to answer honestly without prompting some very unhelpful headlines.
Our Advice: It is all about Authenticity
- Sound authentic. This is the big one. Authenticity is the name of the game. On this measure Boris is the one to beat – he doesn’t try to present a manicured front to the public. His hair is a mess, he has made a fool of himself many times. In a different age this would all have counted against him but in the era of Trump, Farage, Zelensky (the new President of Ukraine) etc. it is an asset. Corbyn used to have authenticity but he lost it along the way. (In this Irish Times piece Chris Johns looks at the role of authenticity but he thinks Boris is lacking in this department). Rory Stewart who describes himself as a “Trumpian anti-Trump’ is working hard on authenticity as well as getting to grips with the modern use of social media, both of which are very interesting from an observer’s point of view. However, at the moment it doesn’t seem to be aimed at his fellow MPs, who as we know, have the votes that matter at this stage. Our advice on message building always includes targeting the relevant audience.
Our Advice: Avoid Greek Mythology and Latin Phrases
- Finally, we would advise against using Latin or making references to Greek mythology. As regular readers know, we at The Media Coach love metaphors but they have to be carefully chosen. Boris Johnson told the Sunday Times last weekend “I truly believe only I can steer the country between the Scylla and Charybdis of Corbyn and Farage and on to calmer water.” Almost everyone would have had to look that one up!
Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons