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Our Advice to the Tory Leadership Candidates

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

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

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

communication style leadership

Communication style: Tory leadership race

Communication style will be a crucial factor in the Tory leadership race. The five candidates all threw their hats in the ring this week as the political meltdown following the Brexit vote continued to dominate UK headlines.

MPs will be voting today (5th July) with the results announced at 7pm.  The next round of voting will take place on Thursday 7th.  In this post, I am going to give a quick analysis of the communication style of each of the candidates.

 

tory leadership 2016

There are five contenders in the Tory leadership race

 Communication style: Theresa May

Theresa May, as I write the front runner, launched her bid with an excellent speech. Why do I think it was good:

  • It was statesman-like and extremely reassuring.
  • It went to extraordinary lengths to be inclusive.
  • It gave clear answers to the hot topic question. No invoking of Article 50 until the negotiating position is clear. No general election until 2020, and no change in the status of EU nationals in the UK.
  • The best line for me ‘I am the daughter of a local vicar and the granddaughter of a regimental sergeant major, public service is what we do’.
  • The speech was clear, structured and well paced.

What I would change:

  • After the hyperbole of the referendum campaigns, Theresa May’s lack of ‘showiness’ may be seen as a real virtue but if she wins it will not be long before people claim she is ‘boring’. She will not go down as one of the world’s great orators because she chooses not to let her passion show.
  • One of the perception-dangers of being a very senior woman is that you can come across as being schoolmarmish. The launch speech mostly avoided this but in general, May is a bit austere and preachy.
  • May doesn’t tell stories. Inserting anecdotes about ‘Joe who I met last week in Sunderland’ has become a standard part of political speeches but is often done really badly. May chooses to avoid this.


Theresa May’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Andrea Leadsom

Andrea Leadsom gave a detailed interview to Andrew Marr before launching her campaign on Monday. She is a confident and authoritative speaker although with less gravitas than Theresa May.

Why her communication style is good:

  • She comes across as honest and straight forward.
  • She has a more positive vision and seems less tired than Theresa May.
  • She has warmth as well as some authority.
  • She is likeable and mostly in control.

What I would change:

  • In the Andrew Marr interview, her naiveté showed. In particular, she was bounced into promising to publish her tax returns even though she had clearly never considered this before the interview. (She later said she would only do this if she gets into the last two in the race.) This may seem like a small thing but you can’t have a Prime Minister that makes up policy in response to a tough question.
  • Although compared to the general population she has authority, she has less than Theresa May and Liam Fox.
  • She is, as a communicator, ‘lighter-weight’ than Theresa May and other female leaders such as Angela Merkel. Her voice is higher and more feminine. This shouldn’t matter but it might.

Andrea Leadsom’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Michael Gove

Michael Gove as a former journalist is a good communicator and he does, as do the others, articulate an argument well, particularly when on prepared ground. He also knows that he lacks some of the standard oratory skills. He said himself  ‘whatever charisma is, I don’t have it.”

  • Gove does show passion although his oration skills don’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
  • His launch speech was full of vision for a strong and proud Britain.
  • There is a strong sense of ‘grit’, a feeling that he is prepared to fight for what he believes is right.

What I would change:

  • Gove to me has an irritating voice and is also unfortunate looking. Both could be improved with a bit of effort.
  • When reading from his script in the launch speech, the sentences are too long, making it harder for him to make sense of it as he reads it.
  • He comes across as someone who has absolute conviction in his own view rather than someone who will lead a team of people with different views.

Michael Gove’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Stephen Crabb

Stephen Crabb is an outsider in this contest and many think he is mostly marking his card for the future.

What I like:

  • His communication style is less formal than the other candidates, he has a sense of Blair about him although this is somewhat reduced when giving a formal speech.
  • He has natural warmth and a slight regional (Welsh) accent, always a plus if you want to come across as a man of the people.
  • He uses lots of personal anecdotes.

What I would change:

  • He needs to let his natural warmth show when making or reading a speech. Not so easily done but just takes practice.

Stephen Crabb’s leadership launch transcript

Communication style: Liam Fox

Liam Fox is an experienced senior politician. He has gravitas. Like Stephen Crabbe he is much better (more appealing to normal people) in an interview than in his formal launch speech.

What I like:

  • Fox is blessed with a deep and statesman-like voice, more obvious in conversation or interview than in his launch speech.
  • He has gravitas.
  • His launch speech demonstrated his grasp of the international picture in a way the others did not.

What I would change:

  • I would want to see him inject his natural warmth into his formal speeches.
  • He would find it easier to read his speeches if he made his sentences shorter.
  • Sadly he comes across as another ‘grey man’ of politics. He is neither young, a woman or nerdy and this may count against him.

Liam Fox’s leadership launch transcript