By Jason MacKenzie, Managing Partner, Corporate Communications
The Telegraph’s Chief Political Correspondent Christopher Hope “can’t remember a worse start for a governing party to a general election campaign” and broadcaster Iain Dale labelled it a “clustershambles”.
But Boris Johnson’s hope for a Conservative majority on 12th December will depend on just three elements – a cohesive overarching narrative, a raft of strong key messages, and the power of repetition, repetition, repetition.
We’ve already had a gaffe by the Leader of the House of Commons, the resignation of the Welsh Secretary, and an attempted ‘empty chair’ smear against the Conservative Chairman by Kay Burley of Sky News – but will any of that blunt the power of the Conservative message machine? Nope.
How can I be so confident, though, when my recent track record of predicting election results has been less than stellar?
Four strikes? I should be out.
I was stunned when Mr Cameron won an outright majority in 2015. Yes, I was in the room in 2012 when the 40-40 strategy was unveiled, but like many others, I didn’t think it was achievable.
I knew Donald Trump couldn’t win the Presidency in 2016. I predicted the demise of his candidacy repeatedly, and with confidence. I wrote that Ted Cruz would stop the Trump Train in the Republican Primaries, and felt momentarily vindicated when he won the Iowa Caucuses. That turned out to be a blip, but after Trump had become the nominee, I felt certain that Secretary Clinton would win the Presidential Election. Again, I was wrong.
What about the EU Referendum? Well, we all knew that the Remain camp would triumph, right? Hmmm.
As for 2017, I was a pessimist. I predicted a 40-seat Tory majority – modest, in comparison to those prophesying 80, 100, even 120.
Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. But you’ve read this far: I’m glad. Because I’ve learnt.
The secret sauce
The consistent theme running through the winning campaigns is simple: a substantive set of promises, propositions and positions, sometimes (although not always) backed up by policies. These packages are communicated with clarity, to change perceptions and persuade prospective voters.
Let’s unpack that a little.
The relentless discipline of the Cameron campaign exposed the weaknesses of both Labour (Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket) and the Liberal Democrats, who had surrendered their competitive advantage by joining the coalition, and through the tuition fee debacle.
Trump had a simple message – ‘Make America Great Again’. It resonated, and through repetition gained traction. What was Hillary’s message? Exactly. Who knows? The Vote Leave campaign was similarly memorable: ‘Vote leave, take control’. I can’t even recall what the remain campaign was called, let alone what their slogan was.
The 2017 UK snap election was the exception. Running a presidential-style campaign with a confident and oft-repeated message made sense, except that the Conservative candidate was decidedly un-presidential. Mrs May undermined the message through her robotic performances and inability to connect with the electorate.
Big message, small messages
The challenge for Mr Johnson is to craft a big story, with clear underpinning key messages – and back them up with compelling rhetoric, consistent communication and plausible policies – substantiatiating the proposition.
When the Prime Minister took the podium this lunchtime, he drew sharp contrasts, framing this election as a direct choice between himself and Jeremy Corbyn’s “technicolour yawn of a coalition.” He then got on the front foot with a positive pitch.
“If I come back with a working majority in Parliament…then I will come back working for you…unleash this country’s potential…let’s make 2020 the year of investment and growth, not the year of two referendums.”
And that’s the overarching narrative – give the Tories a majority so that they can get on with the job of governing, or risk ongoing “dither and delay.”
My prediction: if the following messages cut through on the campaign trail, the Conservatives will secure a (just about) working majority, with 320 MPs.
- Get Brexit Done (taking control of money, borders and laws)
- 20,000 more police
- 40 new hospitals
- Levelling-up per-pupil funding across the country.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, SNP and Brexit Party will all fall short of expectations:
- The Liberal Democrats will get nowhere near the 57 MPs they achieved under Nick Clegg in 2010
- The SNP will gain a few seats, but nothing like their high point of 56 in 2015
- The Brexit Party will also underperform, sending just a handful of MPs to Westminster, all from Labour leave areas.
See you on the other side.
What do you reckon? Have I thrown off my losing streak?
Answers on a postcard…
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.