Monday, 13 August 2012

Prime Minister Johnson?

Even before the closing ceremony had finished, there had been much talk of what shape or form the  Olympic legacy may take.  There is, without question, a renewed sense of national self-confidence and a groundswell of united pride, the like of which hasn't been seen since the Thatcher government successfully liberated the Falkland Islands in 1982.   The general election of 1983 returned the Conservatives to power so ardently that a shakey Mrs Thatcher became the Iron Lady and received a mandate for change which eventually led to the socio-economic reforms which inexorably altered the nature of the UK's economy for good. Together with Charles and Diana's Royal wedding of the previous year, Thatcher's government presided over a period of renewed national fervor and converted this into stunning electoral gains.

Cameron's leadership thus far, like Thatcher's first two years, has been marked by critical voices from within his own party.  Uncertainty over his particularly cuddly brand of Conservatism has actually grown rather than died away since the 2010 General Election.  His marriage to Clegg's Liberal Democrats was a necessary union which brought his party to power but has since served to further accentuated his liberal leanings and consequently only brought further discord within the party.  Although William and Kate's marriage and the Queen's Jubilee combine to become roughly comparable in scale to the royal wedding of 1981, it has been the Olympics rather than the intervention in Libya which has been Cameron's latter day Falklands in terms of effect on the public mood.  However, Cameron's reticence to attend events down at Eton Dorny for fear of being seen near his own school, coupled with his increasingly overshadowed attendances at other events have left the Prime Minister very much a mere passenger on board the Boris train.  While Thatcher's great rival Michael Hesseltine was thrust into the background during the Falklands, Cameron's Hesseltine, Boris Johnson, has been brought to the fore.  The blonde bombshell's already high profile has gone from strength to strength during the games.  His unscripted 'Boris moments' such as the delicious moment when he was left dangling from a zip wire in the Olympic park stand anathema to Cameron's over-polished stage-managed appearances which were splashed around anywhere near a successful British athlete.

For many, despite their shared education and socio-economic backgrounds, Boris is the more approachable figure.  His ascerbic wit, shoddy dress sense and ridiculous hair provide the kind of brand identity that Cameron could only dream of.  His gaffe-prone public appearances conspire to inspire his audiences rather than concern them.  But there's more to Boris Johnson than just his humorous appeal; it's not just his public image that people love, rather that he is a successful leader:  he has delivered.  In the public's eye he is unquestionably the Commander-in-chief of London and the London Olympics and his performance in this regard has been exemplary.  When the dust settles, Johnson's electoral 'bounce' may be so strong that not even he will be able to stop it.  He is to the London Olympics as Thatcher was to the Falklands and Cameron hasn't so much as had a look-in.

It is difficult to see what could possibly propel Cameron to such heights in the electorate's regard.  As discord over the EU, the financial crisis, swinging cuts and Cameron's inability to understand that liberals will never vote for him (and Conservatives might stop doing so) continues to grow  then the party may well look for new leadership.  Johnson's unashamed Etonianism will appeal to the small 'c' conservative core of the Party in addition to the rest of the country's new found love of the man.  In answer to the articles chief question, it may just be that whether Mr Johnson wants it or not, his inexorable rise might take him to the very top and inherit the Conservative Party leadership.  He has become Cameron's Hesseltine, the de-facto stalking horse for any leadership contest of the future. That said, he would first need to be an MP or a member of the 'other place' in order to become PM and for that, he would need a constituency that would vote for him as well as a sitting MP prepared to stand aside and force a bi-election.
Thus, Boris for PM? Maybe, one day, but not yet.  First, Cameron would need to be pushed out and a constituency seat must become available.


Sunday, 22 July 2012

Re-branding; UKIP to the next level

A year ago I met with a senior member of UKIP at his home office.  For much of my time with him, the MEP in question seemed concerned that I was a member of the tabloid press.  This concern actually bordered on paranoia.  It was clear; he felt that the press was out against UKIP and that the press was to be feared.  In the light of the News Corp scenario (which occurred after my meeting with said UKIP MEP) I can see why he was concerned.  The British Press has for years taken sides, made figures of fun out of those politicians that it dislikes and generally spun stories in both positive and negative ways in order to gain influence, sell papers or both.  

However, the British media's focus on UKIP seems to be softening.  No longer the hard lens of scrutiny aimed at poking fun, UKIP is now viewed through a wide angle which landscapes the larger political picture, and crucially mainstream parties.  This is good for UKIP; the more it is framed in the same painting as the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberals, the more legitimacy it will gain.  And legitimacy is the key to acceptance, acceptance the answer to why UKIP performs so under-whelmingly at General Elections compared to their relative success in the Euros. In short, UKIP stands ready to scoop up the disfranchised, but it also needs to go further; it needs to offer credibility, brand image and aspiration. 

So, it's clear that if UKIP are to make further electoral inroads towards mainstream domestic politics then they must step up a gear.  There are several factors which look as if inadequately addressed might scupper their recent rise.  These comprise a triumvirate of issues which are as follows: 

i)  Appalling brand image
ii) Poor media relations
iii) Decentralised party structure

All three major parties have addressed these issues long ago, and UKIP need to follow suit.  After all, if you want to beat them; become them.

Therefore, this article suggests some basic ideas for UKIP which address the concerns listed above in order.  

i) Get rid of the child-like purple and yellow colour scheme and cartoon pound font.  Whilst these colours are complementary, they also wouldn't look out of place sat in patchwork together on a child's duvet cover.  However, they are unique and do separate the party from the blue of the Conservatives and the red of Labour.  Thus, swap yellow for the gold of a genuine Pound coin and deepen the purple to a maroon made from the red and blue of the Union flag.  Isn't that what it's all about?  People have gone to their deaths to defend these colours, and therefor they are incredibly powerful and have the weight and feel of history behind them.  Adopting the prestige of patriotism is an incredibly powerful and emotive thing.  With reference to the gold, I'm not talking shiny, tacky 'bling' gold, but the deep rich gold of a 10 year old, well thumbed, good old fashioned quid.  
Further, step-up the pictoral rhetoric.  The imperial lion and the green and pleasant lands of Great Britain of old are both free to good home and are presently unused by any of the mainstreamers.  Tapping into these iconic images not only lends credence but also furthers the motion of UKIP as the party of Britain.  Further, there is a current fashion trend for 'Keep Calm and Carry On' posters.  They are everywhere, in all incarnations.  UKIP need to get hold of this ready-made brand distribution, hook in to the image in their own way.  In short, take ownership of a vacant possession.  'Keep Calm and Vote UKIP' or 'Keep Calm and Leave the EU' spring to mind.  
Finally, UKIP needs to change it's name.  There are some unsavoury if entirely unjustified brand blurring with the BNP.  This needs to end.  We are in the United Kingdom and we wouldn't be considering voting UKIP if we didn't know you were a party.  Thus,
"INDEPENDENCE" is a solid, no nonsense alternative name which maintains the positive elements of UKIP and throws of the cumbersome abbreviation.  

ii) The spotlight on Alistair Campbell and more recently Andy Coulson has shown two things.  
Firstly, that each of the major parties understand the need for strong media relations.  
Secondly, that the concept of a former tabloid editor as a 'spin doctor' is a tainted one.  But this reveals an opportunity.  As the old media platforms of television, radio and the printed press begin to fade, and the new media of Twitter, Facebook and other web-based two-way content gains greater influence, the new Coulson or Campbell ought to be a social networking specialist.  The 'Facebook election' of Obama in 2008 and the recent 'Arab Spring' has revealed that only social media has the power to rival the Murdoch/BBC two party old-media monopoly.  The internet is a powerful and influential place which is yet to be adequately leveraged by any of the domestic 'big three' parties.  Hire some recent graduates who really understand this genre, go viral, understand that ideas spread through internet social networks in the same way as contagious disease spreads through populations, and take advantage of the current reticence of the mainstreamers to marry Murdoch. 

iii) UKIP operates an almost federal party structure based loosely along the regions of the UK as seen from Brussels.  This is a good tactic at Euro Election level, but falls short for domestic purposes. A central office will permit Farage to control his almost wayward MEPS and candidates, and assist in maintaining a whip and a party line which can be more efficiently controlled and disseminated across media platforms.

At it's heart, this article believes that UKIP, or 'INDEPENDENCE' as I'd suggest it should re-brand, is knocking on the mainstream's door.  Working and Middle Class families up and down the UK are disenfranchised with the usual options and are looking for a viable alternative.  On the policy front, UKIP provide this.  Support for Grammar Schools, a withdrawal from the embattled EU, reducing the deficit, patriotism and old fashioned values help form an attractive solid core of policy which will continue to garner more and more support.  However, a poor media image and a weak brand is holding the party back from achieving the respectability, no, the desirability it needs to succeed. 

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