Five communications lessons from the UK General Election

February 26, 2015

Five communications lessons in the immediate aftermath of the UK general election:

1. People don’t always tell the truth

This is not (for once) an accusation to be made at politicians, but rather of the electorate. We have witnessed at previous UK general elections (most notably in 1992) the tendency of some people to avoid admitting to be Conservative voters, perhaps wishing not to appear economically self-interested. Is this why the opinion polls in the run up to Election Day got it wrong? How many of those ‘one-in-four undecided’ in the polls were really bashful Conservatives voters?

2. Fear is a powerful motivator

Both the main parties ran fear-led campaigns. Labour said the National Health Service and other public services were at risk with the Conservatives. The Conservatives said the economy was at risk with Labour, especially if supported by the Scottish Nationalists. It appears the economic fears won the day. The Conservatives’ strategist Lynton Crosby was strongly criticised for the narrow and fear-focused campaign. With hindsight, it appears he made the right call.

3. Politicians don’t always fake it

Election results are one of the rare occasions we see professional politicians tap into their real, rather than manufactured, emotions. People’s destinies and lives are dramatically changed by elections, and on election night/morning it shows. Even the political enemies of (now former) shadow chancellor Ed Balls cannot avoid being touched by his clearly heart-felt speech following losing his seat. Tania Mathias, the new Conservative MP for Twickenham was visibly stunned on realising she had defeated former business secretary Vince Cable.

4. Personal image matters

Despite a personal campaign that was above most people’s expectations, Ed Miliband was never able entirely to overcome his geeky image and look like a credible alternative Prime Minister. As the incumbent, David Cameron had the opportunity to appear statesmanlike and reassuring, and he took maximum advantage of this.

5. Don’t assume you’ll get the credit

Many commentators believe that the Liberal Democrats were a positive influence within the Coalition Government; a force for stability and moderation, and willing to take necessary but uncomfortable decisions. Yet they have been rewarded with the loss of the vast majority of their seats. By distancing themselves from the Conservative-led Coalition in the run up to the election the LibDems allowed the Conservatives to take all the credit for an improving economy, while they were blamed for the compromises they made on some of the Coalition’s less popular policies.