Nick Clegg’s Happy New Year Message arrived in my inbox today.
The message says a lot about what’s right with the Liberal Democrats’ policies in government.
It also says a lot about what’s wrong with the party’s communications.
We have had to make some very difficult decisions, but they’ve been the right ones for the long term good of our country.
But [the] economic rescue mission is not over yet. That’s why, thanks to the Liberal Democrats, the Coalition has been helping people get through these difficult times with measures to make life fairer and easier.
Sadly, the message is then struck by that old curse of progressive parties the world over – the laundry list of policies.
It lacks a narrative, a story, that links any of the policies together. Nor is there a story that explains in human terms how any one of the policies will make peoples lives better.
If you think I’m being too tough, see if you can identify in the message any of the following elements of a compelling political narrative:
• characters, especially heroes;
• events with a causality between them – one leads to the other;
• unanticipated action that sets up a problem or challenge;
• a realisation or insight by the political hero, leading to a transformation (or at least the promise of a transformation), usually for a group of people;
• an evocation of an emotional reaction, like hope or fear;
• an effort to address the sense of individual and group identity;
• the use of familiar, well-known national or historical stories;
• the offer of a sense of hope or reassurance, a “happy ending”.
Or, if you think this doesn’t matter, see how many of the messages or the “back up” policies you remember in a day’s time, after one reading or viewing. Then try it out on a couple of other people.
As the veteran US Democratic political consultants James Carville and Paul Begala once said:
“Facts tell, but stories sell … If you’re not communicating in stories, you’re not communicating.”