This is my last blog post before the country goes to the polls next Thursday. Next Friday we could be waking up to a new government. Or to a weekend of uncertainty, backroom deals and horse-trading. I know which one my money is on…
It’s easily the most difficult-to-predict election of my lifetime. Not least because of the lack of posters and placards. In the old days you had a real sense of which way the mood was running by the profusion of red or blue posters. No-one who did any driving in 1997 could be in any doubt that Tony Blair would be walking through the doors of Downing Street. Now we seem to have the complete opposite: not so much election fever as election apathy. As I drive around North Yorkshire some of the parties have been comprehensively beaten by ‘Prepare to Meet Thy God.’
The apathy must in large part be a reflection of the lacklustre performance of our political leaders. I simply can’t think of a memorable statement or soundbite from Cameron or Miliband in the last two months. No wonder people can’t be bothered to put up placards.
This post was inspired by a great piece in CapX by Chris Deerin. It’s about Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson – two women who, by common consent, have had remarkably successful Election campaigns. But this – even with six days to go – isn’t a politics blog. So the question’s simple: are there any business lessons we can learn from the General Election campaign and the success of Ms Sturgeon and Ms Davidson?
Firstly their success simply reinforces what has been a recurring theme of this blog. The job of a leader is to lead. I make no apologies for saying I will shudder on May 8th if Nicola Sturgeon flies south to tell Ed what he’s going to do. As a Spectator editorial recently said, ‘Nicola Sturgeon’s aim is to put Ed Miliband in power, then torture him.’
But what has the leader of the SNP done? She has set out a vision of leadership and invited people to follow her. ‘That’s where we’re going and if you don’t want to follow me there’s the door.’ For Ms Sturgeon read Margaret Thatcher – and also read the owner of any SME who wants to be successful.
Contrast that with ‘We’re on course, don’t let the other lot ruin it.’ It’s a sensible message, but it isn’t leadership. People do not rise up and follow bookkeepers.
Secondly, as Deerin points out, the nature of leadership is changing – and if you want to win votes, or customers, you need to change with it.
The Conservatives have relentlessly told us that they’re competent. And they are: by and large the economy is recovering and that’s widely accepted by a host of independent commentators.
But competence no longer seems to be enough: the country doesn’t seem to like the Conservative politicians. There’s no empathy: no common ground.
Deerin asks a simple question: ‘Is there a single member of the Labour front bench you’d like to go for a drink with?’ He might equally ask it about the Conservative front bench. Maybe Boris after the election, but I suspect even then one drink might be enough.
It’s an exact extension of what I wrote last week: your marketing needs to be personal. Yes, I can buy a great t-shirt from Howies, but I can also connect with their story. As Deerin says, we want to connect with our politicians, but we can’t empathise with public school – Oxbridge – special adviser – safe seat. We can connect with Dreghorn Primary and a small town in Ayrshire, or a journalist in her mid-30s whose dad played for Partick Thistle.
I don’t know what will happen on May 7th – but whoever wins, there are going to be significant changes. As owners and directors of SMEs we’ll have to adapt to the inevitable changes in legislation and economic policy: but we’ll also need to learn lessons from the way the campaign has been fought. And perhaps ask ourselves an increasingly pertinent marketing question: would my potential clients like to go for a drink with me?