Jack Nicholson, the election and handling the truth


Can words win elections?

Words are never more important than during an election – ask any speechwriter, any copywriter producing copy for an election flyer or anyone responsible for the phrasing in a manifesto.

Politicians are often accused of hot air but every word they say – or in today’s world, write on Twitter or other social media – is scrutinised by the media for the soundbites that can make or break an election campaign.

The prevalence of spin

Because the world of politics understands that it’s not only about the policies that people come up with but also how they present them to the world, spin doctors have become powerful elements in any election.

However, this means that many politicians seem to tie themselves in knots in order to answer questions in the vaguest way possible. Or they avoid answering the question completely and simply spout carefully rehearsed policy.

Is honesty the best policy?

The public says it wants honesty, rather than politicians that say what we want to hear, but, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in the film A Few Good Men, can we handle the truth?

We tend to celebrate minor party leaders and maverick MPs for their outspokenness and apparent honesty, even when their beliefs are abhorrent to us. But most MPs of major parties have to toe the party line or suffer the headlines the following day.

You only have to read politician’s memoirs to find out about things that went on behind the scenes that were not revealed to the public at the time – for example, for reasons of national security. At the same time, the expenses scandal showed the downside of trusting politicians 100%.

Positive v negative stories

As a copywriter, I work with companies to help them get the news out about the positive things they do. At the same time I wouldn’t advise them to put out specific criticism of named competitors. It’s one thing to say a company is great because of ABC – it’s another to say their competitors are rubbish because of XYZ.

It’s not the same in the political arena, where it’s important for political parties to criticise the opposition policies they disagree with. However, what puts a lot of people off politics is when this descends into the personal attacks and barracking of Prime Minister’s Questions.

Should we take politicians’ words seriously?

As yourself this question: do actions speak louder than words? And what if there’s a disconnect between what politicians say and what they do?

The truth is that, whatever politicians put in their manifestos, they will be judged on their actions after they have won the election (or failed to win and formed a coalition).

The real truth of elections

Whatever you think of politicians and their rhetoric, please vote on 7 May. Because the real truth of elections is that people died campaigning for universal suffrage in the UK and there are still many countries around the world where the ‘ordinary people’ and ‘hard-working families’ that politicians love to venerate have no voice at all.

On my reading pile at the moment: Sally Heathcote: Suffragette by Mary M Talbot, Kate Charlesworth & Bryan Talbot








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