Friday, October 08, 2010

Politicians and "the vision thing": a good thing?

The British Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative) speaks of "the Big Society" while the Shadow Leader, Ed Miliband (Labour), speaks of a "New Generation". Two political leaders with different political visions, as well as a shared problem.

The problem is simple: these themes are not capturing the public imagination and each should be dropped.

Cameron's "Big Society" idea is one he has consistently pressed both pre-election and post-election. Yet, it has also consistently failed to win over much support. His critics can be found in the opinion pages of newspapers as diverse as The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.

Likewise, there has been confusion over what precise Ed Miliband means by "New Generation" (as in Labour represents a "New Generation" under his leadership). His idea immediately ran into trouble. For example, many supporters are older. Not to worry, we were told, this "new" generation is built on a mindset of ideas and not age. Huh? Thus, 60 year old Alan Johnson becomes Shadow Chancellor as Miliband appears to go to experience over youth, such as in choosing Yvette Cooper (my first choice for the post). Of course, it will be hard to appeal to voters that you representa  new generation in choosing experience first (however understandable such a choice is).

It was once said that politicians needed "the vision thing" (and it has been argued that Miliband and his leadership contenders all lacked it). Politicians want to be known as movers of big ideas, not just policy wonks.

It is important to have a clear vision. One major reason is that it allows voters to more easily identify with your policies. Political marketing and ideological packaging is an art.

Yet, getting the vision wrong almost makes it better to lack one. Thus, better to have no stated vision than a vision so opaque no one understands it. This seems to be the position of Cameron and Miliband. Both should drop their "Big Society" and "New Generation" slogans for now. They seem to be better at distracting us from more clearly discussing what to do about the economy and other leading issues than help. In other words, they fail to shed additional light (and may even bring further darkness).

This is not to say that they should forever avoid promoting their vision. It is to say they should only do so when they have drafted a more convincing picture. Two leaders, two visions, same problem.


Paul Johnson said...

Is it perhaps a little too early to tell if Miliband's vision is not working?

Although I agree that it is very vague and ill explained, there has not really been time for the electorate to properly react to it.

Thom Brooks said...

You are correct to say that it is early days and the public needs to learn more about this vision, but I strongly doubt 'new generation Labour' will catch on as well as 'New Labour' -- and perhaps fall as flat as 'the Big Society'. Time will tell...