Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons’
Foundation, Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell’s Laws of
the Public Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and
President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
Number 7: Don’t fire all your ammunition at once.
This is one of the golden rules of politics, followed masterfully by
Alistair Campbell and David Davis (who, astonishingly, I found out are
It may run counter to what you might think is the best approach,
particularly given that current culture demands ever greater
sensationalism for something to be reported in the mainstream media.
The joy of the rise of the new media, including blogs such as
ConservativeHome, Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale, is that bloggers can help
start a deserving bandwagon to roll that would otherwise not roll if it
were simply left to the mainstream print and broadcast media.
David Davis’ mastery in the application of this rule can be seen in his successes in forcing the resignations of Beverley Hughes and David Blunkett (by which I mean Blunkett’s resignation as Home Secretary: I appreciate it is confusing WHICH forced resignation I am referring to..!). Davis did not fire everything off at once to create a media circus. He drip-fed the information that he had to selected journalists, waited for denials from the government and the minister, drip-fed some more, waited for another dissembling response from the government and the minister, and then drip-fed the last few nuggets on an almost daily basis.
Alistair Campbell likewise was an expert at this, particularly when Labour was in opposition and in its early years in government. The fiasco over John Major’s doomed “Back to Basics” policy and the way that that campaign was side-tracked by example after example of “Tory sleaze” is a clear case in point. It seems as though the Loans for Peerages scandal is being similarly well managed, ably assisted by some vigorous campaigning by Guido Fawkes, among others.
On a practical level for conservative activists – be they student activists, local government candidates or even parliamentarians – the concept of not firing all your ammunition at once is essential. It would be tragic to unleash everything you have against your opponent in one opening salvo, only for the issue not to grab the attention of the media. Worse is for your opponent to deny the charges made against him and for you to have nothing further to unleash, thereby killing the story dead.
Far better is to lure your opponent into a denial and then to reveal that he in fact lied. A particular approach used frequently in politics on both sides of the Atlantic is to feed a story to the media, demand an explanation from your opponent, then when he gives an explanation to ask him to give the REAL explanation, followed (when he does so) by demanding an apology, then for you to demand a real apology after he apologises inadequately the first time. This is then followed by a second wave of information being fed to the media that shows that, despite his supposed explanations and apologies, your opponent has in fact misled the public and (a far worse crime in their eyes) the media.
As in any battle it takes great nerve not to fire all your ammunition at once. Occasionally you can be lucky unleashing everything at once and still hitting the target. More often than not, however, you will want to fire your ammunition at a time of your choosing and with proper prior thought. It is a skill that takes time to learn but it is a seminal rule of the public policy process.
THE PREVIOUS ENTRY IN THIS SERIES: A prompt, generous letter of thanks can seal a commitment which otherwise might disappear when the going gets rough.