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.
This week I have been in the United States on business. I was able to see the final of American Idol (the US version of Pop Idol which still has Simon Cowell as one of the judges). More young people voted in that poll than voted in the last election for President of the United States. In Britain, more young people vote in Big Brother than vote in local or general elections (and in the case of European Parliament elections, more people of all ages).
It is easy to forget how odd most people who are political activists are. Many of us may spend hours reading political biographies, policy papers or pamphlets. We become engrossed in the minutiae of politics – the particular wording of a clause in a Bill, the supposed effects of a section of an Act, the nuances of a manifesto or speech.
Most voters are not as odd as political activists. Some are, but they are the ones who vote for the many fringe parties such as the Greens, BNP, Veritas, UKIP or Liberal Democrats.
Most voters are wholly disinterested in the minutiae of political debate. They are interested in big issues – most particularly their safety, health, the education of their children and "pocketbook issues". Try as we might to persuade electors precisely what is meant by classical liberalism or the intellectual case behind the flat tax, the fact is that most electors simply don’t care. This doesn’t mean they are stupid – it means that they are more interested in getting on with their lives.
Politics only tends to capture the imagination when there is a contrast
between candidates or parties, or when there is a particular crisis at
hand (such as a war or economic downturn). Even in such times of
heightened political interest, the electorate is still highly unlikely
to become embroiled in debates about shooting galleries or selection in
schools. Some electors – particularly those directly affected by such
issues – will, but most will not.
With this is mind, this week’s Law of the Public Policy Process is that "one big reason is better than many little reasons".
"It’s time for a change", "Labour isn’t working" and "Things can only
get better" were and are better reasons for electors to vote a
particular way in an election than a detailed manifesto outlining every
single possible policy that a political should have on any issue. A
detailed policy platform is certainly needed, not least because the
political and chattering classes will expect to see such a coherent
programme for government. However campaigns need to focus on one or two
core reasons for voters to support that campaign.
Such a reason needs to resonate with electors ("Keep the Pound" – no
matter how much I agreed with it – did not resonate sufficiently in
2001) and it needs to be repeated ad nauseam ("education, education,
education" or "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"). Only by
the time you are sick to death of hearing such slogans will they even
be beginning to enter the public consciousness.
As much as many Thatcherites may feel nervous as to the current Party
leadership’s strategy, David Cameron’s approach accords with this Law.
He is seeking to present one big reason as to why voters should support
the Conservatives rather than a series of smaller reasons that will be
overlooked (and which combined rarely, if ever, amount to larger than
the sum of their parts).
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