Charlotte Gore is back! Joy! I love this girl – so much so that I once had to hurriedly clarify to her that I wasn’t gay and trying to pick her up on Facebook, I just thought she was a really good egg! That’s how much I love her.
Her first two posts make a fascinating pair of counterweights. The first, basically, says we’re heading into the next election as principled losers with hardcore green policies where the other parties will have ditched them come 2010 and be addressing the needs of motorists. So we should ditch green policies too.
I can’t express how profoundly I disagree with this reasoning. It’s not just to do with principle – although of course I believe we should try to do what is right rather than what is expedient at the ballot box. It’s to do with taking the longer view on positioning – the view that will ultimately prevail.
I’ve been viewing the world through the lens of Maslovian types lately and what Charlotte is basically saying here is that we should be following the Prospectors and Settlers sections of society. The Prospectors, for those who weren’t paying attention at the back, are the upwardly mobile, self-interested, status-driven operators who grew to dominate political discourse over the 1990s, displacing the traditionalist Settlers, whose age of influence was the postwar period and who are now dwindling fast. Between them, these groups account for a good 60% of the population, according to the Maslovian questionnaire stats. So we want to appeal to them like Charlotte says, yes?
No, no, no! Appealing to Settlers is a loser because the Settlers, literally, are a dying breed. Hence the frantic backlash of extreme right-wing activity in the form of the BNP, hence the ever more frothily crazed screaming about corporal punishment and good British values and what have you over at the Torygraph.
From a distance of forty-odd years, this is going to look like the last stand of the Luddites. Like cornered animals, they know they’re dying and they sure as hell aren’t going to go quietly. Appealing to Settlers is a waste of time, and it’s also deeply, deeply unprincipled because security-driven, traditionalist, heriarchical Settlers are about as far from liberal ideals as it’s possible to get. So they’re out.
Appealing to Prospectors can generate tremendous instant rewards at the ballot box. David Cameron is finding that out – actually, he hasn’t found it out, he has been well-advised. Even down to his slogan “You can get it if you really want it”. If that wasn’t framed with the Maslowian Prospector group specifically and nominally in mind then I’m a tin of pears. But appealing to Prospectors ultimately gets you nowhere, because Prospectors only want to mirror other people.
This is what Labour are finding out – and boy, they really are finding out, in the same way that you wake up and think “Hey, I’m not really that hungover,” and then half an hour later whoooosh. Having warped themselves to fit the views of the dominant group of the electorate, Labour became a sort of shell that no-one quite got round to looking inside for ten years. Now the Prospectors are clamouring for “change”, by which they mean a new fashionable talking point, a new mirror image, a new set of cool-but-stamped-with-mass-approval Stuff. Nothing too edgy. They don’t do real edgy - what if no-one else likes it and they look silly? Thus, Cameron provideth.
We should carry on doing exactly what we do best, and that’s not delivering thousands of leaflets. It’s appealing to the Pioneers. The Pioneers are the people the Prospectors, eventually, listen to. Converting one Pioneer is worth ten Prospectors. It’s like Focus delivery routes - spend an hour delivering 100 leaflets, and you’ve delivered 100 leaflets. Spend a quarter of that hour chatting to a supporter and getting them to deliver some for you next time, you still deliver 75 leaflets but you’ve ensured that next time, you’ll deliver 200. The investment in a niche – the one person on the street who might be happy to deliver your leaflets – pays a dividend that the equivalent delivery time would not.
For the purposes of branding and market appeal we’re the political equivalent of tech gadgetry (no coincidence that our ranks are so thickly peopled with techies of one sort or another) and if we let that go, we lose everything. If we keep it, in twenty years’ time we’ll be Bill Gates.
Which brings me to Charlotte’s second post. She’s done what she always does brilliantly – pulled together the potential outline for an edgy, interesting, attention-grabbing GE ad campaign. It’s a positive message while still poking fun at the other side. It says everything about who we are, and why people should want to be like us. Even the rough draft mock-up she has done is streets, miles, light years, parsecs better than anything I saw from any party during the recent local elections. And certainly – oh god, the smelling salts, quick! – in a different dimension to that weepingly awful Village Idiot video for the London campaign.
Charlotte has done Pioneer advertising. For every six Prospectors and Settlers who look at her ad and don’t get it, or say “LOL!!! Liberalz r such a WAIST OF SPACE* who wants 2 B like THEM!”, there will be four Pioneers who never knew they cared about politics who look at it and feel – in the words of Hector in The History Boys – like someone has reached out a hand and taken theirs. They’ll giggle, they’ll maybe vote for us next time they get around to it, and one day some of them will start writing blogs, or contributing to comment forums, explaining why all the Prospectors should be voting for us too.
Sadly, I don’t think the party is ready to accept that Pioneer advertising is the way to go yet. It’ll take this GE and probably the next one to convince Chris Rennard (ok, for me to convince Chris Rennard) that this is the prototype which will win us the air war. We’re still too mired in attempting to play the same game as the other two parties on national campaigns – and of course it doesn’t work because our policy-makers don’t play the same game as the other two. Our policies can’t be advertised in the same way as Tory and Labour policy can be.
Excellent to have Charlotte back, but why this total cognitive dissonance between the “new approach” needed on policy and the “new approach” needed on publicity? I’m not going to bust a gasket supporting her bid to get herself on the 2010 publicity team if she’s going to carry out the precise reverse of her noble experiment on our policy unit!
* This is a phrase I actually saw in reference to the Lib Dems on a Yahoo question.