Making Votes Count


A reminder that all votes are not equal.

Originally posted on the reality gap:

According to some sources most votes cast in most elections are wasted. Estimates vary, but I’ve read one suggestion that over 71% of votes in the UK general election didn’t really count. Didn’t count in the sense that the result in a constituency would not have been changed by them. Basically, if you live in a Labour stronghold seat where the candidate has a substantial majority, if you vote Labour it will just add to the majority and not increase the number of MPs elected, and if you vote for another candidate it will simply help to determine the order of the runners-up.
The @electiondata organisation have reported that all the constituencies where the result in 2015 is already known total 114,919 square kilometres. Bigger than Wales & Scotland combined.

Not only are votes often wasted in this sense, but they are also unequal. In the 2010 general election, it took…

View original 958 more words

The future of politics

Only four weeks to go until the European Parliament elections. We have to hope that the turnout of voters in the UK will beat the worst turnout in a Euro contest of just 24 per cent in 1999 and the even lower 15 per cent in the PCC elections in 2012. But history tells us that apart from in general elections the British don’t vote in significant numbers. The highest turnout ever in the UK was in the general election of 1950, won by Labour’s Clement Attlee with 83.9 per cent. The lowest since was 57.2 per cent in 1918, perhaps understandable given the combined effects of the end of the war and the flu and pneumonia pandemic of that year which killed up to 5 per cent of the world’s population eclipsing the war deaths. The average turnout for general elections between 1918 and 2010 is 73.3%, which for a country without compulsory voting may not be thought to be too low a figure.

But it is clear, as discussed in this Guardian piece that voting in non-general elections compares rather unfavourably with the kind of percentages notched up in voting for reality TV shows like The X-Factor. Even our general election turnouts compare unfavourably with turnouts in much newer and arguably loess sophisticated and experienced democracies. In this survey of voting between 1945 and 2001 the UK finished in 76th place out of 88 democratic countries.

In his book “The End of Politics” The Conservative MP Douglas Carswell argues that most “politics is pointless.” Not that policy making and statesmanship has no purpose, but that the way in which government is conducted, election campaigns fought and votes cast and counted have become not just distant and disconnected but seen as irrelevant way large sections of the electorate live and conduct the rest of their affairs – social, financial and leisure.

In all of these worlds people have come to expect ease, convenience, access, openness and immediacy. And yet in arguable the most important piece of public involvement, we seem to go out of our way to make politics difficult and inaccessible. Carsell characterises the digital world as more personalised, less reliant on experts, focused on small things that become big and able to bank, shop and access services at a click.

As a Baby Boomer of the 1950s generation I was brought up by my parents from the Second World War generation to believe that to vote was a privilege and a duty. Voting for their grand-parents generation had been restricted to property owners (which would not have included them) and their grandparents would have known a franchise that only extended to men. The freedom to vote was not something that any of those previous generations took for granted, not least because both my parents and grandparents fought in wars to protect that right to vote among other freedoms.

So it is not surprising that such a sense of duty was something they passed on to my generation. I still use words like duty and service in my vocabulary, which is indicative of an attitude to politics and government and country which has declined if not disappeared. A recent poll showed that young people now identify themselves more by their leisure interests than by their nationality. This kind of change in both the way we behave and how we think of ourselves should not be taken lightly.

I have voted in every single election local, regional, national, and European since 1974, the first election when I was old enough to vote. I cannot imagine not voting and whenever possible I have voted in person regarding the walk to the Polling Station and the marking of a ballot paper with  a pencil all part of the theatre of politics. I have also campaigned in every election since then either as a voluntary activist or a party professional. I regarded this campaigning both paid and unpaid as my civic duty and a public service. That sense probably explain why I have always had respect and a kind of collegiate involvement in politics with campaigners from all other parties, (well excluding the Liberals and Liberal Democrats obviously – nobody respects them). I have always thought that those of us who are active in politics, regardless of political colour, share that sense of service.

EinsteinThe problem for politics is that this is now a minority view. People do not join political parties, except in rashes of dissent and protest as in the current Ukip membership surge previously experienced in the UK by both the SDP in he 1980s and the Greens in the 1990s.Activist numbers are tiny and many involved professionally in politics are just that “professional” – they are “guns for hire” without strong party allegiances of loyalties. Only the other day I was talking to an MP’s “staffer” who said that the only reasons they were active with the Conservatives was “because they are in power”. Wrong on both counts. Allegiance should be determined by belief not power. And the Tories are not in power! I suspect they were not unique.

In the Conservative Party’s case the demise, or should I say the wilful destruction, of the Agent’s profession, was the final blow to the strength which that body of people had brought to the party. The Agent’s “election machine” was the Tory not so secret weapon for over 100 years. The agents worked for love not money, and they have largely been replaced by those “guns for hire”.

The situation in the other parties is not dissimilar. And it is not just a lack of joining and activism. It is, as the turnout numbers indicate, a lack of voting. Douglas Carsell argues for “iDemocracy” in the business of both government and politics, making a strong case for  new approach which can be relevant and attractive to the digital generation. I believe that this is over due and such change could make a significant difference to the engagement of people with the political process and to their access to the government services which are provided as a result of the policies they vote for.

However I do not believe that this is just about appealing to an “X Factor” generation who need to vote at a click. It is more fundamental than that. Voting turnout is low for under 55s,not just under 25s. It is low for minority ethnic communities. It is lower for women than for men. It is lower the further you travel from London. This points to a matrix of interconnecting and overlapping issues and challenges. Some geographic and demographic, and others about the relevance of a political system developed through and for a post Industrial Revolution and largely deferential society still in the shadow of Empire.

The way we live, work, play and engage have all  changed dramatically since the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Politics and government for the twenty-first century must be different. Voting and access to government needs to be relevant to a generation who define themselves differently.

The challenge is partly to bring technology of politics and government up to date to make it more familiar. At the most basic level, not so many people put pencil or pen to paper to do anything in their lives, let alone to vote. And it is partly to create new ways of conducting politics and government that result in people feeling that sense of involvement and need for participation again. It won’t be called duty or service. But it must be something which represents d replicates those vales for new generations in a relevant and meaningful ways. It’s quite a challenge for anyone who cares about politics, for democracy, and values freedom. Those earlier generations fought, sometimes with their lives, for these rights and liberties. We should not take them for granted and we must not squander them.

I became involved in politics for many reasons, mainly out of factional conviction, a desire to contribute to society and a hope to change and save the world. But also because it was exciting and fun. In such a grey decade of politics, we need to get some colour back into the picture to enthuse, engage and enjoy.


Modernisers will be responsible when Tories lose again

Over the last couple of weeks a number of members of the political and media elites have taken to attacking Ukip and their leader Nigel Farage. The more they have attacked, the better Ukip polling results look. All their chattering classes sniping seems to achieve is to reinforce how out of touch with Ukip’s electorate they are. There is a gulf of comprehension and experience between the politicos and scribblers and the people rallying to Ukip’s colours. Ukip is attracting voters, including one in three Tories according to one poll today, who believe that the elites running this country don’t understand their concerns. Those attacking Ukip are simply confirming how great the gulf is.

The Conservatives have only ever been successful in elections when they have shared these concerns and spoken the language of their supporters. The modernised Conservatives led by David Cameron do not share those concerns or speak that language. By throwing away votes to Ukip it is they and not Farage who will be responsible for a Labour victory. The so called liberal Conservatives cannot win, they can only split the right of centre vote and let Labour in. The modern Tories lost in 2010 and they will lose again in 2015. The only chance for the Conservatives is to reclaim its core voters by making Ukip irrelevant. Senior Tories seem to think that Tories who vote Ukip in 2014 will meekly return to the fold in 2015. They seem not to have learned the lesson of 2010. The only way the Conservatives to win is to be Conservatives.

The Reality Gap Analysis

Another post which is not topical comment, but just a reminder of a methodology developed decades ago in a previous business life, which ended up forming the title for this blog site!

Reputation Reality Gaps open when promises and expectations are unfulfilled.


The p5 Filter (2010)

Organisations often face challenges and barriers to their success when customers, employees, investors, regulators, legislators and commentators have a negative perception of their products, services, brand or practices.

Sometimes people in those organisations believe they can change such perceptions with public relations activity. as someone who has worked in PR and political campaigning for nearly 40 years, I have often been asked to “stop people saying that”, or “change our reputation.” In my experience negative perceptions are too often the consequence of negative “realities.” To change the opinion, we more often need to change the behaviour.

In 1995-6 I devised a reputation analysis call for McDonald’s in the UK to help identify the areas of policy and practice which needed to be reviewed to consider how both positive and negative reputations had been earned. This drew on the results of the company’s first Stakeholder Audit completed that year by our then PR agency Countrywide Porter Novelli. This looked at the differences between what is said, done and thought – and the gaps between these.

The core of this test is captured in the chart below. I used iterations of this through each of my “in-house” roles tailored to fit the needs, culture and aspirations of each company. The Reality Gap scenarios were used to stress-test some entrenched internal positions and to challenge and address external perspectives, mainly to determine the PR/Communications actions required.

When I was working with Microsoft and BT more than 10 years later this was supplemented by a filter for defining, identifying, and assessing the 5 areas described in the chart above. This was the P5 test. This particular chart is a later version used at G4S and earlier as the context setter for a presentation I made to Ben & Jerry’s as part of their “Peace, Love and Ice Cream” event in 2010. For each of these companies, in very different ways and with a diversity of interests and challenges, we reviewed Principles, Purpose, Promise, Practice and People. The most important element being “people.” This consideration appears at the heart of this chart to emphasise how organisations only exist for their people. People are organisations, and organisations are simply the combination and collaboration of their people.

Both charts were used primarily to find answers to the “what, where, when”, and most importantly “why and how” questions.


The Reality Gap

The Reality Gap (1996)



Communications Planning

Not a topical post this one, but just so I’ve saved it somewhere, here is a quick thought on communications planning and an old chart and methodology, still with some relevance to current thinking, although this is rather basic.

Communications Plans come in all shapes and sizes. The best place to begin a good communications plan, unlike a good story, is not the beginning but the end.


e6 Communications Planning Flowchart

I wrote my first communications plan in 1978 when I was working for Shell UK and my then boss asked me to come up with ideas for telling subsidiary companies about corporate plans for mergers and acquisitions targeting of smaller competitors and companies.

The planning process I developed and used has evolved over time to meet different needs with each of the companies I have worked with since. The latest version shown in the flowchart here was developed for BT and G4S and has six elements…

  1. END GAME - identify the objective for the business – a definable, measurable business (not communications) goal.
  2. EXPLORE – research audiences, stakeholders, channels, competition, issues, opportunities.
  3. EVOLVE – the plan, involving internal and external stakeholders to create a plan which is realistic and relevant.
  4. EXECUTE – plans on paper are worth little or nothing unless delivered, words are nothing – actions are everything.
  5. EXCITE – communications is the business of influencing opinions and behaviours, to achieve this requires excitement and passion as well as compelling advocacy.
  6. EVALUATE – no plan is worth its salt unless it is made up of measurable actions. Communications effectiveness must be measured by business outcomes achieved and not by communications output and activity, even if its award-winning.



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Very valuable, but the misguided think we're past it!