This Parliament was always going to be one of the most difficult governmental tenures in recent memory. Arriving on the back of the biggest economic crisis of the last 20 years, the Coalition has tried in earnest to get the ship of state back on an even keel.
However, half way through its time in office, the past two and a half years have been nothing short of disastrous for Cameron and co.
This though, has not been as a result of policy. What set the Labour government apart from previous administrations was the way in which it presented those policies to the public. With the genius of Alistair Campbell, the “Spin King”, Labour managed to successfully manoeuvre themselves into a position to win three successive elections.
It is the art of spin and PR which the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have failed to grasp properly, and it is this failure to do so which has underlined their lack of success as a coalition. From David Cameron leaving his child in the pub to Nick Clegg’s laughable apology for his party’s commitment to prevent a tuition fees rise and more recently “gate-gate”, the government‘s gaffe record is akin to that of the latter months of the Brown government.
Gaffes aside, the government has failed on countless occasions to express their policies in a way which gives the relevant and correct information to the public. Take, for example, the case of tuition fees. The government has allowed the naysayers to take control of this debate, failing to adequately explain the benefits of the new fees deal to the voters. Hence we have a scenario where many prospective students believe they have to pay fees up front and are going to be laden with £40k of debt, when this is not the case.
In addition, we have the NHS debate. After speaking with members of the public (and indeed members of the Conservative Party), it seems there is mass confusion over what the NHS reforms constituted. The NHS needs improving, that much is clear, but the government seem somewhat lacking in courage to explain what is wrong with the nation’s darling in plain, succinct words. As a result they have been accused of “privatisation” of the NHS.
Perhaps their biggest failure in PR has been over the economy. The bank balance remains in a perilous state, and whilst growth is also a concern, the government needs to emphasize the fact that we are still in a debt crisis, something which Labour’s plan would not solve. Osborne needs to highlight the fact that the pain of a few years of belt tightening would be significantly less than that of a potential bankruptcy.
The Labour Party conference this past week has highlighted he coalition’s weaknesses in this area. Ed Miliband’s speech, whilst brilliantly delivered, contained little substance, but has seemingly won over the doubters within the party. Labour have excelled at spin and PR since the emergence of “New Labour” and will continue to dominate this area if the coalition fails to grasp this concept more firmly.
This week, it is the turn of the Conservatives to come under the media spotlight. David Cameron will, as usual, give a speech which is easy to listen to, but in order to compete with Labour here he must explain the problems the country is facing eloquently, succinctly and in an understandable manner. This is the only way he and the coalition will combat Labour’s compelling but ultimately empty rhetoric.
In short then, the main flaw of this government so far has been their inability to get the public onside. This is not due to the policies themselves, but the personalities and lack of skills in dealing with the general public.
Whilst this Parliament was always going to be a poisoned chalice, it is without question that had the coalition had better PR they would not be so open to the attacks they are crumbling under from Labour. If the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are to challenge at the next general election, they need to shackle of the image of “posh boys”, but more importantly learn how to battle the PR machine that is Labour.