The Westminster hot-air bubble

If you want your campaign to make an impact, you still need to follow some basic rules of engagement.

Sometimes I look at campaigns and activities, and I wonder what was going through the minds of the people behind them.

This is never more evident than when looking at political campaigning, most of which seems to be characterised by noise and hot air (see also most of the Brexit campaigns). Now, it may be that the noise and hot air are providing a distraction for the work that’s actually happening behind the scenes, but I doubt it. This weekend supplies a good example.

Donald Trump has been invited to the UK for a state visit. This much we know. We don’t know when, we don’t know the itinerary, we just know he’s been invited. No two state visits are the same, so we can’t even guess what will be happening.

This hasn’t stopped several Labour MPs from saying that they will be absent from any speech he makes to Parliament.

This is daft, for several reasons. Firstly, no-one’s said he’ll be making a speech to either or both Houses. Secondly, if you’re not there he won’t care. He’s not talking to you, he’s talking down the camera lens to his constituency.

Thirdly, why would you tell the opposition what your plans are?

Seriously, why would you do that?

Bear in mind as well that you’ll be asked about the speech afterwards, so you’ll still end up watching it on BBC News or Sky News or reading a copy of it.

Many politicians and ‘terrace managers’ – that latter including a lot of public relations practitioners – are engaged more in Sturm und Drang rather than measurable outcomes. You know: define the issue, create objectives and a strategy, define tactics and specific actions then see if your outcomes matched your objectives. Pretty basic stuff.

If it had been me organising something, and I really wanted to object to Trump making a speech in Westminster Hall (or any other Hall), and assuming HMQ wasn’t present, I’d have turned up. Let him start speaking. Then leave. The effect of 100 or so MPs leaving in dribs and drabs, on camera, while The Donald is talking would be a much more powerful image than empty seats. Hit where it hurts the most: his ego. And it would throw him off his stride, increasing the likelihood that he’d go off-piste.

Too late now, of course, because you revealed your battle plan to the enemy who have responded by saying they didn’t want to do a speech anyway.

Political campaigns are just like public relations and marketing ones – if you fail to follow the basics, you’re stuffed. And, sometimes, the best communication involves saying nothing at all.

If you’re wondering, I want Trump to stay as President. We’re now one step away from a Mike Pence presidency. Trump is a showman, Pence believes in the cause. I know which I’d rather have at the moment. If you want Trump to be impeached somehow, be careful what you wish for.