Posted by Mark Grainger 27 Mar 2015

Spin 'til you're winning: A look at PR and politics

It can’t have escaped your attention that there is a general election looming on the national horizon. The news outlets are sending more people to hang around Westminster, the politicians are being spotted next to more normal people and manifesto promises are flying around us, the electorate, like seagulls at an ice cream shop.

The problem that politicians have is that nobody believes them, and so they frequently employ aggressive PR strategies to influence the public. Unfortunately for politicians and PR as a concept though, such tactics frequently descend into the worst type of spin, colouring the public perception of both.

Last weekend gave us one of the most audacious, purely Machiavellian examples of spin in recent memory, thanks to one Afzal Amin, the prospective Conservative candidate for Dudley North.

At its core, Amin’s plan was to generate a nice bit of positive PR for himself ahead of the election but unfortunately the details are pretty staggering. Amin is contesting a Labour-held seat and, in order to make him more appealing to minority voters, seemingly tried to forge an alliance with the pseudo-political militants in the English Defence League.

Bad enough, I’m sure you’d agree, but Amin’s scheme appears to involve paying EDL members to hold a protest over non-existent plans for an imaginary Mosque. Amin would then swoop in, diffuse the situation and become the hero that Dudley deserves. It’s a strong angle, but hardly the sort of seedy dealings you want your politicians to engage in to further their political careers.

This is a pretty extreme example of political spinning but you don’t have to look too hard at our biggest political figures to see the PR machine spinning away in the background like a generator powering every awkward movement and forced smile.

Nigel Farage, for example, uses his gurning and boozing, along with a focus on immigration issues, to build himself an image as the concerned everyman, drawing attention away from a desire to implement a US style health insurance system and the fact he has a background as privileged as any of his Tory counterparts. Likewise George Osborne dropped his birth name, Gideon, in favour of of a new, made up and less alientatingly posh moniker. 

Unfortunately political engagement is so low that these tactics, along with constant media exposure, do tend to work. It’s a lesson that Ed Miliband has failed to learn at his cost, with a lack of any really robust PR strategy of his own resulting in him being known mostly as being ‘a bit weird’ and plagued by unfortunate images of him failing to eat a bacon sandwich correctly.

If you want to make a truly informed decision at the ballot then you have to look past the appearances, question the pledges and quotes and inspect the policies yourself. Public relations is a wonderful thing that can let you reach the right people, grow your business and genuinely improve the world in any number of different ways, but political spin takes the practice back to the dark days of manipulation and mistrust.