As the London Mayoral election gets closer to the wire, the expectation would be that the media would begin drilling down further into the policy detail for each political party. No such luck in this election.
One of the concerns about Mayoral elections is that they become divorced from the real issues facing citizens and become a glorified beauty contest. The “Ken and Boris” show is likely to dominate the next three weeks, not least because the press, particularly the Evening Standard, are hostile to a Labour victory. It is rather pointed that Jenny Jones received most of her media attention when she called for tax clarity of the candidates, in spite of a notably improved communications operation.
The truth is that it will remain difficult in getting a hearing unless we turn to more radical and innovative methods of communicating to voters. We have to be realistic about the vested interests at work in the traditional media field and the close proximity of journalists to those already powerful in the British Establishment. Operating in a context like this means that however strong a case our manifesto makes, it can be undermined by invisibility and casual indifference, even in the rare occasions when reported. It is a testament to our hard work in the past that the BBC has upgraded their level of reporting of the Greens, but we don’t have the luxury of institutional balance amongst the majority of their competitors.
Where we can and are making progress is in dialogue with specialised audiences around distinct policy areas, such as healthcare professionals, small business associations and community policing and safety advocates. Undertaking mapping exercises around particular groups, such as black and ethnic minority voters, women’s groups, religious voters and LGBT communities would put us in a strong position to set the agenda more during election periods. Identifying and nurturing relationships with the popular print and digital press for these communities could reap us dividends, not only during election campaigns. All of this can only happen if we make the time over a period of years to listen and respond to the concerns of these communities and allow them to influence our policy development process. This is a point I continue to come back to – communities will trust us only when we are truly part of them.
Similarly, for a political party locked out of access to the closed-shop media world, we must invest heavily in social media and direct voter contact in order to reach voters. One element of Ken’s campaign that would work really well for the Greens was his pledge to mobilise his supporters around an action day, when they will all talk about a particular policy offer to 10 people they know. A simple idea, but it reflects a much more memorable way to communicate your policy platform than if the voter had skim read a short news story in the Metro that morning. With our limited financial resources, we need to be thinking of a number of similarly lo-fi ways of making a dent in the public’s consciousness.
As an active Twitter enthusiast, I’m always taken aback by the strong showing the Green Party has on social media, in comparison with our membership numbers. With its ethos of bottom-up communication, new media represents our political philosophy perfectly and should be invested in more substantially. With an integrated strategy, we could use the considerable reach of our followers to communicate short and focused messaging on particular days within a campaign. At the moment this happens organically, but I’d argue for drawing a number of our activists on social media into the process as mini-Communication Officers, taking the pressure off our limited number of paid staff so they can concentrate on high level communication strategy and influencing opportunities.
What is the common factor across these ideas? You.
We need to challenge ourselves to become a part of a communications movement across the party, using the skills and avenues we are most comfortable with to each reach a handful of people. We can supplement and deepen the work the Party is doing nationally and in local parties by giving our policies personality and a human face.
Jenny Jones releases the London manifesto today. I challenge you to take a moment to read it, choose the policy you find most exciting and communicate why it is so important to someone outside the Green Party!