The Liberal Democrats may, at last, be “getting” this narrative thing.
Well, Nick Clegg is starting to tell people stories.
The Lib Dems’ first election broadcasts missed a number of opportunities in this regard. The latest broadcast, Change Politics for Good, sees Nick following Stephen Denning’s three essential steps for leaders who are persuading people to embrace change. The first is to get peoples' attention. Nick uses two of Denning’s methods. He emphases the magnitude of what is recognised as a major problem -- expensesgate (“there have been times when you have been so angry . . .” ) -- and asking viewers a question (“how we stop this from ever happening again?”).
Denning's Step number 2 is to generate desire for something different. Here, Nick identifies an external barrier (“this rotten old system” . . . “self-serving politics”) and frames a new version of the future that is different from the status quo (“we need a bigger change, not just tinkering at the edges”).
The final step is to reinforce the reasons for change. (“Unless we do things very differently, in a few years from now, we’ll just have more scandals, all over again.”) Nick explains how voters can progress from the current situation to the new tomorrow (“. . . the power to do things differently is in your hands . . .it is possible to change this rotten old system and you can decide to do it . . . so I am asking you to join a Liberal Democrat campaign to change politics from top to bottom, so something good can come of all this.”). This will also be familiar to readers of Denning’s book The Secret Language of Leadership.
In this morning’s Today interview, Nick explained how Lib Dem MPs have attempted to reform MPs’ expenses, against resistance from Labour and the Tories. Challenged about where the Lib Dems stand on Europe, he used what he called a “concrete example” – a story - to explain how we are “stronger together, poorer apart” in the EU. Lib Dem MPs voted for European arrest warrants that were used to break up a paedophile ring and for anti-terrorist measures. But Conservative and UKIP MEPs voted against.
And here’s a more interesting signpost. In Monday’s Guardian G2 interview, Nick picked up on the “real change” narrative from his spring conference speech and started to frame the choice facing voters.
“I think if a general election was held now, it would become an all-out national debate about how we rebuild British politics. The next general election will be dominated by: Who's going to rebuild the British economy? And who's going to rebuild British politics?”
Nick Clegg could embody the story of rebuilding “politics”. Vince Cable could do the same on rebuilding the economy.
Will we, can we, get that right?