Click logo to go to website

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The political election leaflet - time for a makeover.

There is a thud on the floor in the hall. The post has arrived. No it hasn’t, it’s an electoral leaflet from one of the main political parties. Normally, I treat these offerings like the latest pizza outlet blurb.

Just for once and because there is nothing else pressing, I give the offering a tighter look. Things are even worse than I thought. This is a literary genre in real need of a makeover.

So what’s gone wrong? Assume that the voter has a cynical and sceptical view of politics and that the time from posting to binning is seconds. What's in it for the reader?

First impressions count. A strong strapline, imaginative use of graphics, colour and layout are the basics. Beyond that a mass of text is a no no – peoples’ eyes just glaze over. Tight copy with short sentences and paragraphs are the order of the day, if only because the reader may have English as the second language. Contrived grainy photos which make the passport variant look good add to the picture.

Cost is a consideration but handing out A3-sized folded leaflets which look as they have just been duplicated on a standard photocopier, is cost-cutting at its worst. They compare badly against a smaller A5 creation on glossy and heavier paper. Cheap business cards set the tone for your company, so don’t be surprised if the same ethic transfers to politics.

Finally to content. Voters can see through the fatuous leaflets dressed up as “surveys”. Politicians should already have a handle on the issues in their areas. A survey is a bit late in the day. Equally, a photo of the candidate with a broom in the hand comes across as crass. How many residents do we see sweeping up public space?

We want tight rhetoric and choice of words. We want a strong image of the candidates and what they stand for. We want the personality of the candidate to hit us.

Critically, we need to know what makes the candidates different as we lend them our votes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Politicians should avoid the passive tense - it can damage your health.

As the Liam Fox affair unravels there is at least one upside. It has highlighted the inadequacy of the passive tense. It is something we should all avoid. It does us no favours and makes us look shabby. Budding politicians should make sure it is not in their toolkits, when they are addressing media and voters or designing their leaflets.

“Mistakes were made…” and “….it was a mistake to allow distinctions to be blurred.” were euphemisms and snowing at its worst. This passive language isolated the speaker from awkward and uncomfortable realities.

The speaker is detached from events. We all became outside observers of situations which seemed to evolve on autopilot. It is academic and sterile language.

The rest of us have to listen to this ducking and weaving. We feel angry that we are being spoken to in a manner beyond our normal conversation. Ordinary language is messy, erratic and personal. The passive: legalistic, objective and anodyne. It gives wiggle room and avoids responsibility for what is being said.

The debacle over military policy and funding in Iraq and Afghanistan lead to phrases such as “We are where we are…” and “It is time to move on.” They were attempts to avoid explaining difficult resourcing and strategy decisions. We felt annoyed that our timetables for making sense of things were being hi-jacked by others who wanted to avoid scrutiny.

The current explanations given to us are doing exactly the same. We want a new type of politics where, for better or worse, we converse actively, precisely and personally.