Communication lessons from the Euro elections – big is not beautiful for the voter

Monday 26th May 2014   by Andy Comber

Nigel Farage says his “dream has become a reality”. The UKIP victory in the European elections, following the vote on Thursday May 22 2014 and the count on Sunday May 25 has turned the political landscape for other mainstream parties into a nightmare. There are many reasons why UKIP have been able to, not so much hijack the political agenda but lay seige to it for months and beat it into submission.

Some what are some of the communications lessons that can be learned from the Euro elections result? This is an important excerise, because the way back for parties like the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democreats, as well as the European Union itself, is to find ways to communicate with electors much more effectively. Here are some that come instantly to my mind.

Complex messages vs simple messages – the EU is, by its nature, a complicated organisation. Supporters have failed to get across the benefits of membership because they have not been able to create simple propositions about why it is good to be in it, and find ways to communicate those effectively. David Cameron has tried to simplify the Tories’ messaging by promising an In/Out referendum in 2017. Even that has been open to confusion, partly due to the political infighting within the coalition. On the other hand, UKIP has a much simpler message (or the public has perceived it as being simpler): ‘We are against membership of the EU and we want a referendum now’.

Bureaucracy vs lean machine – the EU, you would have thought, would be big enough to defend itself and look after its own interests. But the Eurpean elections have shown that relatively small organisations (anti-EU parties) can take on monolithic institutions and their policital supporters and win, by depolying simpler, more emotional messages and delivering them cleverly, using all the channels now available to them, including the media and social media. Agility often wins over size when it comes to effective communication, especially when the agile beast is the aggressor.

Confident vs defensive – UKIP, and Nigel Farage in particular, exudes confidence. No matter what claims are made against UKIP, he has this knack of brushing them off and they don’t stick. Voters like a message delivered with confidence. The ‘opposition’, on the other hand, and by this I mean just about every other party taken notice of by the media, have been on the defensive. Their communciations have been about seeking to justify themselves and their policies. They have been on the back foot from the start. Again, Cameron’s referendum pledge is hardly a ringing endorsement of the EU.

In tune vs out of tune – the general public really does have a collective view on things. Hundreds of years ago, there was the mob. Now, the mood is displayed more subtly. But people across Europe have been looking for something to blame, and it’s the out of touch institutions that are the easy targets. UKIP have been able to exploit this. Their communications are simple, direct and deployed using highly visual stunts. Nigel Farage likes a drink or two, but one of the main reasons he spent so much time in pubs is because they’re one British (or English, sadly) institution we all admire: the best way to tell the older voting public that you are on their side.