‘It’s not what you say about the issues, it’s what the issues say about you’

I’ve recently stumbled across a piece by Lynne Featherstone MP which I’d forgotten about. Written in 2006, the points it makes about political campaigning still read well:

Vietnam war vet and Republican John McCain and London mayor and former restaurant review Ken Livingstone are probably not often bracketed together politically! But I have been thinking recently about them both and their own rather different political personas.

Both have had periods of great popularity – though McCain still seems to be basking in it whilst Ken’s has well and truly worn off – and it has not been for their stances on particular individual policies. ‘What about London’s congestion charge?’ you may well ask – but actually Ken’s popularity pre-dated him staking his reputation on that policy – and indeed predated Blair’s attempts to noble his Mayoral candidature. As for McCain – he is best known legislatively for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act. Yet America is not stuffed full of people eagerly hanging on every drop of debate over election spending rules (imagine how scary such a country would be!).

So what has made both at various times so popular? It’s been their overall image – willing to stand up for what they believe in, willingness to deviate from the official party line and so on. Their stances on individual policies have certainly fed that image, but they’ve not created it. If McCain was relying on interest in campaign finance rules or Ken on eager readers of his restaurant reviews neither would have hit the heights they have.

The full piece is well worth a read, especially as it includes one of my favourite quotes about political messaging (the title to this post). You can read it here.

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