Opinion: The Lib Dem communications heart attack

I am a computer logistician by profession. I can tell you all about managing defective material retention contracts and the comparative stocking strategies of power supplies. I don’t pretend to be an expert in communications.

So the following comes under the heading of “as any fule kno”, and therefore these statements are easy to make when, like me, you don’t know what you are talking about.

Communications Rule One

The first rule of media crisis management was succinctly summarised for me on a con call a few months ago:

“When a crisis breaks get all your dirty washing out into the open in the ‘first hour’. Be surprisingly confessional in one hit immediately and then shut up. Go into complete lockdown and don’t say another word (virtually).”

That is what the PR crisis managers tell you.

Communications Rule Two

I suspect there is a similar rule for internal communications. Keep the troops informed. If some issue breaks, then explain it to the troops straight away. Indeed, this rule has been religiously followed by the Lib Dem leadership in the last couple of years. If something happens, we get an email explaining it.

So I think it is reasonable to ask: What, in the name of Sam Hill, happened to rule one and two in the Liberal Democrats in the last two weeks?

Rule One was completely turned inside out and the opposite was done for the Rennard allegations question. “They” decided to put out piecemeal bits every day or so, just for a bit of a laugh. They are still doing it. Great fun for all!

Rule Two was just buried under six feet of stony silence for the secret courts afair.

What on earth is going on?

Why on earth are such huge basic mistakes in communications management being made?

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is a councillor and one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Rule One is a very good one. But I suspect it’s much more difficult when you have someone denying allegations who is supposed to have left on health grounds, and you have loads of anonymous allegations involving various rumours and counter-rumours making it harder to establish the truth.

    Not saying it was all handled perfectly, but not sure it was possible to handle in the standard PR template fashion.

  • Pitt the Younger 11th Mar '13 - 10:31am

    Rule number 1 is absolute correct. However, getting all of the information out there in one go is contingent on a couple of things:

    1) Knowing all that information. It sounds obvious, but you can only share what you know. Many of the drips of information are things that are new to, apparently, most people so therefore it’s difficult to control them.

    2) All the people who are involved being on board. If you think of all the people who have been implicated so far, in order for your ‘share all’ strategy to work, they all have to share what they knew/did with you immediately and be fully signed up to publishing it. I’m not saying anyone is hiding anything further, but that kind of operation would, I suspect, take a huge amount of time which we didn’t have.

  • David Pollard 11th Mar '13 - 11:31am

    The Rules should be on the wall in every political office!

  • Simon Beard 11th Mar '13 - 1:33pm

    You ask whats going on. I haven’t the foggyist, but I’m willing to make a guess.

    Up until a week ago all hands were on deck in Eastleigh, people who should have been back at head office planning communications weren’t and if they were then they were covering for others who weren’t. Then the by-election was won and either those same people took the eye off the ball or took a well deserved break. Its not like the party has as many paid employees as it once did, it can’t afford them, and it put just about everything into winning Eastleigh. My guess then is that there just wasn’t enough left to run a proper communications strategy which left individuals making up their own minds about what to say with the consequence that they have either said far too much (Rennard) or far too little (CMPs).

    It’s just a guess.

  • Richard Dean 11th Mar '13 - 9:02pm

    Communication Rule Zero
    Be honest, forthright, open.

    Communications Rule Three
    Communicate, don’t Block. Express your message in terms that allow the recipients to understand it. If they don’t understand it, they won’t respond the way you want

    Communications Rule Four
    Get your message checked – trial it on a small group before release. Forgetting something that will be crucial for your audience is easy to do. Saying something that can be interpreted in a way you didn’t expect is another potential pitfall

    Communications Rule Five
    Be brave, have faith. Express your message in terms that allow the recipients to make a free judgement on it. If they’re free to judge, they might give you the benefit of the doubt. If they’re not, they might assume the pressure you’re applying means you’re lying

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 20th Oct - 11:50pm
    Paul and David, at it again, getting me at it too , with much thanks ! A remarkable story , the unplanned speech, don,t ever...
  • User Avatarfrankie 20th Oct - 10:36pm
    Sheila, Time ticks on and everyday the leave case is shot to pieces. As reality bites the only thing that seems to be keeping Leavers...
  • User Avatarfrankie 20th Oct - 10:23pm
    Clegg came from a political bubble with limited inter action with normal people. He also seems to have fallen into a trap one of my...
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 20th Oct - 10:19pm
    Well said, David! Long may you continue act as usefully as you do. Michael, thank you for pointing out what was already known about Palehorse...
  • User AvatarPeter Hayes 20th Oct - 9:28pm
    As my parents are both dead it is probably safe to say they remember me saying "let Daddy smack me" as an an alternative to...
  • User AvatarAndrew McCaig 20th Oct - 8:32pm
    Just so long as we are not going to go down the Norwegian route. There are, I am afraid, much worse forms of child abuse...