Saturday, 31 May 2008


One of the key messages Labour has pushed in recent times is that it is a "listening government" and that it "understands" public concerns, especially since the 10p tax mess.

To my mind there are 4 levels of political communication between the Government of the day and the people it serves:

  1. Hearing- receiving information but no action taken in response.
  2. Acknowledging - receiving information. Incorrect action taken in response.
  3. Listening - receiving information and taking correct action in response.
  4. Understanding - anticipating immediate concerns and acting correctly to deal with them.

Communication levels are directly linked to trust, albeit with trust being a longer term reflection of communication levels. If a Government cannot communicate and respond to concerns correctly, it cannot be trusted, therefore affecting their electoral prospects in the future.

The issue of the 10p tax band is a textbook example of the above in practice. I believe the 10p tax furore will be seen in the future as the critical moment when the facade of Understanding was smashed and replaced with Acknowledging. When the change was initially announced, adverse reaction was received but was deemed not serious enough to take action (Hearing). When the reaction got particularly loud in this Spring, only then did the Government take action. In my opinion the action is in effect a deferal of the problem because come April next year, the compensation as it exists now, will no longer apply, typical of Acknowledging rather than Listening. Were the Government to find permanent compensation for those who lost out it would be Listening. It would not mean the Government would retain trust but it would do the most to make up for the initial mistake of not Understanding. Such a breach of a key tenet of Labour philosophy (a pledge of Understanding the concerns of the working poor and the volunerable) shows a breakdown of communication and as polls since have shown, as drop in levels of trust.

Consultations and reveiews do not necessarily mean high levels of communication. As with the previous example, if correct action is not taken, it is an example of Acknowledging, not Listening. Frequent use of such methods of communication will lead to lower levels of communication as it would exhibit lack of Understanding and initiative.

While Oppositions cannot take action as Governments do, they still have to respond and the appropriateness of their responses can be judged according to the same scale. They are measured on the communication levels through polls and elections and with the Conservatives riding high at present, it can be infered that communication levels are good. That is not to say that the Conservatives have avoided low levels of communication. The internal policy debate over Grammar Schools hurt their rating on communication by confusing the public and showing disunity to the public, something which is noted and in itself forms part of the judgement the public make at election time.

Whoever can communicate their ideas and approach best and exhibit Understanding will form the next Government.

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