A tale of two parties: why some crash and burn and others soar

By Jason MacKenzie

To set the scene: it’s 18th February 2019. A new political movement is born.

Seven Labour MPs announce they’ve come to the end of their tether. After months of rumours and rumblings of a ‘split’, their emergence as a new group more closely resembles a splinter.

Their promise is to become a bipartisan centrist force plugging the Remain gap the Liberal Democrats had struggled to fill. The next day, an eighth Labour MP joins the group, and then on the 20th, three Tories.

Did The Independent Group have the potential to reshape the British political landscape in the same way that the Social Democratic Party had in the early 80s?

Time would tell.

Counterbalance?

Meanwhile, a counterbalancing force was being created; 23rd November 2018 saw a new entity formed without fanfare – The Brexit Party. UKIP had been losing ground and pivoting in a ‘swivel-eyed’ direction for some time.

Its best-known icon, Nigel Farage, had abandoned it and was sitting as an independent MEP. But Farage, with a host of other former ‘Kippers’, began sliding across. And on 12th April, The Brexit Party formally launched. UK politics had another new force.

Three months ago, pundits were predicting the demise of the duopoly of Labour and Conservatives, and a forthcoming surge from both The Independent Group and The Brexit Party.

What’s happened since has been a study in contrasts. The former has changed name (several times), muddled its message, divided and almost dissipated. The latter won the European Parliament elections on 23rd May with 30% of the vote, electing 29 MEPs – more than the next two parties combined.

As it stands, The Brexit Party is polling in third place to the Conservatives and Labour on Westminster voting intentions with around 20%. Its surge shows no sign of abating, unless the next Tory leader delivers Brexit, bringing to an end three years of dithering, delay and debate. Whether Prime Minister Johnson can truly put a dampener on The Brexit Party’s party remains to be seen.

But what does this mean for businesses and other organisations? Here are three thoughts concerning the roles of objectives, strategies and tactics – and the relationship between them.

Own your goals

Whether launching a start-up or injecting new life into a corporate giant, strategy is vital.

However, many people confuse objectives, strategies, and tactics.

Understanding these and implementing a clear approach will illuminate the path to success.

Objectives come first: what are we trying to achieve? What does success look like? Even more crucially, why do we exist? Answering these questions will give you a set of goals, some primary, others secondary. If you know what you’re aiming for, you have a chance of hitting the target.

The Brexit Party has a single-minded focus – to deliver the Brexit they believe in. A clear political response to the 2016 Referendum – to come entirely out of the EU and become disentangled from its institutions.

It wants the UK to be free from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and out of the Single Market and the Customs Union. Anything less than that is viewed as Brexit-In-Name-Only.

As for the Party formerly known as Change UK, there’s less clarity. Their name implies they want change – but what they really stand for is Remain. How confusing.

Even more muddled, they want to represent a new centre-ground, but can’t agree on what that looks like, which is the main reason six of their eleven MPs walked out of the Party on 6th June.

What’s your corporate objective? And how specific can you be in expressing it and making sure that your entire team knows it?

SMART for success

George T. Doran wrote for Management Review in 1981, creating the acronym SMART. The paper stipulated that all objectives ought to be Specific, Memorable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Once you’ve set SMART objectives, you can devise strategies for achieving them. There are books as thick as a brick dedicated to all flavours of strategy – from military theory to management theory. But one succinct definition of strategy is the broad-brush approaches employed in achieving your objectives.

For us, as a corporate affairs consultancy, one of our strategies has been to create distinct practices to service specific client needs.

For example, we have developed a dedicated public affairs practice which focuses on lobbying, which can work independently from or in conjunction with other teams, such as our corporate communications or local government practices.

The Brexit Party’s strategies have involved a commitment to constant campaigning – connecting with their stakeholders, recruiting donors, and building a supporter base.

They’ve also successfully deployed a branding and positioning strategy – having a consistent, clear message appealing to a specific audience, and doing so with an admirable relentlessness.

In contrast, The Independent Group For Change, as it’s now styled, has exhibited systemic failure on these fronts. It has shown an utter lack of consistency, clarity, and cohesion.

Selecting and refining the right strategies can save time and money, as well as set you on course to achieve results.

Tactically talking

What’s the difference between strategies and tactics? Simply this: picture a person. Strategies do the thinking and the heavy lifting – metaphorically, the shoulders and everything above. The brain and the brawn, if you will. Tactics are where strategies manifest themselves on a day to day basis in implementation and execution.

In marketing communications, you might have a social and digital media strategy, but the tactics will involve your channel selection, content creation and dissemination, and specific activities such as blogging, podcasting, and fostering online communities.

Tactics can evolve and change rapidly, but they’re always aligned to realising your strategies.

Successes and failures

Here are two examples of success from The Brexit Party – their fundraising and their video content.

Their fundraising objective was, obviously, to raise money. I don’t know how much they had hoped to raise, nor do I know their timeframes.

But what I do know is that through their strategy of soliciting small donations, they attracted 110,000 paying supporters within two months. An unprecedented figure in British politics.

Likewise, I don’t know the SMART objectives they were trying to achieve through the use of video – but video is the fastest growing content category on the web, and no British political party has nailed it. Until now.

Operating with limited resources, and under the direction of Steven Edginton, a chief digital strategist still in his teens, they have produced outstanding content with high production values. Each video gains tens or hundreds of thousands of views and impressive levels of engagement.

As for The Independent Group For Change? A whimper by comparison.

There you have it. Books will be written contrasting these two fledgling movements. But my quick take should illustrate the importance of developing a clear strategy, agreeing defined objectives and deploying precise tactical execution as the keys to organisational success.

And the beauty of this approach is that it works consistently, when implemented professionally.

Jason MacKenzie is managing partner, corporate communications, The Nudge Factory.

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Image via BBC

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