Celebrating positive politics

A new annual Awards – set up by politics and communications professionals – announces its first winners today.

By Carys Davis.

As comms professionals, we know the importance of good communications. Communications that are simple, to the point and which do something – whether that’s to inform, influence, entertain… you know the list.

Most of us whose work involves communicating with the political world would agree, I think, that the quality of political discourse has been under pressure in recent years. The Brexit debate has played out across Parliament, the media and the public in the most febrile way possible. Yes, there has been passion and commitment from some. But there has also been stubbornness, dismissiveness and insults. From ‘remoaners’ to ‘gammon’, we seem to have delighted in doubling down on our tribalism while slinging mud at the ‘enemy’.

Tribalism can be limiting because, for one thing, it means we process information differently according to who’s delivering it. Ask yourself if you would trust as much something your political opposite told you, compared to something told to you by someone you know shares your views.

Research from the US delves into this. For example, recruiters favour applicants based on political affiliation. Healthcare advisers suggest different treatments, depending on the political beliefs they perceive patients to have.

Why are these entrenched divisions a problem? Not only do they impede collaboration, which is often useful for getting things done, it can be hard to hold government to account. When questioning your tribe’s views is immediately perceived as disloyalty, and punished as a result, what reward is there for making thoughtful and considered decisions? And for doing so in a way that’s kind and decent?

This is why its founders – from the worlds of politics, campaigns and communications – set up the Civility In Politics Awards. The Politician of the Year Award – won this year by Steve Baker MP and Ken Clarke QC – is intended to reward our politicians for doing ‘positive politics’, and to encourage their colleagues to reach for consensus and temper the tone of debate. A politics which is perfect won’t ever happen, but wouldn’t we all like to see even the smallest shift towards more openness, reflection and co-operation?

Hearteningly, the public embraced this call. The organisers received 120 entries from all parts of the UK. Founder and judge Ali Goldsworthy, CEO of The Depolarisation Project, said: “It was encouraging that many people nominated MPs from outside their own political beliefs. One told us, ‘I’ve written to my MP, over the last three years with a frequency and vigour that should have got me blocked. Yet he has always conducted himself with great integrity, politeness and good humour. I don’t always agree with him, but that really doesn’t matter when you have faith that someone will act with their better judgement for a greater good.'”

The Awards also celebrated those who aren’t politicians but who play a role in the political life of the country, and who do so according to the Awards’ values.

Former Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and LBC host Iain Dale were awarded the ‘Co-operation of the Year’ Award for their bridge-building podcast, ‘For the Many’. Anand Menon, whose research as part of the ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ initiative has injected impartial and evidence-based understanding into the Brexit debate was awarded Influencer of the Year.

Following the success of this year’s Awards, the nomination window for the 2020-21 Awards opens in November. The CIPA judges are looking to the public to tell them about those in the political world they think have behaved with civility, decency and who have reached across divides. Communications professionals  – who do you think is deserving of recognition and appreciation?

You can find out more at The Civility in Politics website www.civilityinpolitics.org.

Carys Davis is a Member and Accredited Practitioner of the CIPR and runs The Other Place Public Affairs Ltd.

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