“Someone you’ve never heard of is being replaced by someone you’ve never heard of either.” That was how comedian Rory Bremner described last week’s cabinet reshuffle. His comments underline the widely held feeling that the present day crop of politicians are a pretty dull and anonymous bunch.
I think that part of the problem is that politicians are so afraid of saying anything even slightly controversial that too often they end up saying nothing of any interest at all. Take the example of Chuka Umunna, the MP many pundits think will be Labour Leader in the not too distant future. I’ve seen Umunna on TV many times, but I couldn’t tell you what he stands for as I’ve never heard him say anything of any substance about anything.
Of course it hasn’t always been like this. Back in the 1980s people like Ken Livingstone and Norman Tebbit would regularly make deliberately provocative comments in order to goad their opponents into reacting. That all stopped when Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell created “New Labour” by making sure that all MPs stayed firmly on message and didn’t deviate from the party line. Today all of our political parties continue with this carefully controlled “on message” approach, with the notable exception of UKIP who often seem over eager to go to the other extreme.
Looking at it in marketing terms, too few modern day politicians have a USP – a unique selling point which makes them stand out from the rest. If politicians want to get the attention of voters then they need to say something distinctive and not be afraid of controversy. Even if that does mean going “off message”.