The Ability to Communicate

Politicians and other people in positions of responsibility have to be able to communicate effectively – at two levels:

  • Some people want detailed information, and will take the trouble to read serious analysis – which has to be provided. Public servants and employees of institutions would be expected to provide dispassionate factual data; politicians would also be expected to be familiar with the facts.
  • For politicians, appeals to people’s instincts and emotions ( can be more effective: for example appearing confident, or describing an enticing future, or arousing fear, or calling on empathy, or emphasising cultural identity. As pointed out by Nicky Hawkins, in a Guardian article We need a reality check: facts and figures alone won’t stop Brexit: “voters are won over by narratives, not numbers”.

Politicians who fail to appeal at both levels will probably be unable to win power and they will be unable to convince people that their policies are right.

The quoted Nicky Hawkins article also makes another point about communication failures in the campaign to remain in the EU: its lack of a simple positive message that would align with people’s values.  The outcome of the referendum would probably have been different if, instead of arguing that the voters should be frightened of leaving, ‘Remainers’ had emphasised the value of Britain’s influence in Europe – which included the Single Market, where there is still more work to be done – and its independence from the ‘ever closer union’ narrative that binds the Eurozone countries.


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This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6336a.htm