In his first post for Open Unionism, Fair Deal reviews the DUP strategic communications and sets out a checklist of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ for the Party to consider in the months ahead. But first, he starts off with the ground rules…
1. The Party needs to have a strategic message explaining what it is doing and crucially WHERE IT WANTS TO GO. The Party has shown itself to be too content with present arrangements and too keen to enjoy the trappings of office. A party that acts as if it has ‘arrived’ and has nothing more to do will be discarded by the electorate. This exact message can be determined but it needs to be positive, future focused and hard-hitting as well as deal with challenges. Throughout we communicate one simple fact we don’t expect to leave the Union.
2. The Party has very little time. Over three months have passed since the European Elections in which the party has done very little except a small number of high level internal meetings. There may be as little as eight months to an election with the Xmas period in the middle of it. Therefore decisions and actions need to be taking place in days and weeks NOT months.
3. The Party has a massive task in the 2010 and 2011 elections. Some seem to wish to forget about the European Election result and slip back into the old patterns, this is a mistake. Accept that if the party agrees to the devolution of Policing and Justice powers this task becomes even more substantial. Two other issues with electoral potency are education (academic selection) and the economy.
|Do offer a vision for the Union as a whole and Ulster’s place within it.||Don’t think a few fancy words about the status quo are a vision for Ulster and the Union.|
|Do recognise the public are not enthused by devolution.||Don’t think re-producing a laundry list of what government has done (again) will enthuse them. They’ve heard it and aren’t impressed.|
|Do aim to raise the standard of Unionist political discourse both within broad Unionism and with Nationalism.||Don’t think invective will work as well now as it did when the DUP was in opposition. Scare tactics aren’t working with the electorate. Don’t think wrapping ourselves in the flag and saying Union lots of time is enough in a devolutionary situation.|
|Do apologise publicly and repeatedly for the expenses issue (and possibly a few other issues) and explain what will be done differently in future. The ‘self-interest’ narrative must be killed at all costs, this is one way of doing it.||Don’t think because it isn’t a media story that the poison has gone. The poison needs to be drawn before the election so it lacks impact during the campaign.|
|Do move to end multiple mandates/double jobbing sooner rather than later. How the same principle can be applied to staff members who are elected representatives and to internal party positions should be examined.||Don’t let this mean that MPs and parliamentary party are allowed to become irrelevant and all the focus is on Stormont. This was a fundamental error of the previous Stormont era.|
|Do re-organise Party headquarters to transform it for the tasks it faces. The DUP is now the largest Unionist party and a party of government but the structures have not adapted to this.||Don’t use this as an excuse to blame the staff. There is a lack of proper structure and strategic direction they have been operating within.|
|Do recognise the scale of the TUV’s success both in terms of the challenge the party faces but also public action e.g. do ask for the TUV’s views on P&J.||Don’t try to rationalise the TUV performance away or extrapolate how it has peaked/fade etc.|
|Do adopt a new approach to the TUV’s voters. They were our voters once and some could be again. Some are irreconcilable but too many were driven away by our Party’s errors. Do some proper opposition research on Jim Allister.||Don’t let personal animosities get in the way. Don’t give unattributed comments to the press describing the TUV as nutters etc.|
|Do appoint a full-time Director of Elections with a significant budget to spend between now and the Westminster and Assembly elections. They should have oversight over the policy and press units.||Don’t think lots of constituency work is the solution to the party’s electoral problems. The Party’s problems are political.|
|Do establish a Strategic Message Board of external people with relevant experience to act as a sounding board for how the strategic message is being rolled out.||Don’t think a strategic message is just a phrase for press statements but is communicated in the party’s actions too.|
|Do accept that the party singularly failed to recognise the warning signs of a bad election (twice). Ask why?||Don’t go looking for yes men and nodding dogs, seek out the sceptics and encourage internal debate.|
|Do recognise the ability of ongoing parades issues and sustained low level sectarian attacks have in sapping community confidence. They need to be a policy priority.||Don’t just hope these will fade away. The evidence so far is they will more likely escalate.|
|Do look to build coalitions with different sections of the Unionist community. Identify key groups and work with them in developing a policy agenda.||Don’t look for wedge issues in the Unionist community. We are the largest party now we have to act like it.|
|Do aim to be the party of ideas both for the Union and for Ulster. Do support the development of a proper and focused ‘Unionist’ think tank.||Don’t think that the Unionist Academy as is and as it has been developing is anywhere near being fit for either role. Don’t continue with the adoption of opponent’s concepts and language develop our own|
|Do recognise the Tory link has some potential||
Don’t think blank repetition of Labour attacks will be effective.