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Conversing with the electorate – what the DUP needs to do…

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.

Communications Checklist

Do’s

Don’t’s

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.

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Filed under: communications, DUP

11 Responses

  1. Chekov says:

    Serious question FD. Could SF pull out of the Executive re P & J and force Assembly elections before the general one next year. That’s be awful news for both main unionist parties. Not quite sure that there’s an awful lot to prevent them doing this and becoming the biggest party.

  2. […] for DUP comms @ Open Unionism Posted on September 24, 2009 by bobballs Over at Open Unionism, Fair Deal has a great piece tackling how the DUP can better communicate with the electorate… […]

  3. fair_deal says:

    As I understand it yes they could. The question is would the SoS allow it or would they suspend?

    The DUP will undoubtedly take a hit (although probably slightly ameoliarated if SF have flounced out in a fit of pique but it is whether they can restrict that hit to 8 seats in such a context. The target seats SF have could be hampered IF the Unionist parties co-operated e.g. Upper Bann. The unknown is transfer patterns that could mess up big time and where the TUV runs and how their voters begave were they don’t. So while it is likely that SF would be the largest party it is by no means guaranteed.

    As for the biggest party bit I remember the DUP taking flak for saying SF should be prevented from getting the claim of being the largest party 😉

  4. Chekov says:

    I’m not saying it would be a disaster for the Union (although it would be a lot better had not the biggest designation rule bitten the dust). I’m trying to get a sense of how they might be thinking. Just wondering have the DUP considered the possibility?

    I see fewer downsides for SF to an early election, if it were to be held, than either unionist party (although Allister will no doubt be champing at the bit).

    The DUP would likely lose seats and the UUP could find itself contesting seats AGAINST Conservatives, struggling with its own internal difficulties, trying to contend with hardening unionist attitudes, months before the pact goes to the polls together.

  5. fair_deal says:

    I heard that during the policing debate Gregory Campbell talked about elections in his speech. I haven’t seen it but it would probably give you a better steer on thinking than my knowledge

  6. Shuffling Geisha says:

    It is actually quite eerie how similar this is to what the UUP would have needed to do in 2001 …

  7. fair_deal says:

    I would be bringing those experiences possibly at some sort of sub-conscious level.

  8. Laughing (Tory) Unionist says:

    An excellent article, so good in fact I could have written it myself. Indeed, it almost redeems the eruption of yet another branch of Continuity Turtlism. Almost, but not quite. To go that extra mile to decontaminate yourselves, you’re going to have to do something about the unreadable nature of this site, specifically the scaling: impose some gutters on this wretched, loping column of text. Newspapers may have little to teach about profitability, but they’re still designed to be read. This site isn’t. Which kinda defeats the purpose. Which, I suppose, makes it as echt-Trimble as it’s possible to be . . .

  9. thefreshthinking says:

    Fair-Deal. Agree, agree and agree. What the party needs to do is publish a white-paper on the way forward setting out how we’re going to regain peoples trust. It disappoints me that this hasn’t happened already.

  10. […] a comment » Fair_deal has recently written an excellent article on things the DUP should do to minimise further damage at the Westminster and Stormont elections. I […]

  11. tadotozyfef says:

    Cool story, I did not thought it was going to be so cool when I looked at the url.

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