The majority of those in the room let out a low, indefinable noise. I think it mainly indicated shock. Some also seemed mildly amused. I was among a group of six people watching a package to be included in a regional version of the Sunday Politics ahead of a recording of the show.
The part of the film that provoked such a reaction was a Green party politician conceding that her party’s support was taking a hit due to Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity among their voters. It was hard to work out whether the response was one of admiration for her honesty, or confusion at the perceived tactical error. On reflection, I think perhaps it was a large chunk of both.
Later in the week (at the opposite end of the news spectrum) President Obama was visiting the UK. Inevitably, he was drawn into the debate over the UK’s future in the European Union. He backed the remain campaign, leading to outcry from the leave camp. But it was the retort in a column by Boris Johnson that took many by surprise. Whatever your views on his decision to reference the President’s heritage - and many will rightly question the tastefulness of the remarks – it’s hard to argue with the assertion that Boris simply said what he honestly thought.
The straight-talking continued when John McDonnell gave what was reported as a ‘downbeat assessment’ of Labour’s chances in the upcoming local elections. When asked about the May 5 poll, he would only say his party intended to "hold on to as much as we possibly can". This was quite a departure from the usual drill for politicians, who take any opportunity to talk up their chances of trouncing their opponents, or at least defying the odds, at the ballot box.
Each of these episodes could have had the spin doctors’ blood pressure rising, but is that necessarily a bad thing for the level of public debate? We all say we want our elected representatives to be honest and tell us what they truly think, so that we can make an informed judgement about whether to support them, their party or their campaign.
Most businesses should avoid the blunt approach taken by Boris in response to Obama and it would seldom be advisable for a commercial organisation to admit that its popularity is on the wane – unless it was the precursor to some radical action designed to reverse the situation. There are, however, definite parallels between the arts of political and corporate communications. Dishonest organisations will lose the trust of their stakeholders (think emissions in certain makes of car) in the same way that disingenuous politicians will eventually lose the trust of voters. A loss of trust among key audiences can lead to terminal decline for both political parties and businesses. That’s why, from any perspective, business, political and more importantly a moral one, honesty is the best and only policy.
Max Wilkinson is an Account Manager at Camargue.