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Keep it simple, Starmer

By Patrick Southwell:

I’m not one to shout about my politics. If I did ever open up about it, you’d soon find out I’m about as middle of the road as humanly possible. So, it’s with a neutral stance that I feel compelled to write about a political leader.

Why? You’re always here with the good questions, aren’t you? I’ll tell you. It’s because this morning, one of the headlines on my beloved Today Programme was all about Labour leader, Keir Starmer’s 11,500-word essay that aimed to set out what he stands for.

I noted with interest that the headline didn’t tell me what the content of the essay was. All I knew was that he’d written something longer than your average short story. I looked online for more info.

What did I find? The BBC article’s first paragraph told me, “Sir Keir Starmer has published an 11,500-word essay on what he stands for and how he wants to change the UK, ahead of his party's conference.” The Mirror’s headline was, “Keir Starmer's 11,500-word Labour essay at a glance.”

I was struck that the key takeaway from this political communication was not the content, but the form. More specifically, its length. Labour has a track record in this area, having been mocked back in 1983 for writing, “the longest suicide note in history,” with its election manifesto. This came back to haunt them in 2019.

Compare this compulsion to write lengthy tomes with the more electorally successful politicians of our time. Blair in 2001 with, “education, education, education.” Trump in 2016 with, “build the wall, drain the swamp and lock her up.” Johnson in 2019 with, "Get Brexit done."

You might not agree with these politicians (that’s the beauty of democracy). But love them or loathe them (in Trump’s case, loathe him or loathe him) they know how to get a message over. One that is specific, comes in chantable, three-word phrases and is actionable.

We can (and should) argue about policy all day. But you can’t disagree about the better way to communicate.

Put simply, three words are better than 11,500. Or as I might say, five not 10.


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