Politicians need to engage better with electorate, says Campbell

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As the dust settles on the Conservatives’ Election victory, former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell gave Vital Topics guests his very own take on the 2015 campaign.

In a candid address on the eve of the Election, Campbell – who as Tony Blair’s spokesman helped mastermind three successive Election victories – said the big lesson from the 2015 campaign was that politicians needed to better engage with the public.

“The stuff that doesn’t matter gets so much attention, and the stuff that does gets so little. On the one hand it cheats the public, while on the other politicians have to do a far better job of engaging on the stuff that does matter. Somehow we have to get this triangle of politics, media and public into better shape.”

Campbell said he found it incredible that there had been no debate about foreign policy and next to no debate about Europe during the Election, even though UKIP had driven the Conservative party to promise a referendum.

But he said we shouldn’t overestimate the power of the media to sway voters. “The media do not decide Elections in the end. They are decided by the public deciding how they are going to vote. The question then is how do the public decide? The media is an influence but it is not the key influencer. I think we wildly overstate the importance of the media in that decision-making process.”

Asked why he had never considered running for Parliament himself, Campbell revealed that he had been asked last year to stand, but said something held him back. “When I did politics full on last time I almost lost the lot. I am not ruling it out but I think it is unlikely. What holds me back is that I have got a life back, I have got a nice life again. I am glad I did it but I was not very happy doing it.”

Winners and how they succeed

Campbell used his lecture to discuss the themes in his latest book about winners and how they succeed. He said many winners shared common traits such as being incredibly hard workers and obsessive in detail. “They all have resilience too, know how to build a team, never stand still, are never totally satisfied. Knowing the difference between wanting to win and the will to win is important too.”

Campbell said if you looked at people at the top level of politics around the world, then in his view there were very few that had the “drive, zeal and hunger” to win.

He also said some of his winners were not happy people. “I spend a lot of time campaigning on mental health and illness and I write in the book about the extent to which a lot of people as winners are what we would define as mentally ill, and that we shouldn’t necessarily always see that as a bad thing because for some of them it is that which has given them the extra ability to step out of themselves.”

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