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Trump, Brexit, Corbyn – the rules of political engagement have changed

Trump, Brexit, Corbyn – the rules of political engagement have changed

Bandying about insults, interrupting his opponent, a winding monologue packed with hyperbole and absent of any detail.

Casual observers of US politics could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon an episode of The Apprentice. Except it couldn’t be The Apprentice, could it? Sure enough, that was Trump stood up on stage, but with Hillary Clinton alongside him?

No observer, this was not reality TV – this was just symptomatic of the direction politics in the US and the UK is lurching towards.

The less attentive amongst the public would have been left aghast at Donald Trump’s performance in the first US Presidential debate – how could such a man be anywhere near the race for the White House?

Donald Trump, US election

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore on Flickr

And yet to those who have been paying attention – Trump’s rise is part of a continuing trend in global politics. There has been a noticeable and collective rejection of the establishment permeating across the British and American political spectrums.

The political shift in the last twelve months has been as fast as it has unexpected. For people in the UK, it started in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election, with the Labour leadership race after Ed Milliband tendered his resignation.

Jeremy Corbyn defied the predictions of every pundit, expert and media outlet to secure the leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015 with the largest mandate in the party’s history. Why were people so drawn to Corbyn? Maybe it’s because he is different, he represents change – an alternative to the status quo.

What has followed is twelve months of utter turmoil for the Labour Party and the relentless savaging of Corbyn in the mainstream media.

From a refusal to sing the national anthem, to arguments over trident and defence, to the Labour anti-Semitism scandal, to the Virgin train farce – Corbyn has staggered from one PR disaster to the next, with the baying media falling over each other in their eagerness to sink their teeth into him.

David Cameron described it best, when he said that Corbyn is like the Black Knight from Monty Python, just as he seems to have been defeated and cast aside, he gathers himself and limps on.

Jeremy Corbyn

Image courtesy of Eric the Fish on Flickr

But what this really seems to be demonstrating, is just how wrong the mainstream media are getting politics – three of the most seismic political events of the last year have been the Labour leadership contest, the EU referendum, and the US Presidential race – and so far the media have got two out of three wrong.

Nobody gave Corbyn a hope of surviving a month, then he wasn’t going to see out the new year, then every media outlet told us that Owen Smith was a far more ‘electable’ candidate. The Telegraph, the Sun and the Mail ridiculed him, the Guardian lamented his destruction of the Labour Party. If people believed all they read in the news Owen Smith would surely have thrashed Corbyn with a 99.99% majority.

And yet here we are, blinking at Groundhog Day twelve months on, with Corbyn securing his re-election in a head-to-head with Owen Smith by winning a commanding 61.8% of the vote.

But then what about Brexit? This surely was something that everyone knew the answer to. Every political party beyond UKIP was united behind the idea of staying in the EU.

The Prime Minister wheeled out experts from every imaginable industry to warn against the dangers of leaving the European Union. A ‘Leave’ campaign was fronted by the hapless trio of the lamentable Nigel Farage, the abject Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – a man with all the charisma of a pencil.

All conventional wisdom pointed towards one result – a vote to Remain in the European Union. But another result came and went, and again it went against the prediction of almost every informed expert. Why were people so drawn to Brexit? Maybe it was immigration, maybe it was sovereignty but once again it represented change – and this is how the Leave campaign pitched it – an alternative to the status quo.

Eu flag, brexit

Image courtesy of Marlena on Flickr

So now here we are, with a matter of weeks left until the next President of the USA is decided. Hillary Clinton has the bulk of the mainstream media –newspapers and TV networks on her side. She has the celebrities, the business people, the backing of the political elite.

But it all sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Just how confident are the pundits feeling right now about who the next President of the United States will be? How confident does anyone feel in making any predictions over what’s coming next in politics?

Whatever you or I may think of Donald Trump (a great deal of it, I’m sure, is not printable) one thing he does represent is change. He may be incendiary, vitriolic, and arguably unhinged – but if there is one thing he doesn’t represent – it’s the political status quo.

First we got Corbyn, then we got Brexit. It’s crazy to think, but betting on Trump to win doesn’t seem so crazy anymore.

So buckle up, what happens next is anybody’s guess.

Hillary Clinton and her Presidential PR

Hillary Clinton, The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of kansieo on Flickr’

Hillary Clinton is running for president.

It is no shocking revelation but her approach to the campaign and the long run to November 2016 is something to watch carefully.

Over the years Clinton has worked hard in a number of often-conflicting roles. She has had to progress from dignified and dutiful First Lady to dominant and successful Secretary of State and now must present herself as a darling of the left whilst remaining centrist enough to win over more conservative voters when the Primaries are over and done. Clinton has spent each of these roles collecting contrasting PR images. All of which now need to be combined into one election-winning persona whilst doing the hardest thing of all: appearing human.

 

First Lady of the United States

Even before her husband was elected Clinton was an influential person in his life and politics.

'Image courtesy of InSapphoWeTrust on Flickr'

‘Image courtesy of InSapphoWeTrust on Flickr’

 

While Bill Clinton served as Governor of Arkansas, Hillary continued to work as a lawyer and take on an active philanthropic role. During the Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign Clinton was often referred to as “Lady Macbeth” referencing her role as a key member of her husband’s political circle.

She is considered to be second only to Eleanor Roosevelt when it comes to influential First Ladies (and perhaps now Michelle Obama).

Neatly balancing her advocacy for children and healthcare with advising her husband and assisting with the implementation of diplomatic strategy, as First Lady those surrounding her sought to ensure Clinton always came across as feminine. They knew, and she knew, that she needed to play up to the image that was expected of her in order to wield influence.

 

United States Senator and Secretary of State

As a Senator, Clinton built relationships across both parties.

During the Iraq war, she spent time abroad visiting soldiers and advocating for benefits for veterans.

As secretary of state Clinton once again showed that she was a formidable sparring partner for US friends and foes alike.

She played a crucial role in the Obama administration with a number of crucial successes: the response to Afghanistan, the US response to the Arab Uprisings and the decision over whether to raid the Osama bin Laden compound. Consequently, Clinton’s image progressed and developed from the educated and advisory First Lady to an efficient and ruthless politician.

Presidential Candidate

Clinton needs to build on her image as a strong and capable leader that she has shown over her time in politics, as she is now required to do something far more difficult that being competent.

She has to be human.

Running as a political legacy has its benefits and it drawbacks. It allows Clinton to point to a past success record that will show her strong suits when it comes to health, education and even foreign policy decisions. She can prove that she is a resilient leader with experience at the height of American politics.

Recent polls showed that 84% of people in both Iowa and New Hampshire thought that Clinton had the foreign policy experience to navigate a dangerous world whereas her closest opponent Bernie Sanders polled at just 3%. The same poll showed that in New Hampshire 67% of people thought that Clinton knew how to get things done in Washington however only 34% in the same state thought that the front-runner as authentic.

If Clinton wins the Democratic nomination and goes on to beat whoever the Republican candidate is, whether it be Florida Senator Marco Rubio or fellow political legacy Florida Senator Jeb Bush or any one of the 11 others that have declared, she needs to present herself as the human candidate, to create a balance between her personal and professional personae.

In order to help soften her image, Clinton has hired Kristina Schake, the woman who ‘softened’ Michelle Obama. During Barak Obama’s 2008 campaign Michelle Obama was criticized for some of her comments and her tough woman image.

It is unfortunate that in order to win elections in the United States women have to appear feminine and “soft”.

The real tragedy is that Clinton is qualified for the job of President of the United States. More than qualified.

She has served in the White House; it has never been a secret that she often influenced her husband’s decisions while in office. She has served in Congress as a Senator with a wide scope of influence on a range of committees. She has served on the Cabinet in one of the most demanding jobs that exist.

But sadly that is not enough.

Clinton looks to have learned a lot from her 2008 presidential run. This time she seems to have taken on the criticism from a senior advisor who suggested that her biggest mistake was missing the opportunity to show her softer side. Now seeking to run a simple campaign, with the help of Ms Schake, she hopes to humanize the Clinton image and make ‘real people’ relate to the presidential hopeful.

Running as a democrat Clinton may gain traction in the polls as the first woman to do so.

 

But she also has to appeal to the ordinary American who tends to be more conservative.

Clinton is already stressing her commitment to the family making it one of her 4 key pledges for the campaign while ensuring that LGBT rights among other liberal stand points fall under the same umbrella.

Clinton has a long way to go. Not only to winning the Democratic nomination, but also to the White House.

As a candidate with unparalleled experience and determination to get break the “highest and hardest glass ceiling”. There is hope that there will be a woman in the White House in the not too distant future.

Clinton knows how to play the game.

She knows that it is unfortunate that she has to appear as a wife and mother alongside her political ambitions. But she also knows that playing the system that exists may be the only way to change it.