News & Opinion

Re-connecting with the British Public

Rory Stewart, MP, discusses the disconnect between governments and the governed in a vein similar to that of the disconnect between media land and the consumer.

At an event hosted by the i, on the eve before Boris Johnson was announced as the new Prime Minister, Rory Stewart spoke about his rapid rise to fame and how he views the state of British politics and society as a whole. Emphasising in particular, the great disconnect between those in power and the people they are there to represent.

‘Roaring’ Rory Stewart, as he’s fondly known, became more widely known during his campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party, quickly picking up support for bringing a refreshing tone by being in his own view ‘mostly totally incompetent’.

During his discussion with Ian Birrell, Rory mentioned time and again his view of the disconnect between the grand plans of leaders and their lack of understanding of how they would be received by the general public. Whether this was from his time walking across the Middle East or sitting on the front bench in the Houses of Parliament, he has always felt this gulf.

“We don’t know very much about our own country. We don’t know much about each other.” 

While Rory was discussing Britain’s role in international politics this quote rings true of the many industries in the 21st century and in particular the media industry. Our study ‘Getting closer to the Great British public’ found how we all suffer from using stereotypes and assumptions, and how the media industry relies on outdated labels and assumptions that don’t resonate with the audiences they’re trying to target.

For instance, many non-Londoners assume that those living in the capital earn significantly more than those outside and subsequently don’t have the same financial concerns. In reality earnings in the capital are much lower than assumed and financial concerns are something that unite the majority of people in the UK.

Politicians and businesses alike utilise labels such as ‘millennials’ or ‘people in business’ to try and categorise and market to specific audiences. Whereas in reality only 20% of those aged 18-34 would align their aspirations with those of the ‘millennial’ label.

“Everyone is telling you what they’re going to do without saying how they’re going to do it”

Rory explained that one of his motivations for becoming a politician was witnessing Tony Blair’s arguments for intervention in Iraq. Whatever your own stance on that situation, Rory used it as an example of how too often grand ideas are discussed with no real detail on how they will be implemented. In his words ‘we need to abandon the fairy stories’. Political and business optimism must be grounded in ‘reality not foolhardiness’. 

The biggest mutual fear of the British public is that of the unknown, something that is highlighted in recent politics but also in consumer engagement with brands. A recent study by OMD and News UK found that the uncertainty of Brexit is impacting consumer spending habits, most notably when it came to long term investments. 

However, despite this uncertainty there are still many opportunities for brands. They ‘need to foster a greater sense of togetherness and trust, offering reassurance and rewards to counter anxiety and uncertainty’.

Overall Rory’s message was one of optimism despite the uncertain times, and that if widespread issues are acknowledged and addressed there can be a positive future.  

Sam Hudson 25/07/19

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