Talking to the 87 Percent: Why engaging with people outside London matters so much

The article below, by Newgate CEO Gavin Devine, originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Even though the UK General Election campaign has been underway from the moment Theresa May came back from her Easter walking holiday, it did not officially begin until Parliament was dissolved in the last few days.  So now seems like as good a moment as any to pause and look back on the early skirmishes, and what we have learned thus far.

Perhaps the most striking thing has not been the coma-inducing banality of slogans like ‘strong and stable’ and ‘coalition of chaos’, nor Tim Farron wriggling as he explains his views on homosexuality, nor even the over-blown spat between the Government and the European Union (surely not the first time that Mr Juncker has had a bit too much to drink and insulted his dinner hosts).  No, what has been really noticeable has been the degree to which this fight is going on outside London.  It is abundantly clear that what happens in Scotland, in Wales, in the north and the west will decide the outcome of this poll.  By contrast the electoral battle in the capital seems deeply uninteresting and unimportant.

Of course, the moment the Metropolitan Elite realised that what happened in the regions mattered was in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum in June last year.  Not when the result was announced, but when the house mag of the Remoaners, the FT, appointed its first ‘regional’ correspondent.  The sound of scales falling from eyes was deafening, as people who had never strayed much beyond the M25 – except to go to Glasto, or Soho-House-in-the-Cotswolds, or fishing in west Wales or shooting in Scotland – noticed that 87 percent of the population does not live in London, and has its own, sometimes defiant, voice.

That shock to the system has been compounded in the past week with the results of the local elections.  These can be illustrated with broad brushstrokes: the Tories cleaning up, UKIP nearly disappearing, Labour melting down, the SNP doing well (or taking a step backward, if you believe some) and the LibDems patchy at best.  But the detail is far more interesting: not just that every party won a few council seats in unexpected places, but that Andy Burnham won for Labour in Manchester and Andy Street for the Tories in Birmingham, and that the LibDems had a shocking result in Bristol.  Local results caused by local issues and local sensibilities and beliefs.  In other words, local and regional politics has come to centre stage.

What this all reflects is that power and influence have become dispersed, and the political and regulatory environment has become a lot more complex and localised.  Just as regional and local voters have found their voice, so they have as consumers and employees and so on.  Political parties, media, businesses and others need properly to respond to these trends.  As the rest of this General Election campaign will prove, broadcasting from headquarters in London is no longer enough.  Understanding deeply what really matters outside London, and crafting messages that resonate with regional and local audiences, is something that all organisations now need to do.  Getting outside the bubble is a huge priority for everyone.

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