Picture a political communicator, spin doctor, call them what you will. Got one? Chances are it’s a media savvy, politically ambitious man who has made himself indispensable to the party leadership.
We are all familiar with the tried and trusted ‘command and control’ structure of political communications. Right through to this decade political leaders have largely been able to control what information enters the public domain and select the media they wish to use.
The majority of these individuals, some very high profile in their own right have tended to be part of a close knit group surrounding the Party leader. Take for example Andy Coulson and his connections to the top of the Conservative Party before his appointment as Director of Communications for the Prime Minister.
This monopoly over communications by those close to the political elite has meant that political communications has been difficult to infiltrate. Something I will admit I find mildly troubling. The continuing rise and widespread uptake of social media may however have the power to change this.
Alastair Campbell, arguably one of the more prominent political communicators and himself part of tight knit group around Tony Blair in the lead up to and years following the 1997 Labour landslide, has himself argued that the command and control method cannot continue.
He has suggested that there are simply too many conversations and content creators online to able to effectively manage communications from the top. If then, the old model is dying out, can we expect to see a diversification of both the kind of individuals involved in political communications, as well as the method used to promote their messages?
End of command and control?
Certainly we are seeing a relaxation of the command and control structure with increasing numbers of elected representatives, whether they be MP’s or local officials, taking to social media.
Now this could be a conscious decision by the political elite to loosen control over political messaging in recognition of shifting media cultures or individual politician’s efforts to raise their own profile.
While elected officials have always had the ear of the media to some extent, they able now to communicate with the public instantly, sometimes without having had the messages approved by the communication chiefs.
There are of course some prominent examples of this. Diane Abbott’s recent brush with online scandal being just one of many. It is not just elected officials that have found themselves with a greater voice in the political communications sphere however.
Political blogging is having a dramatic effect in communications with organisational or policy related stories breaking before the traditional media has caught wind of it.
While in theory you would expect this to aid the continued diversification of communicators in the political arena, research undertaken by Hansard Society last year discovered that 85% of individual blogs in Total Politics Political Blog Awards 2010 were written by men.
Laurie Penny, a prominent political blogger of Penny Red fame responded to the survey suggesting women are becoming far more active in political communications, setting up huge political networks online like Mumsnet. It is the traditional ‘Westminster Bubble’ that has failed to recognise such sites as political communications.
The ease by which someone can enter a political conversation is certainly contributing to the broadening of communications and the diversification of those involved.
However we have to assume that the diversification of communications in politics is not necessarily welcomed by those at the top because of political and electoral difficulties brought about by loss of control in messaging.
It is therefore highly likely that we will continue to see figures at the top of politics attempting to exercise some level of control over communications effectively continuing to exclude those who do not fit the traditional mould.
Rebecca Ramsdale blogs at http://bexramsdale.wordpress.com/