Book Review: Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit

Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of BrexitUnleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit by Craig Oliver

As someone involved in messaging, communications, strategy and PR, “Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit” was a riveting read with narratives, analogy, honest assessments and a front line seat to witness what exactly took place behind Number 10 Downing Street during on the most important period of British politics.

Craig Oliver as David Cameron’s Director of Politics and Communications documents the time from January, 2016, when Cameron renegotiated a deal with the European Union, the subsequent Referendum on Europe and the immediate aftermath of the referendum. From the onset it is obvious Oliver painted a benevolent view of Prime Minister David Cameron who is perceived as a man who wanted to ship the country to a better future and end the futile bickering of Europe. George Osborne, Cameron’s heir apparent was portrayed as a man who held conviction and put loyalty to Cameron above any political ambition. Oliver however painted Michael Gove, Chair of Leave as a Machiavellian character who may have been brilliant in being a savvy political operator but at the expense of political ambition and using any way to justify the means. Boris Johnson, the other lead Leaver was portrayed as a lost soul who may have meant well but was confused. I for one disagree about Boris and his agenda, one only has to read “Just Boris” to understand the blond ambition of the man. Although Nigel Farage is mentioned disparagingly, despite the fact that he was heard everywhere in the campaign, Oliver did ignore him at his peril throughout the book.

Oliver throughout the book recalls that he understood ‘ what the man on the street’ was thinking in relation to the Referendum, but their concerns over Immigration could not be addressed, coupled by the fact that the Remain refused to engage in Tory -on-Tory differences, which Cameron refused to engage. The economy was the selling point for The Remain Campaign, yet immigration could not be overcome, and even though the master of communication himself, Peter Mandelson repeatedly raised the prospect of Cameron addressing immigration, which was often ignored. It was obvious the issue of immigration made the difference for Brexit to win.

Oliver came out with the book before most others and gave an insider’s perspective without really going into detail of the mood the country. No doubt as more publications, diaries, analysis and history books will come out with a honest and brutal assessment of David Cameron as the man who took a gamble on the future of the country in order to calm unrest within his own party spectacularly backfired. Oliver was clearly an integral part of the inner circle and admits where he felt the campaign went wrong, however don’t expect a full analysis on why Remain lost.

I did find Oliver’s fascination with Peter Mandelson interesting as it seems the Labour PM tends to leave impressions on people across all political divides. Oliver also noted in late January David Cameron making the perceptive comment: “She could be PM in six months’ time,” the rest they say is history.

Oliver’s book highlights how important it is to have perfectly crafted and realistic messaging is essential for any organisation to succeed for any campaign or cause. However hand in hand, if one does not understand the pulse of the people of whom you are trying to convince, then expect a moment of unleashing demons coming one’s way.

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Daily Mail blames foreigners for driving with phone – but why?

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As Ian Marchant who wrote on Facebook earlier today: “This is the cover of today’s Daily Mail. I think we all agree that using your mobile while driving is mental. But this is classic Mail stuff. A Polish lorry driver, we photograph 17 foreign drivers, etc.I suspect that you could just as well have taken similar photos of British drivers in the same period. But no. I realise that the guy who was convicted this week was Polish. I don’t deny that. But surely the problem is mobile phones, not ‘foreign-ness. And so the drip-drip-drip of hate goes on.”

Few pointers from me based on a messaging perspective:

1. The article and headline highlights subtle racist overtones which state that only foreign drivers use their phones whilst driving.

2. Daily Mail are taking the debate on step forward in their rhetoric. They’ve ALWAYS attacked foreigners, but in this case they’re attacking foreigners who are  doing something wrong which is demonstrating that something which white British Middle Class people don’t do (in other words use their phone and drive).

3. Rather than look at the symptom of the problem, the story is stating that foreigners who come to our country don’t abide by OUR rules.

4. Of course the “law must be toughened” is in their narrative, but again it is directed towards immigrants and foreigners, rather than the wider populace at large. The Daily Mail is always on tune with tough law and order but the law in their eyes is to protect little England from foreigners who ’cause these problems’.

Sharapova PR machine on the front foot

From a PR perspective the not so fallen tennis ace Maria Sharapova has come out on the front foot after being notified through a letter that she had taken a banned substance. As history has shown us that sporting icons and illegal drug use tends to cast doubts over successful careers, damage to reputations and a lifetime of denials.

However in this case Sharapova used the opportunity to control the narrative and set the tone to a story which could have had severe consequences to a glittering career. She played a straight bat and informed the world that she was tested positive for meldonium, a substance she has been taking since 2006 for health issues. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) said the five-time Grand Slam champion would be provisionally suspended from 12 March.

With previous sporting drug scandals, you tend to find programmes, discussions and debate to why this took place in the first place. But the darling of tennis used this opportunity to humanise her story by stating she ‘was open and honest about a lot if things,” while she stressed she let people down and would face consequences. Sharapova also put the ball into the court of the tennis authorities in relation to the length of the ban by admitting she made a mistake Her PR operation in controlling the message which to a great degree was damaging had in fact taken the sting out of the tail.

The press conference and admission of guilt over a subject which automatically can bring condemnation and isolation from peers and the public, one only needs to study the fallout when Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones were found to have taken illegal substances.

Sharapova humanised the possible scandal by admitting what she had done herself. In PR and crisis communications that usually is far more effective than hiding behind a bland statement or using a spokesperson for that matter, as it can come across there is more to hide, and hence the media probing begins.  By not issuing a carefully written statement but speaking from the heart and then taking questions from the floor, Sharapova delivered an ace in wrestling control of the narrative rather than passively waiting for the news to leak.

To a certain degree PR strategies of an admission of guilt through the human perspective can vindicate the person, bring sympathy and above all control the narrative and messaging which is often lost if others leak the story which forces the person to react.

Her PR strategy worked as the reaction has been hugely sympathetic as rivals like Serena Williams responded by saying Sharapova had showed “a lot of courage” for accepting responsibility for her failed drugs test. While he former coach Nick Bollettieri said the Russian’s test was a “game-changer for life, not just for tennis”.

The 84-year-old American told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was shocked former world number one Sharapova tested positive because “she has always been above board in everything,”no doubt his comments also fitted the Sharapova narrative as well, as when others sympathise rather than condemn it makes a huge difference to brand perception. Also it does help  being the pin-up girl of tennis, no doubt that worked to her advantage.

Taking the PR offensive of admission now means she probably will expect a short ban. her peers, the world of tennis and her fans will not judge as a cheat but as an irresponsible athlete who should have read the label before taking the medication. she will now no doubt enter a period of reflection with some carefully managed interviews on the way which will pave way for a comeback tour which will bring her millions of more dollars  in endorsements and sponsorships. No doubt Nike who suspended her contract worth $70m (£49m) will no doubt re-unite  and recover the lost revenue when things become clear.

And finally expect a retirement announcement which will be on Sharapova’s terms and  will not be announced in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with a fairly ugly carpet.