homeworld NewsLondon Eye: Rishi Sunak's campaign could be too smart

London Eye: Rishi Sunak's campaign could be too smart

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By Sanjay Suri  Aug 1, 2022 12:45:50 PM IST (Updated)

Rishi Sunak has a smart product going for him. But in common with marketing weaknesses that are far from unusual, the messaging is not quite matched to the target audience.

Rishi Sunak is running a smart campaign, and that’s a problem — it’s almost too smart. It carries a glitzy veneer of smart management. That’s a style far from the world of most Conservative Party voters. The greater risk is that this style is not just distant to them, it could be annoying.

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The base of his campaign is a campaign website that is handled with all the slickness one could expect from Rishi Sunak and his campaign managers. It invites supporters, and invites them to enlist more, step by slick step. It’s not clear what this will do for the elderly couple in the countryside who are the typical Conservative voter.
Rishi has a smart product going for him. But in common with marketing weaknesses that are far from unusual, the messaging is not quite matched to the target audience.
In this, and this could be everything, Rishi Sunak has been wrong-footed from the start. The day after Boris Johnson announced his resignation as Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak hit social media with a video message charting his path from the family home in Southampton to promise of what he would do if moved into 10 Downing Street. But who was this message aimed at?
For a start, it would be 358 Conservative MPs set to short-list two candidates through five rounds of voting. As it turned out Rishi Sunak led through every one of them, and stepped up his lead with every round. But he fell well short of the half-way point. Contenders in earlier such elections had crossed that line comfortably.
This was an election among people he had all met and knew. It was a campaign that would necessarily be fought with personal conversations conducted directly, and furthered on his behalf by MPs loyal to him to win votes in every succeeding round that had gone to candidates who fell away. Rishi and his team did all that without doubt.
The final tally in the parliamentary round got Sunak 137 votes to Truss’s 113. Those 137 MPs were not won over by his video message on social media, nor did Truss appear hugely disadvantaged by a refusal to parallel Sunak’s style of campaigning. Her 24 fewer votes didn’t go down to the lack of a slick video message.
Party Members
At best the video message could have been a way to reach party members voting in the second run-off round, an estimated 160,000 of them (the Conservative Party has not announced how many members it has). But that broader aim is dubious too, and possibly counterproductive. His style sets him too far apart from the world of a substantial number of Conservative voters.
A substantial number of Conservative voters is above 65 years of age, and the majority above 50. A large number of the 65-plus and certainly the 50-plus are now Internet-savvy enough to get on to the web and certainly WhatsApp. But there is a preferred way, and a doable way — direct contact.
Over recent days Rishi Sunak has thankfully shifted to more and more of that, other than the official hustings under way through all of August. That has been Liz Truss’s way from the start, and she is way ahead.
It is not hard to reach 160,00 members directly over the space of six weeks. The Conservative Party has their names, addresses and contact information, and both candidates have had access to that list. Truss and her team have taken the path of more direct contact with them from the start. And that time advantage could be critical.
Rishi Sunak’s great advantage is himself when he comes across personally and directly. He has a winning manner, and appears to have won many supporters through his direct meetings with them. He clearly debates better, and knows — and appears to know — far more on handling the economy. That is at the heart of the election issues, and is the core of his strength.
But voters make up their minds early, not many will wait until September 2 to figure which way the debate goes. The hustings come after this early period, and party members begin receiving their postal ballot papers from Monday August 1. He will have to campaign now in more the Truss way than the one that has been mostly his so far.
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
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