So much of life comes down to communication. It’s particularly important in public life, because when you’re spending other people’s money or you are in your job by the grace of those who voted you there, you need to show results.
That’s what has gone so horribly wrong for certain parts of the Government in the last week with regard to flooding; the perception battle was lost. Badly. And when it’s lost, it’s very hard to get people back on your side because, for one thing, they stop listening.
It was fascinating watching this slowly unfold. The Secretary of State visits a flood-hit area, takes in the scene and leaves again. Cue howls of protest that he didn’t put on a pair of wellies or stop by a community hall to meet the affected people. It looks aloof and unconcerned, even if it really wasn’t. He may have been under massive time pressure to get back to London and actually do something practical about the problems. But if so, that wasn’t communicated either…
Okay. Government needs to fix this, so the Prime Minister starts talking tough and making the right noises about caring for the welfare of the affected residents and businesses. Money will be diverted from other budgets to do some, er, dredging. Better, but still not utterly convincing. And his feet didn’t get wet.
Now the master stroke. Whether of his own volition (I suspect it was) or by request of the powers that be (seems unlikely) in steps the Prince of Wales. Wearing his obviously well-traveled wellie boots he wades through the water, rides on the back of a tractor through an apparent ocean of flood water and takes tea with the locals at a village hall, while all the time making precisely the kind of sympathetic noises everyone wanted to hear all along.
HRH hasn’t always had the best press and some of that he’s brought on himself. But this one was a masterstroke that left the impression of a caring monarch-in-waiting and a detached government.
And sometimes it’s as simple as just being seen to do the right thing.