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2024-25 Like your Manifesto? Put it to the testo.

Something changed in Ireland on 23rd November 2023.

The effects of the Dublin riots will be felt long after our disgust recedes. The impact of that night of lawlessness is redefining the national conversation as we speak – and it will propel the next general election cycle also.

The cost of entry

The cost of entry into the political conversation from actors and entities outside the mainstream political parties is so low that it renders regulations on spending on political communications almost meaningless. When anyone – any citizen, any activist with an opinion or a cause, who has access to a device can produce a campaign ad, the calculus of what constitutes effective campaign content must shift.

Not that I’m holding my breath. Our recent history of campaign creative management has traditionally been a uniquely bloodless space in the English-speaking world. It’s where “Keep the recovery going” or “Lot’s done, more to do” sloganeering comes from (that said Michael McDowell’s “One party government? No thanks” gets some tactical kudos). “Remember the president is a product”, Madmen’s Pete Campbell tells the team in Sterling Cooper after comparing Nixon’s point- by-PR-team-generated point policy presentation movie versus Kennedy’s Sinatra-led proto-rock the vote jingle. One is information, the other is inspiration.

Analysis vs. synthesis is a distinction that Irish political campaigning types seem oblivious to; repackaging voter research is not an idea, and a press release headline is not an ad. Voters – people – don’t work that way. Maybe it’s because Irish political communication pre-23/11 Ireland could get away with communications that would go actively out of the way not to spook the horses.

But this cycle is different. The horses are totally spooked. And suddenly everything matters.

2024 will see EU, US and our neighbours in the UK – as well as numerous important non-Anglophonic countries – voters go to the polls and these election campaigns will set the global mood music for our local discourse and comms in later 2024/25.

These campaigns will be divisive – and at times toxic. More toxic than ever before.

And the idea that Ireland can avoid decisiveness or toxicity – that radical actors will adhere to some unspoken gentleman’s agreement, or spending rules from another century – is as naïve as our national exceptionalism on, say, defence issues.

Policy will always matter. But political branding will need to extend to more than a poorly crafted slogan. Political parties are going to need to have a campaign with an organising, inspiring, emotive ‘idea’ this time out. Ideology needs ideas. And hopefully, ideas that don’t suck the life out of a voter. Maybe we could try – imagine this – ideas that capture the attention or imagination of actual human people.

Western citizens find themselves in as fragile a condition as their democratic institutions.

The idea of ‘Crisis Tribes’ that emerged from the recent European Council on Foreign Relations survey illustrates the new dynamics behind voter choice that pushes us past the old left-right divide. The ‘five tribes’ ranging from Climate to Security ushers in a new opportunity for better, braver political communication. And if pinko-liberal lefties see it, you can be sure others do too (arguably that’s why they’re winning).

Apres Match Election ’82 is worth a rewatch on YouTube.

Not just for the sheer lolz (who does Irish cultural satire better?… I’ll wait) but also to show how little political campaigning in Ireland has altered.

Traditionally, the local ground game of a local candidate speaking to hyper-local issues does the heavy lifting for a party brand. But in a global election cycle that could be viewed as a staggered referendum on the very future of liberal democracy itself, the stakes for the country seem that little bit higher, a little bit more existential, than usual.

If 23/11 teaches us anything, it’s there’s a battle of ideas raging right now. And the centre can’t hold unless someone makes the case for it.

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