Listening to the speeches at the Conservative Party conference is like watching a masterclass in communication through change. As our elected politicians announce the first definitive steps of our withdrawal from the European Union and the re-creation of a truly independent Sovereign state, it is worth taking a moment to look at the language and tone they have used.
Theresa May used her first speech to explain why there has been a delay so far, to reassure the public that it was important to get the negotiation strategy in place first but planning was taking place and to act by stating that Article 50 would be invoked no later than the end of March 2017. Without giving a more definite date she attempted to silence her critics by making it clear that there is a plan in place and doing so with a commanding authority and a very strong message that this was not something that could be rushed. While we wait for the detail of the timetable and the start of the negotiations we do at least have a path to follow now and for better or worse a clearer date for Brexit.
Philip Hammond used his conference speech to announce more spending closer to home on big infrastructure projects such has housing and transport in an attempt to boost our economy at a time where we face ‘a bit of a rollercoaster’. An interesting turn of phrase which implies highs as well as lows but acknowledging that the ride will end. He also talks about the ‘duty of the Government to protect the economy’ and a need to be ‘flexible and pragmatic’. All essential qualities when entering unchartered territory, and a useful way to explain a policy u-turn away from George Osborne’s plan to run a surplus by 2020.
What doesn’t change for the short term is the overall feeling of uncertainty. While the move to Brexit is becoming clearer this is doing nothing to help the pound which fell back to its lowest level for over 30 years. The UK manufacturing sector, however, has surged. The BBC reported that “The Markit/CIPS purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for the sector rose to 55.4 in September from 53.4 in August. A figure above 50 indicates expansion.” Perhaps not such a contradictory message when you consider how attractive the UK has become as an export partner given the relative weakness of sterling.
For businesses operating in this unstable environment, the conflicting language and often contradictory messages relayed in the media add to the overall feeling of confusion. This will no doubt contribute to business confidence fluctuating over the coming months and years as the details of our EU exit plan become crystallised. For the communications professionals representing these businesses, a clear and honest communication strategy has never been more important.
At this time of great change let us not lose sight of the fact that for every business change brings opportunity as well as threat. By ensuring each opportunity is maximised and communicated clearly we can begin to restore and rebuild confidence step by step. We are on the rollercoaster whether we wanted to be or not, so hold on it’ll be a bumpy ride.
by Lindsay Vetch