Monday, 22 August 2011

Communicator of the week

It is fair to say that estate agents have been replaced atop the public’s most loathed list by bankers and politicians. Both have seen their reputations take a considerable battering in the past few years. One of the reasons politicians in general, but MPs more specifically, are so despised is their perceived remoteness from their constituents and an unwillingness to engage.    

Last week I made social media my communicator of the week as no politicians had successfully grasped the problem of rioting and looting or offered well thought out solutions. In a time of crisis, when the voters looked towards their leaders for answers they were found wanting. Subsequently, while the courts are dishing out justice to those caught by the police, a clear set of policies to deliver long-term solutions are still lacking. Some politicians however, have performed well during the crisis including MPs representing the constituencies worse hit by the violence.  

Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, gave one of the best speeches in last week’s emergency Commons debate, speaking with passion and a genuine love of his home town which he now represents in Parliament. In this speech he communicated what his voters wanted and wasn’t afraid to pressure the Government for strong action. This speech was based on conversations and e-mails with constituents and called for measures looking beyond knee-jerk reactions or short-term headline grabbing initiatives.

One of the great attributes of leadership is communication. In a situation as dire as those seen in our communities two weeks ago it is essential for MPs to be showing leadership through consistent communication with their constituents. In the modern age this means genuine engagement and two-way communication not merely broadcasting your views and opinions. This has been Barwell’s approach ahead of his speech to the House of Commons and then subsequently. In the past days he has written to the majority of households in Croydon Central, keeping them updated about events and, crucially, asking them for their views and ideas on what needs to be done to prevent another night of violence. This activity has been backed up with frequent media appearances, a well informed and engaging blog as well as a Twitter feed that is timely and relevant.

Ultimately it is the people who live in the communities affected who will have the best idea as to what has gone wrong. This approach is contrary to the general view of politicians being arrogant and aloof. By consistently communicating directly with his constituents Barwell can accurately reflect their views in the House of Commons or in conversations with cabinet ministers. A willingness to accept others ideas is not a weakness but, once again, a crucial attribute of many strong leaders which helps those offering opinions to feel they are part of a community. Something all too rare in modern Britain. For this openness, desire to find solutions and use every communication channel available to him in a time of real adversity I make Gavin Barwell my communicator of the week.

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