Social relations, whether in the real world or online, are above all founded on trust. A congruence of views, a developing affection, shared self interest, humour, all play their part. But at heart, it’s all about trust: are you who you say you are, do you believe what you profess, will you do what you promise.
In politics, this becomes a very thin tightrope over a very deep pit. A congruence of views, or simple self-interest, may bring individual electors to support a party. But it is whether they trust that party that keeps it in power – and that means that they must trust the individuals who represent them.
It is for this reason, I think, that the electorate is surprisingly tolerant of broken electoral promises. Voters understand that things said in opposition can become near impossible in government. We know that our own New Year’s resolutions, founded in real desire and a real intention to achieve them, often flounder when they meet the reality of the world – and we are prepared to extend the same understanding to our politicians.
On the other hand, because of their primary importance in social relationships, the electorate will not stand for people who are not who they say they are – and/or who do not believe in what they profess.
In the Tennessee Williams-like tragedy currently playing itself out in the government of Northern Ireland, it is Iris Robinson’s behaviour that most clearly shows what happens when these two last fundamental trusts are broken.
Simply put, it may be considered that Mrs Robinson is not who she said she was, and does not profess what she believes. As a result, her actions may have cast doubt on the integrity of her husband and on her political party, cast doubt on the whole government of Northern Ireland itself, and contributed another little clod to the pile of opprobrium that still threatens to comprehensively destroy public faith in politics in general.
What relevance has this to a blog about communications?
Only this: that public relations, marketing and communications only works when the message and the fact are congruent, when the marketing creates an expectation that the product delivers.
In Mrs Robinson’s case, it appears as if the marketing and the product were so divergent as to be unrecognisable. In the commercial world, and no less in the political, the damage to brand value from such an event is sometimes irrecoverable.