Downing Street’s communications revolutionary
Dominic Cummings’ blog provides first hand insight into one of the smartest thinkers in modern communications. It spotlights the need for urgent legislation to govern political campaigning.
How’s your summer going? I hope that you’re getting a break because we’re heading for the political unknown in September as the deadline for the UK’s exit from the European Union draws close.
I’ve become obsessed in the last few weeks with deconstructing the communications around the EU Referendum in 2016. It’s one of the greatest marketing and public relations campaigns of my lifetime.
Deconstructing the Vote Leave campaign
The Leave campaign won by a margin of two percent thanks to its use of data, storytelling and paid targeting via Facebook.
Vote Leave made use of every aspect of modern communications. It also challenged everything that we know about ethical communications.
You don’t have to look far to understand the campaign and how Vote Leave won. There’s a growing body of work that describes how the referendum played out.
Carole Cadwalladr has been investigating the story for three years for The Guardian.
The Parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee led by Damian Collins scrutinised the referendum campaign. It published a report called Disinformation and ‘Fake News’’ in February.
The story has most recently been told in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack.
Hidden in plain sight
The strategy and thinking behind the Vote Leave campaign is hidden in plain sight on Dominic Cummings’ personal blog. He was the campaign’s chief architect.
The blog explores the potential for technology to disrupt organisations, subvert traditional hierarchies and improve government and organisational performance.
Cummings uses his blog to think out loud. He’s widely read and a clear thinker, but his ideas are the stuff of revolution. He has little respect for existing organisational and political structures and the laws that protect them.
Cummings’ contempt for the UK political classes and civil service could not be clearer. He criticises its failure to use data and modern tools and its antiquated processes and structures that burden public finances.
The Parliamentary DCMS committee publicly called out Cummings for failing to appear before it. In a blog post he lays blame at the committee’s poor administration.
Vote Leave propaganda machine
Cummings and Cambridge Analytica used dubious means to identify seven million persuadable voters. It targeted these individuals with 1.5 billion digital ads in the final ten days of the campaign.
It was a highly effective communications strategy. In the event the UK electorate voted 51.9% (17,410,742) to 48.1% (16,141,241) to leave the EU. If 634,751 voters had chosen Remain instead of Leave, the UK would not be leaving the EU.
In its report the DCMS Committee described how Facebook was weaponised as during the Referendum campaign. It said funding for ads was not transparent and that the ads themselves were untraceable. Both are critical to a healthy democracy.
Call for emergency legislation to tackle transparency in political campaigning
It’s astonishing that the public affairs, public relations and marketing industries are not more concerned about the practices deployed by Vote Leave during the Referendum campaign. Few in the media have called it out.
One journalist that has spoken out is BBC media editor Amol Rajan. Damien Collins told him that electoral law is hopelessly out of date.
"I think we should be looking at emergency legislation to bring our electoral law up to date. At least to establish the basic principles that the same requirements that exist in a poster or a leaflet should exist in an online ad and on Facebook as well,” he said.
That’s unlikely to happen any time soon. Dominic Cummings has been appointed as a senior advisor to work with Prime Minister Boris Johnston in Downing Street.
Johnston and the Conservative party intend to deploy Cummings’ strategic communication thinking to deliver Brexit and win the next election.
Call to action
The UK is heading for no deal with the European Union at the end of October. Dominic Cummings’ blog sets out the blueprint. Irrespective of how we’ve landed in this situation if you think that’s a bad thing please write to your Member of Parliament and ask them to do anything in their power to stop it.