How failure can be the key to success – lessons from the general election
Winston Churchill claimed that history is written by the victors. In this post–truth era, however, everyone claims victory.
Just as no one sends out a bad CV or offers damaging references, the sultans of spin are at pains to paint the brightest possible picture out of even the most dire straits.
Banners outside theatres always scream the one word taken from reviews most likely to encourage us to buy tickets.“Terrific!” “Outstanding!” “Brilliant!” This can sometimes be misleading. Audiences, the media and artists like the easy to understand star system from one star being appalling to five stars being fantastic. All credit to the performer who masterly spun the one star (ie lowest rating) he was given to proudly announce on banners outside the theatre: “A star!”
The headlines grab the much-needed attention.
I had a whirlwind week starting with the press night for Annie with the marvellous Miranda Hart (***) , followed by the terrific Tape Face (****), Gary Barlow's Girls (**) and the Olivier-award winning Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (**) full of filth and fury and featuring the music of ELO. Each event was topped off with nibbles & num nums – Willie Robertson’s favourite – with various stars of stage and screen at the usual celebrity haunts including a farewell to Joe Allen before its move.
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Nothing, however, compared to the brilliance of The Drum Chip Shop Awards (*****). The Chip Shop Awards celebrate pure, unadulterated creativity, highlighting just what is possible if creative juices are allowed to flow without restrictions of taste and decency. Categories ranged from Ad Most Likely to Get the Chip Shop Awards Up Shit Creek to Best Work for a Client You Have, But Haven’t a Hope in Hell of Running.
Also pleasing were Best Parody showing Donald Trump for Netflix with the headline “Orange is The New Black” and Best Brand You Haven’t a Hope in Hell of Winning for Sudocrem showing a very raw red line between the pages of a magazine.
With Sudocrem in mind, politicians are like nappies. They need to be changed frequently and often for the same reasons. (Tenuous link just to get the line in!)
Politicians have also mastered the art of claiming victory in defeat. Just witness the media coverage of the election results.
An impressive turnout of 70% – the highest in 25 years – shows that the electorate is engaged.
What was supposed to be Theresa May’s coronation turned into a nightmare likely to lead to her resignation. One source disclosed that Theresa May was “crying before she went to the palace” and admitted to looking “stupid, not strong and stable”. If only she had shown that side she might have fared better. Instead it was a negative campaign populated with sound bites seeking to rubbish Corbyn and the coalition of chaos.
In politics you don’t need a death to have an inquest. Much ink has already been spilt on what went wrong and who is to blame.
Whilst the DUP led by Paul Merton lookalike Arlene Foster has agreed to prop up May in a you scratch my back deal, it is clear the knives are out.
Jack Straw was quick to describe the result as “the greatest catastrophe in Conservative history” and George Osborne – now empowered as editor of the Evening Standard to extract his revenge – describes Teresa May as “a dead woman walking”.
On the other hand, the sultans of spin desperately point out that the Conservatives WON and Labour LOST for a third time in a row, and that the Conservatives now have an increased share of the vote up from 37% in 2015 to 42% in 2017. They quickly gloss over the fact that Labour increased its share of the vote from 30% in 2015 to 40% in 2017.
Jeremy Corbyn, who now describes himself as “the most generous person in the world”, reminded Andrew Marr viewers at the weekend that Theresa May wanted a personal mandate. She said: “Vote for ME”. Corbyn said: “Vote for Labour”. He added: “The prime minister called the election because she wanted a mandate. Well the mandate she’s got is lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support and lost confidence.”
Jeremy Corbyn was looking more chipper than ever on the programme. When he was reminded that he had in fact “lost” the election, rather like The Fonz unable to say that he was “wrong”, he corrected Marr to say “we did not win”.
Like it or not, Corbyn emerged in a much brighter light as a result of his election campaign than he previously appeared in the cut and thrust of debate in parliament. A larger number of the electorate than anticipate apparently believe ‘JC you’re alright by me…’!
May’s campaign, however, is a stark reminder that if you are going to run a personal presidential campaign, it is important that you create an appealing enough personality to win. May did not appear media friendly. She was portrayed as robotic. “It’s almost as if Theresa May looked at Hillary’s campaign and said let’s do that,” wrote Robert Shrimsley of the Financial Times.
The Guardian pointed out that “her scarce TV performances have been wooden and repetitive. Journalists following her on the campaign trail have become frustrated by her stonewalling tactics.”
Michael Crick on Channel 4 News accused her of responding to questions with “cliches and platitudes”.
Even her naughtiest moment sounded lame When pressed on ITV News about the naughtiest thing she ever did as a child she replied: "Oh, goodness me. Well, I suppose… gosh. Do you know, I’m not quite sure. I can’t think what the naughtiest thing…
“Well, nobody is ever perfectly behaved, are they? I mean, you know, there are times when… I have to confess, when me and my friend, sort of, used to run through the fields of wheat, the farmers weren’t too pleased about that."
At least crop circles around the world which have puzzled people for generations have finally been explained – Theresa was ‘ere ….
What this election has again emphasised is that we love an underdog. Failure and human foibles are endearing.
Winners can appear smug and aloof whilst – as pointed out previously – the underdog galvanises people to vote.
We should embrace our failures. Failure is success in progress….
Take everybody's favourite figure-fudging failure, Diane Abbott. The shadow home secretary’s media appearances during the campaign are the stuff of legend – veering from car crash to train wreck.
It all started with Diane Abbott on the Nick Ferrari show agonising over the cost of 10,000 extra police officers.
“Well if we recruit 10,000 policemen and women over a four-year period, we believe it would be about £300,000.”
…a bargain at £30 per officer
"Haha, no. I mean... sorry. They will cost... they will, it will cost, erm, about... about £80m."
…so each police officer would only receive an annual wage of £8,000…
It seemed that every interviewer in town was keen to catch Diane out.
Questioned on the Andrew Marr Show over her previous views on terrorism and banned organisations, the shadow home secretary compared her IRA views to changing hairstyles, saying she had an afro 34 years ago. “The hairstyle has gone and some of the views have gone.”
Abbott also struggled to recall the contents of a report on counter-terror policing when she was interviewed by Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News about Labour’s position on terrorism.
Murnaghan asked her about the 2016 Lord Harris report on improving London’s terror preparedness. As she continued to wriggle, it was screamingly obvious that Abbott was not familiar with the report’s contents.
DA: I think we do need to revisit that report
DM: Which part of it?
DA: Well, I just think it’s about preparedness and resilience
DM: But he makes some very specific recommendations that haven’t been acted on, do you know what they are?
DA: Well, I mean he was talking about preparedness… and resilience.
Pressed on the report’s contents Diane Abbott went on:
DM: The report came out in October 2016, and Lord Harris had some bullet points. That’s what I’ve read through, what did you make of those? The specifics.
DA: I thought… because I know Toby Harris, he’s a longstanding friend of mine…
DM: Very full blown inquiry.
DA: I thought it was an important inquiry and I think we should act on it.
Abbott then went on to deny claims that the Leader’s Office was trying to keep her out of the media.
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
There was then radio silence – literally.
Further interviews were cancelled and Abbott stepped aside as shadow home secretary, citing concerns over her health. It was announced that she would be replaced by Lyn Brown, the party's shadow policing minister.
Evan Davis, the Newsnight presenter, offers the following advice to interviewees: “If you want to say nothing why not spell out your reasons for saying nothing rather than trying to pretend you’re being informative?”
So what was the effect of Diane Abbott’s disastrous campaign?
Abbott increased her already impressive majority in Hackney North and Stoke Newington by 11,000. She won 42,265 votes, an incredible 75% of the total count, just a day after she stepped aside as shadow Home Secretary.
Abbott tweeted: “Humbled to receive an increased majority of over 35,000 in Hackney North & Stoke Newington. A vote for hope and a better Britain.” In her victory speech, the MP said Labour had been “vindicated”.
“The Conservative Party fought a campaign characterised by the politics of personal destruction…and yet the British people have seen past that and in Hackney they have responded to Labour's positive campaign that addresses the issues whether it be the NHS, the housing crisis or the benefit cuts,” Abbott said.
“We have fought a positive campaign and we have been vindicated."
It would appear that negative media coverage actually helped get the opposite result. The media came over as bullies of Abbott and the electorate voted with its feet in response.
…and so, this week’s nomination for the Museum of Failure is Diane Abbott who proves yet again that from the ashes of failure grow the roses of success.
“It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” - Zig Ziglar
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” - Henry Ford
“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” - C.S. Lewis
In the meantime, Teflon Tezza toughs it out.
On 20 May the PM tweeted: “If I lose just six seats I will lose this election and Jeremy Corbyn will be sitting down to negotiate with Europe.”
She lost 13 seats.
Surely, no one will remind her…
The Brexit negotiations May said she was concentrating on so much she did not have the time for TV debates are due to start on 19 June. It would appear that a hard Brexit is now out of the window.
Following what has been described as “the worst ever” campaign, the knives are out for May. June may not be the end of May after all but it is surely just a matter of time.
Expect to see Boris being the bookies’ favourite to be next PM although he will have to see off David Davis, the Brexit Secretary. Looking forward to seeing the photos of Boris with Trump… that’ll be a bad hair day!
So, show your human side, embrace your failures and claim victory in defeat.
In the meantime, thank you to everyone for your suggestions for additions to The Museum of Failure – keep ‘em coming.
I shall then provide a regular update including through this column.
If there are particular stories you feel should be subjected to a pressure test to find out whether they really stand up to serious scrutiny or you want help to avoid the predictable errors and omissions of others get in touch...