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1 August 2016

US National Conventions: A UK Perspective

Government Affairs

The View From The Floor

By Anji Hunter, Senior Adviser, Edelman UK

Apart from the 103 degree boiling sunshine, one might think one is back in Trafalgar Square. Larger than life cut-outs of Hillary Clinton, with Liar emblazoned on her forehead, placards declaring ‘Ban Fracking’ or ‘Demilitarise the Police’, ‘Bernie or Gill (Stein, the Green candidate) but never Hill’. And these are fellow Democrats!

They were given their moment in the sun on Monday evening. Or, rather, out of the sun, in the very cold and astonishingly enormous Wells Fargo Convention Centre, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Like our own Conferences, there is daily drama – the enforced resignation of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz, victim of the Wikileaks, on Day One, Berniemania, intermittent and discomfiting boo-ing and noises off. Trump’s off-site extraordinary “treasonable” comments on hacking intrude, which people discuss in the corridors with a mixture of relish and horror. But that is where the similarities end.

The scale of everything is riveting: the enormous stage, the effortless gliding – or ‘segwaying’, as they say here – from one brilliantly filmed video or speaker to the next, the slick distribution of banners and flags, echoing the theme of the moment, by armies of young people in yellow T shirts. The jaw drops at the music, the height of the screens, the choreography of the chanting, the patriotism, the immaculate and perfectly scripted Senators or social workers, nurses, teachers, Mothers of the Movement. There are the Mexicans who made good, and 11 year old Carla, born of immigrants, fearful of their deportation. The clip of Trump’s outrageous belittling of the disabled journalist is followed by the articulate and triumphant Anastasia Somosa in her wheelchair. And comedienne Sarah Silverman appeals for party unity – “a bridge” – as Paul Simon enters, stage left, singing guess what? Meryl Streep wears a silk Stars and Stripes shift and is glorious.

Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton, strong in charisma, voice and sentiment, looking stupendous, did not disappoint either. They echoed every speaker – love of family and country is first, middle and last. Hillary and her gender is central. “The Change Maker”, as her husband described her, whilst placards bearing the slogan miraculously appeared in our hands. “I’m with her” is the constant refrain. “I would give the rest of my life for just one more day with my mom” was the emotive plea of the victim of gun crime, “I’m with Hillary”.

The spectre of “the dangerous demagogue” looms large. His gaffes, his “total unfitness” for office in this dangerous world, are oft-mentioned, accompanied by menacing music, whilst police chiefs, Admirals and Leon Panetta denounce in unison. Sitting here, in this ‘Love Trumps Hate’ bubble, a President Trump seems unimaginable. As President Obama put it this evening, in a thrilling build up to tomorrow’s big moment, “people who live outside the US don’t understand what’s going on here”. A guy who cosies up to Putin, offers slogans and fear, versus the intelligence, judgement, discipline and tenacity of Hillary. “I have had a front row seat. This fighter, this stateswoman, this mother and grandmother, this public servant, this patriot…. there has never been a man or woman, not me, not Bill, more qualified to be the President of the United States”

Hundreds of nets of balloons – red, white, blue and starred – lie in wait, way, way up in the rafters above me as I write, to descend on the “next POTUS” on Thursday evening. I can hardly wait.

Democrat Convention


The View From The UK

Written by David Robertson, Director, Edelman UK

The US Political Conventions with their glitz, razzmatazz and over-the-top celebrations of speeches (Ted Cruz’s excepted) are a long way away from the Annual Political Party Conferences in the UK.

Although those here are increasingly stage-managed – it will be interesting to observe how the increasingly dysfunctional Labour Party does in this regard at its Conference in September – the differences with the Conventions are stark. In some respects the most obvious difference this year was the sight of members of the Trump clan – 4! – and Bill and Chelsea Clinton providing eulogies of their husband, wife, mother and father from the platform.

It has been tried in this country. Sarah, the wife of the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, took to introducing him before his major set-piece Conference speeches in a clear and ultimately unsuccessful attempt at softening his image and public persona – He will always make the time for people, our family, for his friends and anyone who needs him – that’s part of the reason I love him as much as I do. And you know friends that is what makes him the man for Britain too. Although the words were her own and not taken from someone else’s speech, they failed to convince – more than sentimental words were required.

Moreover, these introductions were considered by many to be so embarrassing and awkward that some could only view TV footage of them through their fingers. It is safe to say that the example set by Sarah Brown will not be repeated any time soon. Indeed, there is as much chance of the husband of our new Prime Minister singing her praises from the platform of the forthcoming Conservative Party Conference than there is of Jeremy Corbyn calling Tony Blair a hero of the Labour Party or of Corbyn becoming Prime Minister!

In terms of messaging the Republican Party’s America First is reminiscent of that of the recently successful Leave campaign, Take Back Control. Both appeal to insularity in an increasingly uncertain and deeply troubling international environment and coupled with promises of less immigration, better trade deals and more money spent at home. At the same time, Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan, Stronger Together, is strikingly similar to the doomed Remain campaign’s Stronger In.

A major reason for the failure of the Remain campaign – and one that the Democrats must learn from – was an inability to communicate effective, coherent and positive messages to convince a majority of voters that they were indeed Stronger In. The challenge that Hillary Clinton faces once the Democratic Convention’s razzle dazzle has been forgotten is to paint a picture of what Stronger Together means that is so appealing that most American people want to vote for it rather than what the New York Times has described as Donald Trump’s campaign of fear.

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