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Donald Trump can teach Theresa May how to listen

The British Prime Minister could use a lesson in reconnecting with her base.

July 9, 2018

5:11 PM

9 July 2018

5:11 PM

There’ll be talk of trade tariffs, Iranian nuclear weapons, Brexit and the embassy in Jerusalem. Of that you can be certain. There’ll be the awkward press questions about the inflatable ‘orange man-baby.’ No doubt.

But I’m hoping that The Donald has one more conversation this Friday: a discreet word in the ear of our Prime Minister. Not about policy, but about listening. The fine art of hearing the voice of the public. Because this has been at the root of all of her recent problems. She stopped listening. She was so focused on what she wanted to sell, that she stopped listening to what the audience wanted to buy. You can accuse Donald Trump of many things but being disconnected from his base is not one of them. He listens. And that is why he is such a master in the ‘art of the deal’.

Mrs May would do well to listen carefully to what the American president has to say if she wants to survive in this post-Davis-BoJo reality.

Not listening is the reasons for our Prime Minister’s Reverse Midas Touch: whereby everything she touches turns to shit. In earlier centuries, this unquestionable talent would have resulted in a lucrative Freak Show career. Today, as the head of the UK government, Mrs May’s ability to manifest a caca-tastrophe is rather less of a virtue. She didn’t listen when Lynton Crosby told her not to go to the polls. She didn’t listen to her own team when writing that ill-fated election manifesto. She didn’t hear that ‘take back control’ was an instruction, not just a strapline. She thought the people didn’t know what they were voting for and that a softer Brexit was better for them. She didn’t listen when the Brexit Secretary warned her. She didn’t listen to the EU not budging and inch or the public’s visceral response to this European arrogance on every radio phone-in across the land. She didn’t listen to the unwavering pro-Brexit polls.

And if she doesn’t listen, how on earth can she expect to connect with her base? To speak with the public, not just at them? Of course, she can’t.

So, who better to advise our PM than The Donald? A man who knows a thing or two about pattern-matching his language to his audience…and who also has experience catapulting the careers of socially inept Apprentices. He’d be just the ticket as May’s mentor, if she’d only ask for his advice.

I’m serious. This is the man who has confounded his critics by speaking around them; directly to his base. And all with a bombastic style that may even have secured him a Nobel Peace Prize along the way.

Assuming she makes it to Friday as Prime Minister, Theresa May could use the commute from London to Chequers to pump the President for his sure-fire ways to win over an audience. And, here are just three of the things that she may hear in response:

  • Create a single unifying statement that describes the belief and behaviour of your brand. Think ‘safety’ for Volvo and ‘taste’ for Coca Cola. What is the single word that the Conservatives ‘own’: the word that directs all their conversations and actions? This is what Trump has managed to do with ‘great’. As in, ‘let’s make America great again’. It’s what Obama did with ‘change’ in 2008. It enables the audience to feel enfranchised. It builds empathy. It’s what the Tories, under Theresa May, have failed to do
  • Describe the ‘better’ that people can expect post-Brexit. What is the single thing that Brexit will deliver to everyone? This is what Vote Leave understood with their promise of ‘control’. It’s why Trump promised to ‘drain the swamp’. It onboards people. It makes them feel involved and in the mood for action. It makes them reject other messages / political parties that stand in the way of this unmet need. Again, Theresa May, has fallen short on this crucial empathy-builder
  • Stay true to your audience. Never stop listening to the real voters. Jettison the ivory tower and get out there speaking to real people about real ‘bread on the table’ issues; taking the temperature. Listen to their concerns, their responses to your policies. This is what Trump has been doing week-in week-out since getting elected. Speaking to crowds. Listening to their evolving real-world issues and real-world language. Changing and adapting to reflect the audience realities. The Brexit voters haven’t changed their tune, but our PM stopped listening to them, preferring instead to hear her disconnected ‘advisors’ in No 10. She first made this mistake by not appearing during the TV debates. Seemingly, she still hasn’t learned this vital lesson

Chances are that none of this will happen of course. The PM won’t ask for advice and The Donald won’t offer it. The Tory party won’t action these bullet points and the electorate won’t feel they are being heard.

Sadly, this may be May’s real legacy: she further-eroded the trust between politicians and the public by not listening. To her own people, or the public. What a wasted opportunity.

But I still hold out just a sliver of hope. Because Trump is known to say the unsayable…

Please Mr President, get her to start listening before it’s too late. Before we all feel that it’s no longer worth trying to speak to her.


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