Controlling the narrative

The OBA is stuck between a rock and a hard place.  They failed to control the narrative on the immigration bill and now they’re paying the price.  It’s been said many times, the OBA is good at policy, bad at politics.  They have to learn how to be more transparent and control the narrative on key issues.  If they don’t, those who do will most certainly win the next election because politics isn’t reality and fact, it’s storytelling.

This immigration issue has blown up in the OBA’s face and made them look really bad.  It was announced poorly, they’ve been combative and taken a high-handed approach in trying to push it through anyway.  It’s created a really bad image of their governance onto which the PLP has gleefully poured gasoline to fuel the fire.

The PLP own the narrative.  Driving home messages like calling for “comprehensive bi-partisan immigration reform” makes it seem like the OBA is not open to feedback or collaboration.  It doesn’t really matter if they were or they weren’t.  Perception matters far more than reality in politics and the perception is that the OBA are dictators hell bent on doing what they think is right, no matter what people say.

The big issue here isn’t the rally and the “withdrawal of labour”.  Its that the PLP is managing to suck the middle class swing vote into believing the narrative and the OBA is playing right into it.  The OBA has little choice now except to play the bad guy and make a run to break the unions at a time too close to the next election for a solid recovery or back down.  When they back down, because they will, they can either control the narrative or be owned by it.

How do they control the narrative?  They’ll need to push things back on the unions and the PLP.  They’ll need to call their bluff and establish a clear path to “comprehensive bi-partisan immigration reform”.  They’ll need to do it as transparently and publically as possible. It really doesn’t matter if the PLP and the unions actually will take a step back and put forth realistic proposals for immigration reform.  The OBA would need to make it very clear that their proposals are welcomed and would be considered.  It would need to state clear goals to be achieved and very publically press the PLP and the unions to deliver tangible solutions to those goals.  It would need to hammer again and again at them until they propose something, then invite public critique of the proposals.  Give strict timelines and be as transparent as possible every step of the way.  It would need to control the story and the narrative and shift it from one where they’re heavy handed to one where they can promote the story that the PLP has no realistic ideas and is only capable of making noise.

One of my former managers taught me some very useful lessons.  Every time he attended a meeting he would follow up with notes.  Even if it was only a couple minute chat between you and him, he’d follow up with the quick note “we spoke” and then note his interpretation of what was discussed.  He was incredibly transparent, he relentlessly cc’d in every person that was possibly relevant.  It took me a while to understand that what he was really doing was controlling the narrative.  If you didn’t bother to read his summary and respond back disputing it, he had you on the hook.  At any time he had a long chain of documented evidence that he could hold up, usually with the right people cc’d in along the way. It really didn’t matter what you’d actually spoken about and agreed on, if you hadn’t disputed it at the time and owned your part of the narrative, you were screwed by your silence because he had evidence and you didn’t.  He was incredibly skilled at building trust with management through this kind of transparency and story telling because he could readily point back at a chain of emails that often times management had even been cc’d on at the time (though probably never read).  It was a powerful lesson to learn.

The OBA needs to control the narrative if they expect to survive the next election.  They can’t make claims that they met with the unions or the PLP regarding the immigration bill and got no input or feedback.  Where’s the evidence?  The OBA would be very well served if they started cc’ing the country on as much as they possibly can.  They should make it a priority to setup simple blog / web / social media sites for each ministry and start documenting everything they can publicly.  That way if they go to the unions for input on the immigration bill before launching it they can readily document it and the outcome at the time, in public, on the internet.  Later, when people claim that there was no “comprehensive bi-partisan” effort to produce the bill, they’d have real public evidence they can keep pointing to to support their cause and steer the narrative away from them being heavy handed toward the opposition’s lack of real tangible solutions.