As we prepare to go to the polls in the UK this week, a confession: I'm something of a political nerd. I'm not affiliated to, or a fan of, any particular party - but I'm endlessly fascinated by the issues and the debate. Indeed, several of my sparring partners from university debating days are now in parliament.
I'm therefore one of those people who actually reads the party manifestos. And it struck me as I did so this time that the documents are, in effect, proposals. Trying to tell a story. Trying to beat the competition. So I thought it might be fun to benchmark them, using the same methodology we apply for proposals.
How woeful they are, as documents - policies aside!
Front covers that must have taken, oh, all of twenty minutes to design. Weak openings – failing to offer a succinct and memorable summary of the key points that would follow.
Layouts that are dull and uninspiring: has it never crossed their minds that the occasional graphic might help to illustrate complex concepts? White space, anyone?
Inconsistent tone of voice from one section to the next – often talking down to the reader. Excessive Capitalisation of Words, something that’s long-since died out in contemporary writing in the UK.
Boring structures, lacking signposting or section summaries. Quotes, call-out boxes, proof points? Dream on...
And then, to one of the biggest flaws common to so many proposals. Here are the closing sentences from each of the three main cross-UK party documents:
- "We will invest in new public-health driven research and development to find effective and affordable treatments for diseases in the developing world, including fighting TB, malaria, HIV/AIDS and neglected tropical diseases."
- "Now is the time that we must show, once again, our strength as a nation and the character of our united people. We shall succeed, if we go forward, together."
- "We recognise the findings of the Holtham commission that the current formula underfunds Wales, and will commission work to update this analysis. We will address the imbalance by immediately ensuring that the Barnett floor is set at a level that reflects the need for Wales to be funded fairly, and seek over a parliament to increase the Welsh block grant to an equitable level."
One works (in document terms, rather than whether you agree with the sentiment). The book ends by reminding the reader of key messages and leave them on a high. The other two? They're like proposals that finish with the answer to RFP question 87 - some dull topic added in by the client at the last minute, of little interest to most readers:. (Witness it only being question 87!)
Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em. Tell 'em it. And then never forget the need for a good conclusions section and attractive back page to leave the reader on a high.
Average scores for the three political manifestos on our benchmarking model? 39%. Way below par. Could do better. And that's without even commenting on the policies themselves, or the folks espousing them!