From Political Marketing to Magna Carta – and back: Finding connections between an 800 year old document and modern politics
I am an expert in political marketing – how politicians, parties and politicians use business techniques and concepts to win elections, achieve change and maintain power. It’s a fast moving, rapidly developing area of practice and research (see www.political-marketing.org for more info) that I’ve been researching for nearly twenty years ago and enjoy many different conversations and projects with scholars, students and practitioners all around the world. But this year I was asked to take a step back in time and chair the Magna Carta 800th committee for New Zealand, tasked with promoting and encouraging events to mark the anniversary of the sealing (not signing, as I was to discover!) of an ancient agreement seen as the beginning of the rule of law (see https://magnacartanz.wordpress.com/).
As I began this role, I wondered why I was doing it given my expertise in political marketing not history or legal philosophy. Like any good leader, I quickly hooked up with those who did have expertise in this area such as Dr Stephen Winter who ran a wonderful lecture series at Auckland University in July (see https://magnacartanz.wordpress.com/events-in-nz-in-2015/university-of-auckland-lecture-series/). But the strange sensation of being transported from modern global politics to medieval history in old England never really left me, until I started to see the most bizarre yet clearest of connections.
First of all, the reason I ended up getting asked to be Chair was because of political marketing – Mark Gill, executive director of the Magna Carta 800 committee in the UK knew me from my work on political marketing because he is a pollster and I met him many years ago at academic conferences and interviewed him for my book The Political Marketing Game.
Secondly, an article appeared in the Smithsonian ‘How Magna Carta went viral’ noting how one of the reasons Magna Carta was so effective was because brilliant communication was used – albeit in a medieval kind of way via hand-written copies sent out via royal messengers (see http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-magna-carta-went-viral-180955550/?no-ist).
Thirdly, I had dinner with the leader of the opposition party to talk about political marketing, and following that, a phone conversation with one of his key advisors, because of Magna Carta. In connecting with Andrew Little about his speech for our lecture series on Magna Carta he realised I was also a political marketing expert. Conversations with politicians and political advisors about using political marketing are something I value greatly as it helps keep me connected with the real world and the difference between theory and practice – and also reminds me why it is worth researching the topic.
Fourthly, Acting High commissioner Patrick Reilly – without knowledge of my political marketing expertise – made a link in his speech ‘Magna Carta: Britain’s Greatest Export?’ during the lecture series noting how some historians believe that King John ‘was in fact an unfairly maligned victim of Britain’s greatest ever practitioner of public relations, marketing and brand management more commonly known as Robin Hood.’
So in travelling back in time 800 years I actually came to three wonderful realisations that took me from Magna Carta back to political marketing again:
- Political marketing is everywhere, even in medieval history!
- At the heart of why the Magna Carta is so important 800 years on, and why there is growing attention on political marketing now in 2015, is that they both address the key issue of how can elites both rule/get elected and engage appropriately with the non-rulers/voters. It is all about elites being responsive to the public – albeit with much more limited ways in 13th century England than 21st century New Zealand.
- There is actually an underlying, profound connection between my work on Magna Carta and Political marketing, and that is the belief in the importance of universities in connecting research and society. Our role is not just knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but carrying out a range of activities – the rigours of research being one of them yes, but also teaching, training, media, events management, and most of all, facilitating dialogue, debate and deliberation about important issues of power, democracy, governance and the rights of public versus the elites. Research-driven, but public oriented activity is a vital part of the role of an academic that makes us not just ‘expert’ but relevant to the society in which we work and live.