Sunak’s reverse-ferret on the government’s Green pledges is in reality, the firing of the starting gun for the coming general election
Strip away the rest of the rhetoric, and we are left with a simple soundbite that will form the basis of his pitch for another term in government:
“Proportional, pragmatic and realistic.”
Here is a leader, Sunak would have us believe, who will eschew populist headlines in favour of beneficial policies that do not disrupt people’s lives.
But this volt-face is more about our crisis in critical thinking and the profound influence of soundbites in political communications than genuine conviction.
In an era dominated by social media, it’s no surprise that the Conservative government is fiercely adapting to the digital age. However, this transformation – and the tribalism it stokes- raises significant concerns about the state of critical thinking and discourse in our society. One of the key issues contributing to the erosion of trust in politicians is the mutating role of soundbites in election campaigns.
Soundbites have been a key element of political campaign PR for decades but, in recent years, have become weaponised, especially by populist, reactionary politicians, to asphyxiate accountability and debate. Thus, soundbites look likely to become the primary currency of Sunak’s political rhetoric. His succinct snippets are designed to capture our attention, elicit emotional responses, and neutralise difficult questions.
The problem with soundbites is that they prioritise style over substance. Candidates and campaign teams are driven by the need to create memorable one-liners that can be easily shared and liked on social media platforms. This pursuit of viral moments has been a catalyst for the dilution of substantive policy discussions and, worse, regularly drowns out debate with meaningless noise.
In the coming street brawl for power, the skills to critically evaluate political messages, fact-check claims, and engage in constructive discourse are more potent than ever. Perhaps it’s idealistic to demand substance from our politicians, but media and communications professionals have a duty to rise above the catchy slogans and dog whistle campaigning, to insist on comprehensive policy positions and honesty about their impact.
The erosion of trust in politicians is inextricably linked to the weaponisation of soundbites in election campaigns and the decline of critical thinking. To address this crisis and arrest our slide into an unaccountable social media sewer, media institutions and other instruments of accountability must demand details and honesty. Only then can we hope to rebuild trust and make more informed electoral choices?