38 Degrees ‘victory’ claim is disingenuous and bad campaigning
38 Degrees recently launched another NHS-related petition. This time it was to protest about threats to limit patient access to GPs. This was a response, they claimed, to government plans to place an annual cap on how often you can see your GP.
Great. They’re vigilant and monitoring the health policy debate. That’s how it should be. But… And there’s a huge ‘but’… This wasn’t government policy. Never has been. It was simply something one person floated in a discussion document from some dark corner of the far-right Tory debate (even this headline in The Independent stretches the truth a little too far!). It’s how policy making works – throw out lots of ideas, some good, some bad, some outrageous. Discuss, revise, cull and filter. That doesn’t make it government policy. This whole thing has overtones of the million-plus signatures on the Road Tolling petition at Number 10 back in 2007 – another ‘policy’ that never was!
I don’t for one second believe that any of the senior staffers at 38 Degrees seriously ever thought that the GP limit was a real policy. Surely they are not that naïve? So why the over-reaction?
But that’s not the thing that’s really wrong in all of this. To then send out an email to supporters claiming to have succeeded in seeing this particular policy off at the pass is not only stretching the truth far beyond reality it’s misleading and totally dis-ingenuous. And to then use it as very blunt call for donations made me feel somewhat uneasy.
If organisations like 38 Degrees are to have any real credibility then they need to play fair. I’m disappointed with this campaign, it makes them look biased, partisan and manipulative. They even used Jeremy Hunt’s complete Twitter denial to find further fault with him.
In response 38 Degrees claimed (in an email to members), “That’s pretty extraordinary. By working together in big enough numbers, we’ve forced a leading politician to change his tune in just 48 hours. No wonder he doesn’t like us…”
Sorry guys, you didn’t and for once Hunt was right! The bottom line here is that there is no causal link between the 38 Degrees petition and the action taken by the Minister. It was never a policy to dump and you knew that.
We desperately need campaigning organisations like 38 Degrees. But if they really want the Minsiter to listen – really want to be effective – they have to retain credibility with both sides, public and government. They need to play the game properly, not mislead, and be transparent in both their actions and intent.
For me, this episode erodes 38 Degrees’ political credibility and it weakens the power of their other campaigns. Worse still, do this too often and it will impact on the publics’ perception too. The public desperately wants a voice and to find people they can trust in the democratic space but mis-leading PR like this is no way to build that trust in the long term.
This isn’t a one-off, as Jim Coe writes, there is a tendancy towards over-claiming the effectiveness of campaigns which isn’t positive. And, as Jim, notes, it’s not the first time 38 Degrees have done this either.