Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 25 July 2010

"So you want to be a politician" - book review

I recently read Shane Greer's book "So you want to be a politician" (published by Biteback). It claims to be a must-read for any first time political candidate and attempts to cover everything that somebody in that position would need to know. From personal presentation and speech writing through to fundraising, online campaigning and handling the media. It has contributions from various people involved with politics

The first thing I would say is that I found it very useful. The advice generally seems to be of a good quality and the contributors (people such as Shane himself, Sarah MacKinlay, Tom Harris, Jessica Asato, Mark Pack, Stephen Twigg and Hopi Sen to name but a few) are of a high calibre.

As somebody who has already run for a council seat once (and intends to keep trying), I noticed that in the subject areas where I already have some knowledge I could see that the contributions often chimed with my own experiences which gives me confidence that the book overall is likely to be useful in the areas where I need the most help!

The style of the chapters are fairly different from each other. I guess that is to be expected with a book that has so many different contributors but it has the effect of making it more suited to dipping in and out of rather than reading from cover to cover. There is some duplication of advice but more frustratingly there are also areas where I spotted some of the advice from different people contradicting each other which was a bit unhelpful. The most jarring example of this is that the book claims in one chapter that you should always assume that everything you say to a journalist is on-the-record and in a different one advises that it is wise to make the distinction with journalists between on and off-the-record.

The chapters that stuck with me most were Politics 2.0 by Mark Pack, Online fundraising by Jag Singh and Surviving in the Studio by Shane Greer. That last one was a mildly surreal experience as I have come up against Shane in various radio studios over the last few months on probably approaching a dozen occasions so to see him laying bare the tactics I have seen him deploy first hand was particularly interesting for me. Although he did not mention one of the most irritating skills he has (for an opponent) which is to structure his sentences in such a way as to make it almost impossible to interject without talking over him! I expect he wants to keep that one to himself or maybe he isn't even aware he does it so I thought I'd just pop that one on the record too!

I was also intrigued by the chapter Direct mail fundraising. I knew virtually nothing about this area and it certainly gives a comprehensive strategy for approaching it. So detailed in fact that it even describes the different fonts you should use for targeting different demographics! I'll leave you to read the book in order to find out which ones are recommended for whom.

I won't give the book a score as I think that is a bit invidious but I do think it fulfills its aim. Perhaps if there is a second edition it could be tightened up a bit further to eliminate the few areas of duplication and contradiction.

I think the acid test for this book is whether I put its suggestions into practise. I already have in a couple of areas and I fully expect as I progress down my own political path that I will be dipping in and out of this as a handy reference.

No comments: