Work harder to influence government on housing, Alastair Campbell tells CIH conference
Housing must work harder to push the industry to the top of the public and political agenda, former Labour director of communications Alastair Campbell has told the Chartered Institute of Housing’s South East Conference and Exhibition.
Mr Campbell said housing professionals need to work together to deliver a simple message that looks to the future rather than focusing on the here and now.
The conference and exhibition got underway at the Hilton Brighton Metropole yesterday (Monday 4 March).
Mr Campbell told delegates: “If you asked a member of the public or a politician to list issues like housing, transport and crime in order of priority I doubt housing would be number one or even two, three or four. I think that’s because it’s a really complicated issue.
“But if you’re in the business of persuasion the more complex the issue the more simple you need to make it. Don’t assume knowledge – when you are trying to persuade people your job is to get inside their bubble.
“Make your argument as simple as possible then decide your target audience – the Chancellor in the run-up to the Budget for example. Make sure you know what you want but that you build your argument based on their bigger picture, not yours.”
He added: “The best strategies are where public cajoling is matched with private engagement. Strategic communication is about joining up the dots until you have a bigger opicture on your terms. It’s about knowing how to get in the door and then knowing what to say when you get there.
“One direct criticism I could make of the housing sector is that I think your debates are very much rooted in the here and now – you have got to have a sense of where you think the country is going to be in the future. Saying that the government will not revitalise the economy without sorting out the housing system is a strong message.”
Mr Campbell was among a range of expert speakers during the first day of CIH’s South East Conference and Exhibition, which features more than 100 exhibitors and is expected to attract more than 1,000 visitors.
Earlier Phillip Blond, director of think tank ResPublica, told delegates that housing associations can play a crucial role in creating a more equal society.
He said: “The state is no longer delivering, it no longer stops the poor from being poor. That’s not a political point, it’s down to failures on both left and right.
“If you go back to the origins of housing associations they didn’t just concentrate on being a good landlord, they didn’t just do housing. Now I feel that far too many of them do too little, given that they have had billions of pounds of public money. Many are doing great things and I don’t deny that being a good landlord is a damn good thing, but I think that is no longer good enough.
“Housing associations can help communities come together and address their problems. You could and should do be doing exciting and radical things like setting up free schools, or bidding to help deliver the new Work Programme. I urge you not to be complacent within the excellence you are already delivering – only then can you live up the aims of your founders.”