The recent referendum on electoral reform and the local election results delivered a humiliating verdict on Nick Clegg’s LibDems. All About Brands’ Andrew Wigley gives his advice on how to rebuild reputation.

Like business, politicians have taken a bashing in the past couple of years following the mismanagement of the country’s finances and then the expenses’ scandal.

A year ago we saw the advent of a peculiarity in British politicsthe Coalition Government. The referendum and local elections at the beginning of May have allowed voters to give their first verdict on its performance. And it was a fascinating night of results.

Following a year of tough decisions regarding public spending cuts — although it’s fair to say that the pain is still yet to be felt — the Conservatives have curiously escaped unscathed. It’s the Liberal Democrats who have borne the brunt of the voters’ wrath. Traditionally the party that benefits from the protest vote, is this morning the recipient of the protest vote.

And much of the protest is directed very personally to the public face of the LibDemsNick Clegg.

What the vote highlights is the linkage between the reputation or standing of the LibDems nationally, and the reputation of its leader. This is exactly the same for businesses and CEOs.

Just think of the dramatic fall in the standing of Gerald Ratner who ran a successful and affordable high street jeweler in the 1980s. His business was doing well until, in blunt language, Ratner showed his contempt to customers by publicly talking about the products he sold as ‘crap’. The consequence was a £500m drop in the value of Ratners and its near collapse.

Politics, like business, is about relationships. Who do the voters trust to deliver their interests? Nick Clegg and the LibDems came in to Government promising to be a moderating influence and to uphold cherished policies — such as tuition fees and electoral reform. The spectacular volte face on tuition fees and the expected failure to deliver voting reform has severely dented the standing of the LibDems, and most of all the Deputy Prime Minister.

Leaders have an obligation to rebuild the reputations of their parties and to lead from the front, so here are our top tips on how Nick Clegg might begin to do that.

1. Promoting and managing the reputation of the LibDems is a party-wide issue and not just one for the PR team or Nick Clegg. PR and Marketing will need to take the lead - but input from, yes, Clegg, but also other members of the party’s leadership. Ownership for building the standing and reputation of your business must be a collective responsibility and that tends to only come from firm leadership and direction.

2. Dilute the public face of the LibDems so that it is not associated with Nick Clegg and he alone. Bring to the fore other voter-friendly politicians to broaden the public appeal of the Party.

3. Take time to re-engage with your party membership and the voters at large what the LibDems stands for. Take a look at your brand strategy. Does your positioning make sense? Are your policies understood and where are they being put into practice? Are your elected representatives — from MPs to local councillors walking the talking?

4. Take a more robust position in Cabinet. Become aware of emerging issues and policies and particularly those that can impact the LibDems’ standing in the Coalition. The suspended health reforms presented by the Conservatives were an example where the LibDems seemed to sleep walk into agreeing a very unpopular set of proposals. Task your cabinet members with carrying out a thorough review of every policy being delivered in the name of the Coalition — and be prepared to be voluble in your position.

The travails of Nick Clegg and the LibDems marks further growing pains for the Party. Nick Clegg needs to draw a line in the sand and begin the process of renewal. Gerald Ratner failed to do that adequately and his career and fortunes of Ratners plummeted. Failure to do so for Nick Clegg will almost certainly lead to further hemorrhaging in LibDem support, and the Deputy Prime Minister becoming one of the most vilified politicians of recent times. A salient lesson for all of us in business and politics alike...

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