Today I attended a superb Strategic Comms Forum on devolution organised by CIPR North East.
It featured Gill Morris from DevoConnect, Will Mapplebeck from Core Cities and Neal Smith from Tees Valley Combined Authority all speaking on 'How regional mayors & Brexit are transforming the North’s power map'.
The three guests and host Huw Lewis were superb about the opportunities afforded by Metro Mayors but I had two key questions: how do we increase diversity and where are ethics built into the political process? Whose role is it to call out bullshit?
White, male and middle class
Those in the room with me will have sensed my frustration at the all male shortlist that we have for the North of Tyne Mayoral Election on 2nd May.
On this occasion, none of the political parties used an all-women shortlisting system, although they had the power to do so.
None had succession planning or mechanisms in place to ensure both female and BAME leaders had a chance to put themselves forward with a genuine opportunity for success.
A leadership scheme for those keen to get more political experience would be a great start.
The answer though, isn’t just to point at a woman and say ‘well then you go for it.’ We need the right people for the job.
Bye bye to bullshit
And then of course there is the question of ethics.
At a time when trust in the political system is at an all time low, Metro Mayors have an opportunity to fix this and show how engagement with the community can create solutions that help the whole region, and in fact the North of England, thrive.
But it’s dependant on the candidates.
In her book Airhead published last week, Newsnight journalist Emily Maitlis writes about her regret in not calling out President Donald Trump’s exaggeration and bare face lies.
Maitlis interviewed Trump on three occasions in the UK and US for a profile for Newsnight in 2013, long before he declared his candidacy for the White House and ran in the 2016 election.
She acknowledges the fact that ultimately the media and US society failed to call out Trump, facilitating his rise to power - and her role in this.
It’s a refreshingly candid admission from a senior journalist that acknowledges the huge influence that the media still has in democracy and holding power to account.
Codes of Conduct and calling out bullshit
I’d argue that as professional communicators adhering to a Code of Conduct, we also have a role to play in ensuring messaging is factual, accurate and, critically, rebutted if it’s not true.
We’ve seen with Brexit how lies can achieve political ambitions – and the fall out when promises can’t be delivered. It’s divisive, dangerous and leaves people disenfranchised.
Today I held a North of Tyne mayoral party candidate to account for passing off someone else’s work as his own. Someone else then followed suit.
Calling time on bullshit is a collective responsibility and we all need to get better at it.
If anyone is interested, I’ll be voting for John McCabe on 2nd May. He has a strong manifesto based on collaboration and cross-party working that I believe plays to our economic strengths. He will also introduce a Mayoral Commission on Opportunity to break the glass ceiling and remove all barriers to people achieving their full potential. I’m all for that.