Richard Exon: Adland on standby as taxing times lie ahead for brands

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Richard Exon, a founder of Joint
Richard Exon, a founder of Joint

It's been an extraordinary few weeks for anyone interested in politics, communication and branding.

As politicians prepared to come back from summer recess, the big beasts have been rumbling around, trying to lay down their marker for the fight ahead.

And so the market has moved.

Boris Johnson has confirmed what the whole of the English-speaking world already knows - that he's happy to be the not-so-young pretender to David Cameron's throne. As PM, Cameron has been besieged by accusations of weakness around his handling of the "Plebgate" scandal, spiked with a heavy undercurrent of incompetence thanks to the Virgin Trains cock-up and energy company tariff confusion. Ed Miliband, meanwhile, surprised friend and foe with a bravura, note-free conference speech that included the audacious theft of Disraeli's "one nation" idea (the equivalent of Tesco revealing that Wieden & Kennedy's pitch-winning idea is: "Never knowingly undersold").

The temperature will rise this week too, as the Government and the Opposition rage against each other's interpretation of fresh economic data due out imminently.

It's telling, I think, that both sides accuse each other of the same two things - class prejudice and economic incompetence. It strikes me that this odd symmetry is in some way a reflection of the electorate's even-handed rejection of both major political parties.

It's no coincidence that voter turnout is in general decline, party political membership is at an all-time low and we have a coalition government brought about by a hung parliament.

The political world and the real world it serves seem dangerously disconnected.

This isn't a new situation, perhaps, but it's getting worse. Fairly or unfairly, the current generation of political leaders are accused simultaneously of being both too young and too out of touch to be effective.

Labour and Tory alike are casting around for a big idea, a signature action that will reframe them in our minds.

All of which makes it strange that neither front bench has gone for what looks like an open goal - the astoundingly low tax contribution that numerous famously branded companies are reported to be making to UK plc in our hour of need.

There's plenty of press coverage, and plenty of data available. But we have yet to see the big guns set their sights on what would surely be a fair and popular political measure - a crackdown on the legal but questionable tax-avoidance practices of major high-street and online businesses.

Some political heat and light on this front could have significant implications for the brands involved and their reputations, and might remind all of us that politics is as relevant today as it always has been.

Richard Exon is a founder of Joint.

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