Framing arguments

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

I have just read a significantly flawed, but rather informative, report from nef on the framing of the government’s messages around their socio-economic (aka, austerity) policies.  From nef’s point of view this amounts to a very clever way of presenting and arguing very poor policy.

“Well-framed, well-crafted and often repeated, the austerity story is the dominant political narrative in Britain today.  It shapes how most of us think and talk about the economy.  It has convinced most of the country of the need for huge public spending cuts and presents a coherent vision for the kind of society we should live in.”

There are two aspects to the report: [i] a discussion of socio-economic issues, and [ii] a discussion of how particular frames are used to present messages. Inevitably, the first of these (given that it’s by nef), comes with a built-in preference for particular (ie, non-austerity) views which do rather colour the argument.  I’m sure nef thinks this is the whole point of the report, which starts:

“The Coalition tells a powerful story about the economy to make the case for austerity in the media and public communications.  It is consistent, memorable, uses vivid images and emotional metaphors, and is simple enough to be understood and retold.  There are several frames that underpin it:

  1. Dangerous debt – the most important economic issue the UK faces is the size of public sector debt, caused by excessive public spending.
  2. Britain is broke – the UK’s public finances are like an individual household, which has spent all its money.
  3. Austerity is a necessary evil – there is no economic alternative to spending cuts.
  4. Big bad government – the bloated, inefficient and controlling government is getting in the way of progress, interfering in people’s lives and rewarding the undeserving.
  5. Welfare is a drug – like drug addiction, state support is tempting, but ultimately dangerous; benefit claimants are weak, reckless, undeserving and addicted to hand-outs.
  6. Strivers and skivers – there are two kinds of people in Britain: hardworking strivers and lazy skivers, we each choose which to be.
  7. Labour’s mess – all the faults of our economy can be pinned on the previous (Labour) Government and their out of control spending.”

Clearly, not everyone will find the diagnosis and subsequent prescription plausible – well, I didn’t: too many generalisations and convenient glossings-over for my taste – and far too many complex issues presented as simple binary choices.  However, though you may find such aspects uneven, there’s no getting away from the fact that the report is an excellent discussion (and illustration) of the idea and practice of framing, which shows its persuasive power.  The report notes:

“… when a frame is strongly held we tend to ignore facts that do not fit with it.  The austerity story is a powerful narrative that is embedded in public consciousness.  It cannot be challenged with facts.  Only with new frames and a different story about the economy can it be dislodged.”

There’s much here for those bent on making a persuasive case – whatever it’s about.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response