The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘charisma in politics’

Paxman v Brown

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 30, 2010 @ 21:26

Poor bugger...

In the final chapter of this series (Paxman v Clegg; Paxman v Cameron), Gordon Brown finally decided he would grace Jeremy Paxman with his presence. At the very least, these interviews have a bit more substance to them for wonks like me, and won’t get spun as to “who won”.

Overall, Brown gave a good account of himself. He was stubborn as hell. He had an answer to every single question, and they were almost all delivered without a moment’s pause or hesitation. There was no stuttering, no thoughtfulness. Just a steamroller through every issue.

First thing to say though is that he looks quite rough. This election is clearly taking it out of him. He seems to have aged noticeably, and even his voice, that dreaded, unforgiving monotone, sounded tired.

Because Brown is the only politician in government, however, he is the only one who has a 13 year record to defend. That’s a tall order, especially compared to the newness of Cameron and Clegg. As a result, Paxman did his level best to take every aspect of Gordon Brown’s record and pin the blame to Brown at every turn.

It was like a history seminar. Gordon Brown, the old and wise professor, correcting the errant and wayward student for daring to question his version of events. “My historical record is accurate”, insisted Professor Brown. Paxman ducked and dived, hurling shit at every opportunity. Expenses! Banking! Scandals! Immigration! Lack of mandates! Boom and bust! Iraq!

And then he finished with a cruel blow… with words to this effect:

“Why do people dislike you?”

But to give Brown his due, he answered them all, even the nasty attack on his personality, even making Jeremy Paxman laugh with his reply. But as for the policy, Brown is, of course, not correct to say that no one could have seen the disaster heading towards us in the banking sector. After all, a certain politician named Vince Cable warned us all about it for several years beforehand…

Brown, however, is just too abstract. He is a details man in a big picture world. He has all the facts and figures (at least, his versions of them) at his disposal in order to make a decent argument. An academic would love his essays.

Sadly for him, the electorate aren’t academics. He fails to make his logic into a tangible, touchy-feely, and even emotional case for governing. He just cannot do it. Mean people suggest it might be a form of autism. Even Jeremy Paxman hinted at it by asking why Brown struggles to relate to people (see the historical record, passim). Brown dismissed it, of course, but the charge is there.

Brown did eat his humble pie over “Bigotgate”, but Paxo kept on stuffing him by turning the debate fully to the issue of immigration, and spent five minutes accusing him of having no mandate for the amount of it this country has seen. A very difficult accusation for him indeed, but Brown blustered through. He has done that for over 10 years anyway, so he’s pretty good at it by now…

The biggest thing I take from the interview, though, is Brown’s utter determination to go right on to the bitter end. He is still supremely confident of his abilities, and has complete bloody-minded certainty of his convictions, even though the evidence over the years is of a man who has changed his position time after time to put him on the winning side.

And while it appears that there’s no one in the Labour Party who’s prepared to tell him that the Emperor really isn’t wearing any clothes, he will continue to do it until he’s ground Labour into the dust.

Full marks to him for his sheer brass neck in the interview. Full marks for playing up his experience and belief that he can keep saving Britain. Full marks for using it instead of the way other politicians play the charisma card.

But, these days, you just can’t get away with it.

Sorry, Gordon. Your number’s up.


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The Content-Free Election

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 29, 2010 @ 11:11

I suspect the 1992 election was about personalities too...

Elections are about people as much as they are about policies. It’s truer now than it’s ever been, but let’s not kid ourselves: personalities matter, and they always have done. In 1964, the aloof, patrician Alec Douglas-Home was bested by “man of the people” Harold Wilson, despite Harold Wilson actually being nothing of the sort.

Image matters.

But this election is certainly taking that to new levels. We can hardly be surprised, what with the election debates and all that. Indeed, when I look back at this post I wrote when the news first broke than the debates would definitely be happening, I now feel quite chuffed:

But most of all, I am worried that unless the debates are truly focused on policies and vision for Britain, we are going to hear a lot more about whether David Cameron “looks like a Prime Minister”.

We’ve had enough of politics being trivialised and reduced to the lowest common denominator in this country. It’s been a bad couple of years, yes, but not so bad as to completely sell out our system to soap opera style bickering and televised chat shows.

OK, the debates themselves have not been like that. The rules have made the conduct orderly, and the leaders have done their level best to have a debate on policy.

But that’s not what gets reported afterwards. It has been all about how each leader reacted to the pressure. How they expressed their point of view. How confident they looked on camera. Whether, in fact, they even looked at the camera.

And as any good PR person will tell you, it’s not the event that matters, it’s how it’s reported.

The debates have turned the election into one long serial drama. The third act will take place tonight.

Inbetween, we have been kept entertained with morsels about “who won”. But rarely has the conversation entered into the realms of what they talked about for 90 minutes.

And then, to cap it all, we have yesterday’s Gordon Brown gaffe, which totally destroyed the agenda of all the parties – they were wanting to talk about the economy in the lead up to tonight’s debate.

We’ve basically had three weeks of  personality politics so far. Substantive examination of policies has gone out the window.

Who benefits most from that?

Ironically, it probably has to be the Liberal Democrats. Often we hear about them not getting enough attention. But this time, they are getting it, and it’s all being focused on the two key players at the top of the party: Nick and Vince. But if all the focus was on the minutiae of Liberal Democrat policy, you can be sure that the Tories and Labour would be spinning that “they say one thing in Labour seats, but say the other in Tory seats = you can’t trust the Lib Dems” – in spite of it being wholly false, because it plays into the stereotypes about Lib Dems that the electorate is so keen to wallow in.

But it suits the politicians. After all, who wants to talk about what sacrifices have to be made? The electorate will only punish you for telling the truth anyway.

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Paxman v Clegg

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 13, 2010 @ 18:54


Last night’s Paxman interview with Nick Clegg was one of the more interesting parts of the election so far. I say that not because I’m a Liberal Democrat, but simply because it was the first prime-time, national prominence (no one else has yet had 30 mins at 8:30pm in BBC1) any of the party leaders have got since the starting gun was fired last Monday.

The interview itself was typical Paxman, though he was not quite at the top of his game. He was cocky, assertive, and the trademark sneer was very much in evidence. But he was very much kept in check with what was a commanding performance by Nick Clegg.

Lib Dem member in party leader worship shocker. I know, I know.

Paxman lead quite an interesting sweep through several issues. Discussing hung parliament strategies, immigration reform, the economy, the NHS and education, Clegg had answers for everything. But not only did he have the answers, he was thoroughly in control of the interview. He didn’t let Paxman interrupt too frequently. He stood his ground. He stood up for the policies, and at one point (on the £10,000 personal allowance) defended them so strongly that he gave Paxman a good dressing down.

The best way to survive these interviews is to stay calm and confident. Five years ago, Charles Kennedy did well, but Paxman was at his manoeuvring best, trying to catch Charles out in a typical Lib Dem dilemma of two contradictory policies. Charles looked a little lightweight as a result, and not a serious contender for the leadership of this country.

This time, however, Clegg handled it very differently. I’m not lying when I say he looked like he could be a Prime Minister. He was detailed, authoritative and assertive. His knowledge of the Lib Dem gamut of policies was complete. He kept his calm, and continued to restate his case when Paxman tried to catch him out.

The policies themselves… they can wait till another day. I agreed with almost everything Clegg said, which is a first for me. But elections these days are all about personality. How did Clegg fare here?

Nick Clegg’s personality has always been a bit of an enigma. He looks and sounds a bit like Cameron. That is a big worry. He uses words like “golly” – which to a Northerner like me is very posh, and very dated. He can get a bit petulant at PMQs, and on TV can come across a little arrogant and aloof.

These are the negatives of Clegg. He is no street-fighter. He is very much a public schoolboy in his demeanour. The country is clearly happy with that regarding Cameron. He is a Tory after all, and very much fitting in the natural stereotype.

But we Lib Dems need something different. A radiant personality that will stick out in the miasma of mediocrity that passes for parliamentarians these days. Charles Kennedy was that, but his grasp of policy was poor. Clegg is no Kennedy. He’s not a man you’d stop in the street to strike up a conversation with.

Clegg did his level best to overcome that shortcoming last night. He came across as intelligent, articulate, thoughtful and enthusiastic. And he did indeed look confident and competent.

Is that combination sufficient enough, and in sufficient quantity, for him to have the magical “electability”?

Just about, I’d say. He’s doing the party no harm at all right now…

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Chris Grayling & The Peter Principle

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 5, 2010 @ 09:36

There's only room in the Shadow Cabinet for one bald guy, and that quota was reached with William Hague

The fuss over Chris Grayling’s off message comments regarding homosexuality and the potential refusal of goods/services is rather interesting to me for two reasons reasons: the man himself, and what it says about the party.

The latter point is rather simple. One cannot help but feel that what Mr Grayling said has deep resonance within the heart of the Conservative Party. I’ve no doubt at all that that Tory core vote agrees fundamentally with what he said. In that respect, he is more in tune with the Party than his leadership.

However, this issue was settled back in 2007. I can’t find now whether the Tories made any Parliamentary moves against it, but one assumes by the tone of the coverage over the past few days that they didn’t. I guess it was all part of Cameron’s plan to make themselves look a little less like “the nasty Party”. One of these issues that the leadership sweeps under the rug on pain of death, hoping that once it’s gone away no one will even remember the difficult situation it caused at the time.

It worked, of course. Actions such as that have meant that the Tory brand has been detoxified in the eyes of most floating voters. And since Cameron’s plan has indeed delivered Tory success, and a sure fire victory at the election, the Party have tolerated it.

All parties do such things. They have to to stick together. There’s always give and take. That Cameron managed to make the Tories more socially liberal on an issue like this is to be applauded, but let’s be under no illusion, the Grayling faux pas proves that appearances can be deceptive. Skin deep, indeed.

Meanwhile, Chris Grayling has never struck me as a good example of what the Conservatives should be promoting. His rise to the Shadow Cabinet has been stellar, perhaps advanced by David Davis’ bizarre resignation, but this little incident clearly proves why they might have paused before backing him.

He’s always been known as an “attack dog”. As a back-bencher and shadow junior minister, he was always available for rent-a-quote, and biting quips about the opposition. Perfect to be unleashed from time to time, in controlled doses.

But his appearance, his demeanour, his lack of charisma, and gaffe-prone nature seemed to be overlooked. Someone in High Command obviously thought he was doing well enough to keep promoting him, again and again, until he reached Shadow Home Secretary. You can’t get much higher in opposition. The doses were no longer controlled.

Last night on Sky News it was amusing to hear Shane Greer, of Total Politics magazine, talking in such a negative way about a former star. It’s clear that Grayling had already peaked, even before this incident. A minor ministerial position will be all he’s afforded, and if he makes a hash of it, the door will be shown.

Grayling is yet another example of The Peter Principle in action. Buyer’s remorse has now clearly set in.

Politics is a brutal and cruel business.

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Looking Prime Ministerial

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 3, 2010 @ 09:26

Cleggy has to be the biggest winner out of all this, despite having no chance of becoming PM!

Now that the unthinkable has happened, and the three main party leaders have agreed not just the principle but the detail of the forthcoming leaders’ debates, we really are in uncharted territory for British politics.

What’s going to make it so interesting is that front and centre of this campaign is going to be the concept of “but he looks like a Prime Minister!”.

Yes, charisma, personality and confidence have always been a part of politics, no more so than when delivering Tony Blair a stonking great victory in 1997. But we are nowhere near the level of the USA, where, on reflection, it was Barack Obama’s cool and cerebral performance in the Presidential Debates, especially the first one where John McCain made himself look like a grumpy old man, that secured his position as a dead cert to win.

In American politics, however, it makes much more sense. They are electing a Head of State as well as a Head of Government. Heads of State are the figurehead of the country, projecting their own image not just just nationally, but internationally. In turn, the nation and the world can “see” the character and values of that country. As such, questions of whether someone “looks like a President” are fair game.

Here, less so. Although I am excited about the prospect of debates, and judging by this document, the conditions set down will ensure no cheap lines to get the applause of the audience, I am concerned that they will become all encompassing, and mean everything else in the campaign matters little. Hopefully we’ll still get the probing 30 minute Paxman interview on Newsnight for each of the contenders. Sky News will want to do the same, I’m sure.

But most of all, I am worried that unless the debates are truly focused on policies and vision for Britain, we are going to hear a lot more about whether David Cameron “looks like a Prime Minister”.

We’ve had enough of politics being trivialised and reduced to the lowest common denominator in this country. It’s been a bad couple of years, yes, but not so bad as to completely sell out our system to soap opera style bickering and televised chat shows.

If that’s going to happen, we might as well have Jeremy Kyle as the debate moderator…

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