The Futility Monster

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

Posts Tagged ‘personality politics’

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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Life Before Politics

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 10, 2010 @ 09:35

OK, this photo has no relevance to the article, but it's still good...

The Stuart MacLennan fiasco has got me worried.

Not about him in particular but about all of us.

Let’s face it, he was axed because the media would never let it go until the pound of flesh was extracted. The opposition parties, sensing endless free-hits, would also keep bashing away. Labour had no choice but to stop the gangrene by amputating the limb.

Amusingly, the other parties then continued to attack. The Tories hilariously quipped, “Why wasn’t he sacked sooner?”. The SNP, naturally, were in deep joy, seeing, as they do, Labour as the big target in this campaign.

So far so predictable.

But there is a big issue behind this. Yes, maybe Mr MacLennan was still posting silly comments to Twitter even recently, but the main source of the controversy was regarding posts made over a year ago.

Is it possible to have a life before politics now?

It seems not. I realise with each passing day that the more I write on here, the less likely it ever is that I will be allowed to enter the political world sh0uld I choose to do so in the future. And that’s because I have a huge and growing paper trail, filled with my honest beliefs, contradictions, mistakes, and general uninformed tedium.

The same is true of most of my generation, and will be true of the next one. We’re almost all on Facebook. Some of us have Twitter. All of us will post something at one point that we shouldn’t do, and could be embarrassed about in the future.

A tiny few will go into politics. And will they be held to ransom by something they may have said many years ago?

In Sarah Palin’s words, “You betcha!”

This is disastrous for political life. It seems now the only way to ensure a smooth passage into the political realm is to make sure you take a monastic vows of silence and abstinence.

The day you enter secondary school.

And don’t bother getting drunk at any point. Or taking any drugs. Hell, don’t bother with partners either. They’ll only end up selling their story to the Daily Mail or the News of the World.

Don’t join any societies. Don’t get involved in the community. In fact, just don’t speak to anyone. They may be laying an elaborate sting to set you up.

In short, just don’t bother living.

We are in grave danger of only allowing those who have lived an extraordinarily sanitised existence into politics. We are in grave danger of being represented by people who know nothing about life because they have never lived a single day of it.

Yes, we need our politicians to be beyond reproach when they’re in power. And they need to be showing some signs of that level of trustworthiness before they get there, but let’s not risk having a political class of grey nobodies with zero charisma and zero character by denying people a private life before politics.

Because if you think the current lot are bad, wait till you see who’s waiting round the corner.

Never mind Tory Boy – say hello to Anodyne Boy.

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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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Beware The Fruit Loops

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 25, 2010 @ 21:45

Don't think I could put up with this in the British Parliament...

Nigel Farage is a man who is never going to miss an opportunity to deliver a soundbite.

His disgraceful antics in the European Parliament, unleashing a verbal tirade against the EU “President” was clearly inspired by Daniel Hannan’s equivalent diatribe against Gordon Brown.

And it worked. It got Farage coverage on the national news; I saw the clip on ITV News at 10 last night, and it has also been covered by certain media organisations today. Perfect for his campaign to try to unseat Speaker John Bercow in Buckinghamshire.

And all through behaving like a total clown.

Is this the kind of tone we want in our politics? Boorish, oafish, belonging more in The Red Lion than it does in a General Election campaign?

Because, though maybe things like this get coverage, at the same time no one is really all that impressed by it. Imagine if it was followed by an equally crass response by von Rumpy-Pumpy. I’m sure Sky News might get excited. Maybe too BBC3.

But more likely, it would just turn people off. We like to pretend we don’t care about politicians, and the expenses scandal has done serious damage to their reputation, but you still wouldn’t expect them to get into the kind of antics more closely associated with the bar than the Bar.

David Cameron called UKIP a bunch of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. And maybe I’ve fallen into the same trap with the subject of this post.

And yet it just felt like Farage crossed the line. Perhaps it was the personal insult that did it. And the fact that it was clearly a shameless attempt to cash in on the Hannan-love-in.

Somehow I don’t think it’ll be the last time though.

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Brown On The Run. Again.

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 27, 2010 @ 09:58

Says it all...

The toys-out-of-pram throwing in Northern Ireland has been deemed sufficiently serious by Gordon Brown to miss yet another Prime Minister’s Questions.

I don’t wish to belittle the seriousness of the situation in Norn Iron, but let’s face it, we’re hardly on the brink of a sudden return to paramilitary warfare. Naturally, a little of that is still going on anyway, but should the talks break up today anyway without agreement, then Brown not only looks a fool, but all that will happen is that Stormont goes into neutral and the world keeps turning.

The big problem with the NI situation is that no one wants to face their electorates. The parties are actually all desperate to see an agreement come together, because they know if they don’t the most likely course of action is that Martin McGuinness will resign, forcing an election. And that could be catastrophic for the DUP while they are currently under pressure from hardliners…

For one reason or another, everyone is afraid of democracy and being held to account.

That sounds awfully familiar to me…

Today, it means that we once more have to put up with Harriet Harman as Brown’s stand-in. Which probably means a little Wiliam Hague and some Vince Cable too. It’s not a bad line-up of deputies really, but the trouble is that it happens all too often. It’s remarkable how Brown finds reasons to disappear on Wednesdays, and if I had nothing better to do I’d be going through all the Hansards since his elevation to power to prove my point!

Fact is – and we’ve all said this before at some point – that Brown just isn’t cut out for the demands on the modern politician. Cameras. Questions. Interrogations. Press conferences. Sounding good. Looking good. Charisma. Slick presentation. He can’t do any of them well, and his excuse is to slope off, trying to look important on the world stage instead.

Somehow, I think I might just make sure I’m busy at 12 noon today. I’m sure I won’t miss anything…

UPDATE (12 noon): apparently Brown is now leaving NI before a deal has been reached (if a deal can be reached at all). So the point was…

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The Politics Factor

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 14, 2009 @ 09:59

Love him or hate him, he's obviously doing something right. But will the magic work in politics?

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a fan of The X Factor. But I am in the esteemed company of maybe 15m other people. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

The X Factor is one of life’s guilty pleasures for me. I generally dislike reality TV, finding it too corny and too forced because of the desperate lengths people will go to to get on the media.

However, I love music, of all different kinds, and The X Factor has always intrigued me in that respect. There’s no doubting that year on year, they unearth incredible performers and singers who had largely gone unnoticed. And in any event, it’s an entertaining night in.

The real winner of X Factor though, of course, is Simon Cowell.

And when he tells the media that he plans “a series of big prime time shows leading up to the election in which the public would hear two sides of the argument about several issues” (not a direct quote, but from Kirsty Wark, who interviews Cowell tonight on Newsnight) they are going to sit up and take notice.

And so too are the politicians.

The concept is intriguing to me. Surely trying to make politics meld with the glitz and glamour of the reality TV genre is going to be a fail of epic proportions?

But at the same time, if anyone can do it, it’s Simon Cowell.

It’s clear the plans for this are already advanced. The next election could be just months away. ITV1 is sure to be the location of the “bear pit” (Cowell’s words)… and that would put them right at the heart of the election, which would be extremely unusual for them.

Apparently, it was Nick Griffin’s escapade on Question Time that convinced Simon Cowell that this was something the public would enjoy. The tone would obviously have to be more serious than the usual reality TV fayre, but that would only notch up the populist rhetoric as a counterbalance. Gotta give the viewers something to watch.

Is that healthy for democracy? After all, us liberal lefties would get a bit upset if a show turned into a lynch mob talking up the joys of bringing back the rope, the birch and maybe even that belt reserved only for special occasions. Weren’t some headteachers sickening?

Cowell hopes politicians would phone up and get involved. I suspect the goal is purely to engineer live, vitriolic conflict about an issue on TV. Would politicians want to throw themselves amongst that?

Of course they would. A new breed of fiery rhetoric-spouting orators is waiting to be born into this next generation of the political class; the next phase of personality politics will begin. The rest of them will either have to adapt or die.

If it works, if Cowell can produce a watertight concept, it will be worth watching out for. It may just influence the media narrative in the run up to the next election.

And losing control of that would not be a good thing for any of the main parties. Certainly not Mr Cameron…

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“Il Cavaliere” Or Why We Shouldn’t Always Trust Democracy

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 23, 2009 @ 09:54

The picture says it all...

Our friends over in Italy have the pleasure/misfortune (delete to taste) of being governed by the formidable Silvio Berlusconi. An ageing lothario, botox-filled, with hair and teeth that can’t possibly be his own any more. Some of us forget that he’s now 73, but still a slip of a lad when compared to the “thrusting” Ming Campbell.

Sorry, Ming. That was unfair. He is, after all, only 68. Anyway…

Berlusconi is now into his third attempt as Prime Minister. The first one was a short-lived disaster. The second one a much longer period of disaster. And the third? Well, that’s also a disaster.

However, I’m biased. Seriously biased. I am, after all, a liberal, yoghurt-knitting leftie. I despise Berlusconi and everything he stands for. The man is seriously corrupt, and has spent all his periods of office attempting to cover his tracks, shield himself from prosecution and, worse, legislating to further his businesses and passing immunity laws to thwart investigations into his activities.

As for his personal life… his taste in women is indeed fine, but to be continuously in the headlines for it must make it rather difficult to concentrate on real matters of state in this modern media age.

But perhaps that doesn’t matter. Berlusconi has never been about anything other than feathering his own nest. The Italian people seem to appreciate that level of honesty in their politicians. They know they’re all crooks, so why not elect someone who is rotten to the core, but at least has fun with it and keeps everyone entertained in the process.

Meanwhile, Berlusconi’s media empire, enhanced by years of legislation in its favour, keeps the populace distracted with an agenda that is almost unceasingly in his favour. And where his media organisations lead, the rest of them follow, even ones that are apparently neutral as they are owned by the state.

Berlusconi’s presence is such that any kind of attack on him now is brushed aside as a mere inconvenience;
the usual suspects “in the establishment” once more trying to get one over an old enemy. He has this marvellous way of diminishing his opponents by accusing them of trying to settle old scores and turning everything personal. It usually works.

The sad part of all this is that there is almost nothing anyone can do. This is democracy. It isn’t easy. It throws up results we don’t like.

The last refuge of the left is usually to say democracy isn’t always right. Even more so now in the modern media age, where celebrity, personality and trivial facts are what’s important to the media. Like it or not, Cameron will win the next British election largely because he is seen as “more in touch” with the British people than Gordon Brown. More likeable. More personable. Less aloof.

And so it worked for Berlusconi.

Democracy is distorted by such manipulation of the agenda. Even more so in the case of Berlusconi because of his media empire.

There is, however, one saving grace.

Maybe the Italians are – finally – starting to see the light.

Let’s hope that democracy gets it right in the end.

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