Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Why the Tories lose again and again

There's a fascinating article in today's Guardian about the role of emotion in politics. It looks at how the Democratic presidential candidates have failed to understand that voters react much more strongly to stories that politicians tell than to the arguments they make. Clinical logic is not enough, a successful vote winner requires something else. As the author puts it: 'the data is crystal clear: people vote for the candidate who elicits the right feelings, not the candidate who presents the best arguments.' You can watch the author discuss his ideas here.

In Britain it is not on the left but on the right that we find the people, who do not understand the emotional side of politics. The Labour party has successfully created a narrative, first around the idea that it was time for a change and then around providing successful, stable leadership. By contrast, the Conservatives have made a similar mistake to the Democrats. They looked at opinion polls, saw that the public appeared to share their hostility to immigration and the EU, went out and argued for their positions on those issues and were trounced. What they had failed to appreciate was that by carping on about those two issues without presenting any kind of positive vision, that voters would construct their own story about the Conservative party. Instead of being the heroes, the voters made them into negative thinking villains obsessed with foreigners. This was not the kind of party that anyone wants to vote for.

David Cameron understood the need to change the story and when it comes to convincing the public that he is a nice guy, he has succeeded. Opinion polls show that the public believe that Cameron is an affable, non threatening individual. The visits to the arctic and the hoody hugging have served their purpose. However, his attempt to construct a broader narrative about it being a time for a change and him being the man to deliver it has failed. This failure is at the heart of his recent trouble and it has come about for two very good reasons. Firstly, few people believe that he is really that different from the Government he is seeking to replace. It is not for nothing that his political opponents have seized on the similarity between him and Blair. A more significant problem stems from his reluctance to articulate policies, which means that he is unable to tell people what changes he wants. Unless he can produce a more convincing vision for Britain then like his unfortunate predecessors he will carry on losing.

As for the narrative that will propel British politics other perpetual losers back into power, uhh, can I get back to you on that one...

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