Postscripts to an election

The UK election is continuing to generate theories, punditry and speculation but it is fascinating to look at some of the little things which go to make up a campaign and how they look in retrospect.

The Maybot ‘strong and stable’ slogan may have originated with the Prime Minister’s co-chiefs of staff who have just resigned. It might also have originated with the Tory Australian strategist, Lynton Crosby, who was knighted by David Cameron. Whoever, the co-chiefs have gone and one needs to be careful what one says about Crosby because he has been known to be litigious – unlike his former Australian client, John Howard, who estimably took the view that you give and take it in politics.

Nevertheless, from where did the strong and stable slogan come? Private Eye (19 May 2017) found one precedent – the conclusion of Mein Kampf in which Adolf Hitler writes: “Today, in November 1926, it (the Nazi Party) stands again before us, free through the whole Reich, stronger and internally more stable than ever before.” Obviously neither May’s staff nor Crosby lifted Adolf’s theme but the similarity does show there is frequently very little new in election sloganeering.

And as for the slogan itself, now the Maybot is claiming she always hated it and someone (obviously not Crosby-Textor of course) is leaking that her pollsters and strategists, Crosby-Textor, had warned her of all the problems and had opposed the manifesto policies. All proof, yet again, of of Count Ciano’s 1942 comment: “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan (La victoria trova cento padri, a nessuno vuole riconoscere l’insuccesso)” Readers, however, may be more familiar with the JFK later version.

And if there is nothing new in election slogans there is also nothing new in how leaders should and should not characterise themselves. Private Eye also reported that during the campaign Theresa May sent a letter to electors in Bath which used the words ‘me’ and ‘I’ 23 times asking them to ‘back me’ in the election. The word Conservative was used twice – one of them in the legally required authorisation.

The May letter is an indication of what went wrong in the election but it also provides two important lessons for leaders. First, authentic and effective leaders are inclusive and use words like ‘us’ and ‘we’ rather than personal pronouns because it demonstrates a commitment to the team and helps shape a strong inclusive culture. Second, Machiavellian leaders use us and we to shift the blame from themselves to the collective when things go pear-shaped – as it did in Bath where the Tories lost.

Finally there is much discussion about how the tabloids didn’t seem to have that much effect despite their hysterical tone and attacks on Corbyn – much of them along the lines of Boris Johnson’s claims about how Corbyn was unfit to be PM because he vowed not to make first use of nuclear weapons. The blog rather thinks the Corbyn response would win more votes than it lost.

Just as the Sydney Daily Telegraph hysteria failed to swing voters in western Sydney in the 2016 Australian election so Murdoch’s Sun in the UK seemed to have little effect. In one area the blog was in during the election campaign, Liverpool, it’s not surprising. The Sun’s appalling reporting of the Hillsborough disaster is still well remembered there and many shops and houses feature signs saying The Sun is not welcome. In one Liverpool taxi the blog took there was a large sign saying the driver objected to passengers reading The Sun in his cab. In other cities throughout the UK people took multiple copies of The Sun and the Daily Mail from shops (sometimes even buying them) and news booths and then dumped them in the bin.

So if Rebekah Brooks, the tabloid boss famously found not guilty of criminal charges in the hacking scandal involving the Murdoch newspapers, starts boasting about increased election circulation you know how some of the increases came about.

In another postscript, this time on post truth, the blog’s friend Gary Max sent him a video clip from Jonathan Sacks, the UK’s Chief Rabbi, on the subject. He looks at three new books all with the title post truth and takes discussion of the phenomenon back to the Book of Jeremiah while also touching on Plato, Nietzsche, Darwin, Alasdair MacIntyre and Bertrand Russell. Sacks’ conclusion – post truth leads to post-freedom. And all in just under 14 minutes.