It’s been a fascinating couple of weeks. Politics have dominated the headlines in the UK and USA given the slew of autumn party conferences here, and across the pond the final countdown to the general elections began with the first of three presidential debates. Needless to say I am giddy and swooning like an addict given too great a fix. The finer machinations of running a nation are, of course, occasionally a bit dull but when the gloves of office come off as they have so energetically done of late even a true cynic could surely not resist a cursory glance at how the key players are attempting to engage their existing and potential supporters. Where to begin?
With Michael Deaver actually. Ronald Reagan’s long serving communications guru and Deputy Chief of Staff during his time in the White House had a very interesting perspective on the importance of constituent elements in a successful broadcast appearance. While referring mainly to the occasion of a leadership debate, his suggestion that appearance was 85% of the game followed by 10% “how you say things” and 5% “what you actually say” is curiously relevant to all of these recent and ongoing events.
Chronologically we had the Liberal Democrats first, as indeed how else could they be first in any other consideration. They may as well have taken this opportunity to lead the pack, in however a meaningless fashion, but sadly there was never a possibility this act could really seize the initiative. Nick Clegg and company are simply far too damaged at this point to attain any reversal of fortune but nonetheless from 22-26 September they did their best to ignore the fact. It was quite remarkable how oblivious they were to the arch-dilemma they are consumed by. Perfunctory apologies from our esteemed Deputy PM for their impotence in opposing the vast student tuition increase were ridiculed but beyond this the Liberal Democrats carried belligerently on as normal.
This was not a party in crisis mode as far as I could discern and my substantial disbelief at claims they were an effective foil to Conservative antics was only surpassed by the audacity of bothering to promote a platform at all. The Mansion Tax, now wholly rejected by the Tories, and any other permutation of their “fairer tax for tough times” initiative was laughably electoral in nature given their roundly accepted inefficacy. One could almost understand this however, if looking at the polls. Somehow, despite the Tories leading the charge on most of the unsavoury policy of government, the Liberal Democrats support has plummeted harder and Clegg himself is arguably the least popular party leader since polling began.
Applying Deaver’s model to the Liberal Democrats is almost wasteful due to the severity of the problems they face. We’re not talking about a short stint in the wilderness that the two major parties must suffer in defeat, but a catastrophic regression that may well require dissolution and recreation to ever re-emerge back into the forefront of politics. But still, with Clegg looking like a walking shambles, sounding like a man on the edge and saying things that make very little sense at all, I’d say he failed to pass the acceptable standard of a man supposedly vying for power over a nation. Moving on.
It pains me to say that Ed Miliband faired better. He went into his conference with a very specific personal mission – to convince the country that he can be as good a statesman as he can be a policy wonk. That I find myself in opposition to many a product of his wonkery does not altogether detract from the fact that he has a decent brain. Probably unfairly though, myself and many, many… many of us have some difficulty hearing past his nasal, whiny voice, his gangly, disproportioned physique and his unashamed usurpation of his brother’s potentially more credible leadership. There are concerns over his ability to exercise authority over the unions who made his ascension possible as well as his formative apprenticeship under the ignominious Gordon Brown.
And how he attacked this mission with heavily coached enthusiasm. And how, in my opinion, he fell short of the mark, thanks mainly to the transparency of every intonation, gesticulation and motive behind near every sentence he spoke. Rhetoric comes so painfully unnatural to this man that in reaching for such heady heights as Disraeli, the most heavily referenced individual in his keynote speech, he forced me on several occasions to literally reel with embarrassment. Was he convinced he was Steve Jobs reincarnate? As the entire affair was so clearly informed by the primary goal of casting off his nerdy shackles he also failed in saying much of worth. Although he did have me nodding in agreement during his feisty attack on coalition incompetence, there wasn’t an identifiable detail of policy in an entire speech that was largely dominated by a tame personal story and the vagueness of the co-opted “One Nation” concept.
Poor man, he did try, but there are limitations there he just can’t surpass. And if we place significant credence in Deaver’s model there is probably no hope for his aspirations. Miliband Junior will always be the nerd and his only chance lies in the ineptitude of his opponents. After all, he’s tried almost everything. Whether it be embracing or trying to defeat the majority perception, he looks wrong, sounds wrong and if the substance of his words is worth so little, I return to an old thought that he really is the caretaker leader while Labour recover as a party. When will David make his move?
The first presidential debate was a bit of a surprise and makes the reality of Deaver’s model a very sad one. Romney was on fire, and I’m sure you have picked up on the general impression that he demolished an inexplicably lacklustre performance from Obama. He looked and sounded rather presidential compared to the hesitant and professorial President. The Denver altitude perhaps. Throughout the history of presidential debates the polling question that attracts the most attention is which candidate seemed more presidential, and there was little doubt in this case.
I can only hope that through some phenomena the American public chose to pay more attention to the 5%. In the aftermath of the debate, the fact-checkers went to work and item by item began to take apart Romney’s performance. In the figurative battlefield of ideas, Obama could have put a bullet straight though the heart of the Romney campaign if he’d even bothered to fight. The painful irony of the supremely encouraging employment statistics that appeared the day after the debate showed this – quite detrimental to Romney’s assertion that Obama’s methods have failed and that he was going to be the master of small business and job creation, employment is at it’s best since 2008 and Obama is in fact a net job creator.
But how Obama allowed Romney to disavow himself of the actually insane though still wholly under-defined budget proposals he’s been running with for months is beyond me. How, after his barnstorming energy of the 2008 campaign he allowed Romney, who stumbles over the most simple sentences on many occasions, to come across as a superior orator is further beyond me still. During one rather extended patriotic rap I actually thought Romney had a shot, it was a sublime political mini-speech. The big question is, was this performance enough to undermine the gradually established notion that Romney might be an emotionless cyborg who gives private dinner speeches describing half of the American populace as welfare dependant parasites.
I sincerely hope not. The thought of a Romney-Ryan Republican government chills me to the core and I cannot begin to fathom his motivations beyond being the first Morman president to Obama’s first African-American president. What is clear is that Romney really wants to be president and I think that’s an unhealthy disposition for a role of sombre duty and immense power.
I’m thoroughly looking forward to David Cameron’s keynote speech. If it can’t surpass the efforts of his fellow party leaders then I would be inclined to lose the last of my now microscopic hope in the Conservative party. That is if I hadn’t seen William Hague’s speech today. I lament his ill-fortuned time as party leader and it continues to feed my distaste for the Eurosceptic branch of the party to this day. Cameron made sense at the time – young, moderate and apparently competent in the wake of the old, grey and angry Tory disasters that were IDS and the vampiric Howard. But barely leading the party to victory against Brown after 13 years of Labour government does not really prove his worth.
Was Hague today renewing his intent? Deaver would probably think so if he was still around today and it just so happens Hague was making sense. Interesting times.