curiosity about the ways of the world

Take me to your leader

What a bunch. I went to bed last night profoundly depressed by the whole sordid circus of politics. There’s the seedy lot on the podium at Manchester, the even seedier media probing every political cough and spit but worst of all are the 30 idiots dragged in or dredged up by Newsnight to form the focus group who could make or break Gordon Brown.

The problem with democracy is that it depends on the attitudes and reactions of human beings and we are a very strange species. I have extremely mixed feelings about Gordon Brown myself. As a daughter of the manse (well, rectory to be exact) I have some sympathy with the man who feels burdened with a mission to serve (or save) the mortal public. (We children of the cloth can find it hard to shake off the conviction that we have been put on this planet for a purpose). But I do not thrill to hear him speak because whatever his real views on Iraq, he was undeniably part of the Cabinet that backed Tony’s devastatingly tragic decision to go to war – and why on earth is he promising to invest money in Trident which could be much better spent on a real public transport revolution connecting all those parts of the UK that the London economy doesn’t reach!

But Gordon’s got to be better than John Reid or Alan Johnson. And Labour, for all it’s many warts, offers a more wholesome package of social justice than the Tories ever will. So what’s the real agenda for the pollster guru, Frank Luntz, who arguably helped to create David Cameron during the Tory party’s leadership campaign?

I am sceptical about focus groups (and I am not the only one, check the comments on this website, I have taken part in one or two myself and I believe that members of the group can sometimes unknowingly collude in reaching pre-ordained conclusions. Especially when they are being filmed for television. The herd instinct is strong and it takes a brave soul to stand up against the crowd however mad it might be (hats off to that one woman who declared for Gordon while the others were chasing the paper trail set up by Luntz). This is not to say that Newsnight actually want John Reid to become the next prime minster or even that they are deliberately trying to wreck Gordon Brown’s chances. But all of them – guru Luntz, Paxman and the focus group stooges – are there to produce something interesting. It simply won’t do to behave rationally. How else could four of them vote for someone they said they had never seen or heard of before (John ‘WHO?’ McDonnell)? What sense does it make to reject Brown because he is too old and too Scottish and then roll over for their tummies to be tickled by the even older and more aggressively Scottish Reid? There are plenty of other reasons for rejecting both of them.
And I don’t know why this nonsense bothers me so much except that it reminds me how fickle public opinion can be. Most of us can be manipulated to do what we are expected to do. Half way through the night I woke with the crazy thought that if Luntz had presented images of David Cameron to that lot in the focus group – supposedly Labour supporters and Labour ‘leaders’ – they would have chosen him as the next leader of the Labour Party. Or maybe that wasn’t such a crazy thought at all.

1 Comment

  1. Nick

    I was facing questioning from a friend about the Luntz focus group.

    I don’t think Luntz has a conscious agenda for GB politics apart from getting a regular remunerated gig in the UK.

    I saw both the “Reid” group and the “Cameron” group, and thought they made good reality style TV.

    What Luntz does is focus on appearances and people’s animal impressions of politicians. I think this is superficial, tabloidish and cynical, but – I think it’s totally legitimate, as this is the way a lot of people do choose their leaders. You have only to look at the smoke and mirrors of Tony Blair’s 2006 conference speech for illustration. Tony was the supreme salesman of his generation and people were buying by the shed load on Tuesday. Tele-evangelists don’t conjure up vatfulls of money by miracles. They get people to cough up because it makes them feel good.

    I think it’s our job as activists, and the job of employed politicians to articulate to people the reality that politics is about substance and all of our all too short precious individual lives. And that just because you don’t pay any heed to political decisions it doesn’t mean they won’t affect you.

    Or to put it another way it’s about both the circuses and the bread. The circus is a very real distraction but it’s the bread in your belly that matters.

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