Friday 4 April 2014

The great paradox of emotion in politics

I wrote yesterday about the great paradox of emotion in politics.  It makes the English uncomfortable, as emotion tends to wherever they encounter it.  I'm beginning to feel nervous even writing this, but then I am - above all - English.

Here is the conundrum, as it was played out in the second Clegg-Farage debate.

Nick Clegg's team let it be known that their man was going to be "more emotional" during the second clash, and he was - and it was effective.  Farage was less emotional, but more able to connect his message to the gut emotions of the audience.

The problem is this.  People don't want politicians to be emotional, though they prefer it to being to cerebral or turning into machine-like purveyors of statistics (and Clegg isn't either of those).  But they do respond when politicians appeal effectively to their own gut emotions.

This is not about just talking about 'your jobs', which sounds slightly patronising.  It means playing effectively to the deep values of the people listening, and Farage is adept at that.

English politicians are not just bad at displaying emotions - which is perhaps just as well (I don't think I could have watched Farage emoting) - they are also bad at appealing to emotions.  It smacks of demagoguery.  But unless they think about it, unless they are aware of the whole gamut of values held by their audience at a deep level, they will always lose out to the demagogues.

It is a case of William Booth's great maxim: Why should the devil have all the best tunes?

Or to put it another way: Why should Farage be allowed to portray himself as the only patriot in the room?  Do our great traditions of tolerance count for nothing?  What about the way the British have deliberately involved ourselves in Europe to prevent tyranny - not once, but over and over again?

My friend and colleague Joe Zammit-Lucia, with whom I discussed all this after the debate on Wednesday night, has written this on Huffington Post.  It is a highly effective riposte to Farage's populism.

This seems to me to be one example of how the forces of light are letting Farage get away with it.  He is being allowed to play tunes that they appear to be too proud, too cerebral or too ignorant of history to be able to play.

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