One of the big questions speechwriters have to consider is what emotion they want to unleash in their audience, e.g. hope or fear, pride or shame, passion or anger. Usually, this is worked out by weighing up the audience’s emotions, the speaker’s character and the nature of the argument.
The answer is usually pretty obvious, e.g. a CEO speaking to staff would play to pride, a militant campaigner speaking on Iraq would play to anger and politicians usually base their appeals on one of four emotions: hope (Obama’s ‘new dawn’), fear (Blair’s ‘45 minutes’), shame (Cameron’s ‘Broken Britain’) or patriotism (Thatcher’s ‘Britain awake!’).
I’m therefore surprised that Gordon Brown seems to have made a big plunge into pity. I simply cannot remember a single political leader, victor or not, who has launched such an appeal in history.
My first reaction on watching last night’s Morgan interview was that this could be a game-changer. But that was an emotional response - it was hard not to be moved. But, on more rational reflection, I actually think it’s bound to backfire.
A. The British people don’t do pity. The stiff upper lip is our single most defining national characteristic. Rather than feeling sorry for the pitiful, we tend to want to kick them when they’re down. The only two public figures I can remember who have made appeals to pity in recent years were (i) Cherie Booth over the Aussie con-man and (ii) Princess Diana, junking in her charity work to spend more time at the gym. Both went disastrously wrong and unleashed the last emotion either expected: namely, anger.
B. No-one wants to be led by someone pitiful. Some will have urged Brown to show his human side. But he should have kept it hidden. The truth is we actually want our leaders to be super-human, and always have - from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar from Mandela to Obama. Murray Edelman wrote about this in his fab book ‘Creating the Political Spectacle’. As soon as we discover our politicans are frail and human like the rest of us, it tends to be game over.
C. For many people, this will reinforce their view that Brown does not have the strength of character for PM.
Will the British people feel sorry for him? Probably, yes. Will it make us more likely to vote for him? Probably not.
Posted by Simon Lancaster on February 15th, 2010 :: Filed under Random