Two nationalist parties did especially well out of gaming the first past the post system – the two SNPs, the Scots and the South of England National Party, aka the Tories. But was it their eagerness to play one part of the island off against another that accounts for their stunning success? Perhaps. But they also had something else – unshakeable self-confidence.
Let us examine that self-confidence. It doesn’t have to be charm, and it certainly doesn’t have to be belief, either in the rightness of your cause, or the accuracy of your facts. Two of the Tories best exemplars of the art are two of their most charmless, indeed loathsome performers, Priti Patel and Grant Shapps. Shapps has now been put into therapy to deal with his multiple personalities, but Patel has been promoted, probably because of her willingness to take on any media interview, however uncomfortable, and steamroller her way through, saying exactly what she wants to say regardless of the questions asked.
This is also the SNP way. Those of us who live south of Carlisle had little experience of SNP politicians, other than Alex Salmond, until the general election campaign. But now we’ve seen more of them, and what they all display is an ability to come on like the human equivalent of a Japanese bullet train, talking over even the most combative of interviewers, and offering outrage and incredulity at any potential questioning of their utter correctness on all matters.
Now this is not something that, morally, I would encourage. My inclination is to prefer a respectful engagement, with both sides, questioner and respondent, listening and replying, so that both – and the viewer, listener, or reader – might learn something from the encounter. This is why I am unfit to be either a journalist or a politician. But as an observer of how politics works, I can see that the ultra-assertive style really does work (at least for the moment). It gives the impression, which is crucial, of someone who knows what they’re doing. No matter that listening to the words might contradict that impression, because all too often the impression is the only thing that matters.
Contrast it with Labour hesitancy. Apologising for the crash caused by bankers. Saying sorry for forgetting to mention the economy in a speech. We’ll never spend too much money again. A tepid wash of weak, apologetic negativity just doesn’t sound convincing, yet every time their opponents pushed them for more apologies, they capitulated.
Even the hapless Liberal Democrats were a bit less apologetic, despite the weakness of their position. Their spirited defence of their part in coalition didn’t help much, but may prove useful next time around if this government continues to be pushed even further to the right than the coalition permitted.
The Labour leadership race is off to a terrible car crash of a start as everyone apologises for their manifesto, renounces all Milibandism (except the Branch Davidians), and generally comes across as a bunch of forty somethings with no real views about anything.
If Labour has any money left, I’d suggest that they put it into training up everyone they can to do the steamroller thing. Assertiveness to the point of aggression, total, unreasonable, unwillingness to concede any point, and use all that to put across a consistent message, both about what Labour believes, and about their take on other parties. In the old days, shop stewards learned these tactics in shop floor meetings and brinksmanship in negotiations with management, but today’s career path lacks exposure to such skills.
This message goes for the rest of us, too. We non-aligned lefties have a referendum to fight, and no doubt numerous other battles. Let us sharpen our weapons of disputation, heap fossil fuels into our steamrollers, fire up the Quattro, and go in fists flying. You know it makes sense.