The Election and Cameron: The paradox of why less was more.
The outcome of all elections including the politically and potentially historically significant General Election 2015, hinge on a multitude of factors. History, the economy, the social make up of a society, personality, and the media are to name but a few. The 2015 General Election was without a doubt a departure from the truisms which we normally attribute to electoral patterns.
It is certainly remarkable that a UKIP could attract almost four million votes but yet only achieve occupancy of only constituency. Even more remarkable perhaps was that an incumbent Prime Minister and party was able to increase in share of seats in the lower house (although this much mentioned fact in the media seems to have forgotten there were two parties in Government which collectively followed the ‘party line’ (pun totally intended) of losing seat in totality). Perhaps most remarkable was the SNP’s meteoric rise to political fame. For a party to leave such a stamp on the electoral map may well prove to be the most significant electoral outcome in the years ahead.
In terms of attracting votes the SNP and UKIP rode the European wide wave of Nationalist sentiment to success. Over the years we have become well aware of the pitfalls of our First Past the Post system. This alone explains the vast differential between the numbers of seats gained by the two parties.
Nationalism is not a new force within European politics. It is not even the case that Nationalism is even new within the United Kingdom. We have had previous SNP leaders fail to have the impact that Nicola Sturgeon seems to have relentlessly driven. The British National Party and the National Front in have also failed historically to make any real inroads into the British Political system. We have for many years had Plaid Cymru, DUP and Sinn Fein representatives in our Government. It does beg the question what was so different his time around?
Personality? Personality politics is often derided by political scientists of having little merit. That politics has far too many interrelated arms and legs, too many fingers in too many pies, to be driven by a single factor. Even if you do not agree with their politics I think you would be hard pressed to refute that the SNP and UKIPs figureheads often a departure from the normal political claptrap we are offered at election time. In a world where politicians are risk averse the British public responded positively to two leaders who weren’t afraid to say something a bit offbeat, heck in some cases (well many in fact)downright offensive.
The over trained, personality-less public figure does not generally appeal to the British public. This axiom is the case in other public arenas. Sports’ fans across the country certainly get frustrated at international sports stars who pump out the same drivel in post-match interviews (as a cricket fan I can say for a fact that the England cricket team are by far the worst). It also explains why boxing’s Flloyd Mayweather and snooker’s Ronnie O’Sullivan remain ever popular in their respective arenas. They just express whatever they feel like without a media filter.
The public prefers conviction and the implied strength in character these personalities possess, to one that does not wish to commit itself to any opinion.
The decline in both Nick Clegg’s and Ed Milliband’s positions as potential challengers to David Cameron’s party where both damaged in part by their inability to appear strong. Both lacked the necessary personality to engender a strong belief in their leadership and by association their parties.
Nice Clegg felt the effects of this to a massive degree. After surrendering any assertions that he was a conviction politician in the student fees fiasco it was always going to be a mammoth uphill struggle to recover. Not since Tony Blair have we seen a politician who could recover from such an unpopular political decision. Through not appearing strong on policy this would reflect on the lack of strength in his disposition.
Ed Milliband, outside the internal workings of his party at least, has never appeared strong. Certainly this is due to our own stereotypical definitions of strength. A man with a soft tone to his voice, a slight lisp and the ability to appear ungainly at the drop of a hat certainly did not do his cause any good. I think my own partner put it best in aftermath of the election results ‘He seems lovely. I’d love to have him round for dinner but I would never vote for his to be Prime Minister’. Do we want ‘lovely’ to rule our nation?
What about Cameron? He is hardly what we would classify as having a strong personality. He is no Farage or Sturgeon, he isn’t even a Boris Johnson when it comes to captivating his audience. If we were to compare our Primus Inter Pares to either two groups he would gravitate towards the Milliband/Clegg end of the scale.
Yet the Prime Minister achieved a coup de gras to both of his Political similitude. How did he achieve this? My opinion is that it took a political masterstroke from within the Cameron campaign headquarters.
I believe that early on it was evident that Cameron was not depicted as being able to hold his own against stronger personalities. The Conservatives chose not to compete. It would certainly go some way to explain why Cameron was steadfast in his decision to only appear on the now much critiqued televised electoral debates under conditions which suited him. Through setting conditions Cameron appeared in control, he appeared strong. By only agreeing to appear on a debate which included most party leaders he was able to hide himself amongst the rabble.
Whilst other leaders battled to obtain centre stage he let them. He was content with allowing the SNP and UKIP to battle. The chance of them taking so many seats as to worry his party was low (although the SNP would have achieved far more than he would have expected). All the parties fought to discredit one another. Cameron said very little. There is an old adage that running your mouth can get you in trouble.
In the larger electoral campaign the Conservatives said very little. They had really one key message: The economy is improving; Do not rock the boat; It is safer to let us continue. They avoided engaging with much else. Conversely the Labour party focused on a plethora of proposed policy. However since the electoral results have been announced they have had their lack of a consistent unifying message maligned by the media as their Achilles heel.
The Conservative’s allowed the challenging parties to attack their political foundation. The accusation that they were a party for the rich came thick and fast, like they always do.
The conservative’s persevered with their one message. The economy is improving; Do not rock the boat; It is safer to let us continue.
With hindsight we can see that if this was indeed the strategy employed it was certainly effective. After his post-election visit to the Queen he delivered a short and simple speech. In the speech Cameron himself mentioned ‘Elections can be bruising clashes’ Cameron was the only established political party leader to walk away without a blemish. Fighters rely on aggression. Snipers on silent efficiency.
In a world of increasing noise and complexity lest it be forgotten: Less can be more. Quiet can be strong.