The left needs to find the language of passion in politics


7:29 pm - November 13th 2010

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contribution by Emily Davis

The right-wing agenda gets across to people a lot of the time because it is framed in morally emotional terms e.g. ‘broken britain’. Their anger (properly controlled – not aggression!), against perceived moral injustice and passionate conviction catch the viewers’ and readers’ interest.

It is exciting! There is a plot, and these are the characters! Too often, for some reason, the left seems concerned with playing down passions and appearing almost overly rational – like a kind of robot that only acknowledges intellectual points in an argument, rather than understands and empathises with the voter’s hopes and fears.

Think about the televised argument between Adam Boulton and Alastair Campbell during the election. Adam is too aggressive obviously, but the least politically educated person watching can tell that he is passionate about his point of view, and that may count for a lot.

While I’m not holding Alastair up as a good example of left politics, he does display the attitude that a lot of left-liberal political spokespeople have taken in seeming almost too cool about the discussion, perhaps in an effort to diffuse the situation, and embarrass their opponent.

But it only half-works, and preaches to the converted. Alastair looks like he isn’t defending his point of view particularly well – he also comes off slightly cowardly, I think.

Another more recent example, although a US one, characterises this even better. Christine O’Donnell loses the intellectual argument badly in this interview, but she’s the one whose body language and rhetoric seems like she cares the most about it.

Again, I think this still counts for a lot with some voters, especially those who might not yet fully understand the political repercussions of her intellectual argument. She ended up getting 35% of the vote – she should have got closer to 0%!

We can’t just use the word passionate, we have to actually sound passionate, and word our arguments in compassionately passionate terms! We have to come out off of the page and thereby force our opponents to live in the real world as well, where conservative answers to moral problems simply don’t (ahem) cut it.

Ed Miliband is a vast improvement on what his brother would have been in this respect, but he needs to be coming out even stronger. The CSR is a massively important moment for him personally to lead the charge from the left – not just in Prime Minister Questions, but, again, from all angles and as passionately as possible.

He should be making it clear that what the conservatives seem to suffer from is a ‘poverty of the heart’.

Overall, he needs to take up the most morally controversial areas of the cuts and really hammer the conservatives over them in the media, and keep on going (Ed Balls style): but please, literally for goodness sake, use the most moral and compassionate rhetoric, otherwise your arguments will be lost on so many.

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Reader comments


Is English capable of sustaining demagoguery?

The problem is that U.S.-style rhetoric serves to indulge the worst, most partisan and bias-fuelled aspects of human consciousness. Doubtless, one should be passionate about our predicament but if there’s no sincerity it’s wearisomely vomitous.

Case in point – Neil Kinnock being interviewed recently:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGhPvVb3dak

This is what you are trying to do.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_djgssszshgM/TM7Xns_U0LI/AAAAAAAABMo/hXpduR2JnNg/s1600/photo+from+rally.jpg

However, coherent arguments are struggling in an era when people prefer hysterical slogans. The last two years I have never known such general negativity. In that type of environment simplistic slogans resonate if they are screeched loud enough. Centuries of almost continuous progress and advancement. Yet, all we see before us is doom. Utterly bizarre. Just as well I have always been a contrarian because I am positive and bullish. Hopefully we never regressive to the awful state of US politics. We are miles away from that nightmare prospect. However, we are not an empire in decline like the US. When our empire was in decline we had two world wars to distract us. The US have nothing to distract them but a brown guy in the White House. Therefore, the US Right look inwards and out of their mouths comes gibberish.

You just need to have faith in your argument. Sure the ranters will succeed for a time until people realise it is all hot air. History teaches us if an argument has merit it will nearly always prevail no matter the opposition. If it has no merit it will not prevail.

Hmm, well maybe. But in my case, I HAVE BEEN A LABOUR SUPPORTER IN TIMES GOOD AND I HAVE BEEN A LABOUR SUPPORTER IN TIMES BAD!

a la Hugo Chavez?

I see, what the left really needs now is more demagogues and the equivalent of Sarah Palin among the Republicans in America?

Count me out.

Btw Alastair Campbell’s problem wasn’t that he was overly rational. Quite the reverse, in fact. He was responsible for the final drafting of the government’s infamous dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction served out to Parliament at a special session on 24 September 2002:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/spl/hi/middle_east/02/uk_dossier_on_iraq/pdf/iraqdossier.pdf

That dossier made a claim no less than four times that Iraq could use WMD within 45-minutes of a command from Saddam Hussein, a claim based on intelligence from one unproven source, according to the Butler inquiry. British troops were sent out to Iraq in March 2003 lacking equipment to protect against WMD, the very reason for the invasion and no WMD were found there. Estimates of the number of civilian casualties in Iraq as a consequence of the invasion and its aftermath range from 100,000 upwards.

The claims in the dossier were disowned by Dr Brian Jones, the head of the branch in the Defence Intelligence Service in the MOD tasked to assess incoming intelligence relating to WMD:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1011171.ece

Clare Short: “The truth is Britain was tricked into going to war”
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article1006101.ece

Would that New Labour had been more rational, not less, in its selection of policy priorities.

Think about the televised argument between Adam Boulton and Alastair Campbell during the election. Adam is too aggressive obviously, but the least politically educated person watching can tell that he is passionate about his point of view, and that may count for a lot.

While I’m not holding Alastair up as a good example of left politics, he does display the attitude that a lot of left-liberal political spokespeople have taken in seeming almost too cool about the discussion, perhaps in an effort to diffuse the situation, and embarrass their opponent.
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Was that the same Alistair Campbell who wrote the dodgy WMD dossier?
An example of a passionate left wing speaker was Phil Woolas (ex MP)

Labour needs to learn that being passionate is only convincing when people believe you.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  9. Flat 29

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  10. Ms Emily Wemily

    Hey guys! Check out my post on @libcon blog: 'The left needs to find the language of passion in politics' http://bit.ly/d5p3NM

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  12. Spinning Mule

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