Saturday, January 19, 2013

Undermining Political Opponents (Blair’s Lessons, part V)

Continuing our series on lessons, from Tony Blair’s memoirs, today we focus on undermining political opposition.
The charge of being an opportunist may seem a bit of a low-key attack. And in that also lies a lesson. With each successive Tory leader, I would develop a line of attack, but I only did so after a lot of thought. Usually I did it based on close observation at PMQs. I never made it overly harsh. I always tried to make it telling. The aim was to get the non-politician nodding. I would wonder not what appealed to a Labor Party Conference in full throttle, but would appeal to my old mates at the Bar, who wanted a reasonable case to be made; and who, if it were made, would rally. 
So I defined Major as weak; Hague as better at jokes than judgment; Howard as an opportunist; Camron as a flip-flop, not knowing where he wanted to go. (The Tories did my work for me in undermining Ian Duncan Smith.) Expressed like that, these attacks seem flat, rather mundane almost, and not exactly inspiring—but that’s their appeal. Any one of these charges, if it comes to be believed, is actually fatal. Yes, it’s not like calling your opponent a liar, or a fraud, or a villain or a hypocrite, but the middle-ground floating voter kind of shrugs their shoulders that those claims. They don’t chime. They’re too over the top, to heavy, and they represent an insult, not an argument. Whereas the lesser charge, because it’s more accurate and precisely because it’s more low-key, can stick. And if it does, that’s that. Because in each case, it means they’re not a good leader. So game over.
This is a lesson today’s political right could benefit from. During the Bush presidency, much was made by commentators on the right of Bush Derangement Syndrome (which became Palin Derangement Syndrome). Now I’m afraid the political right is falling into the same trap with regards to President Obama. The problem, as Blair explains, is that the over-the-top responses actually do more damage to one’s own cause than they do the the targeted opponent.

Also in this series:
Reforming Political Parties (Blair's Lessons, part I)
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