We all Need Something Positive to Believe In
There are some moments in recent history that will stick with us forever; some memorable for all the right reasons, and others that divide a nation and drive an unhelpful atmosphere of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD).
The Unexpected Brexit Result
The whole Brexit referendum process was one such startling and totally unexpected example that will not be easily forgotten.
When the stunning results electrified the media headlines the morning after, those living in London felt weird and rather empty. This was not possible, was it? But in actual fact, it was the result of a clever and brilliantly executed strategy of exploiting the prevailing FUD factor.
The Vitriolic Campaign For Leaving The European Union
I’ll never forget how many of us so called ‘Europhiles’ who live in the metropolitan areas of the UK, had been shaken and shocked at just how vitriolic the campaign for leaving the European Union had become. There were many untruths and half-truths, which some of the media eagerly gave much publicity and support to.
However, many of us had went to bed that fateful night on 23rd June 2016 believing, “It’ll be uncomfortably close, but common sense will prevail – surely?”
How complacent and ill-informed were we! Nowhere near as complacent as the so-called ‘leaders’ of the Remain campaign. They appeared, much like Hillary Clinton was to repeat in the recent toxic US election, to be playing by completely different rules. Whilst they used logic, policy and facts, the ‘Leavers’ went for a visceral and emotionally charged approach with no holds barred.
The New Unwritten Rules of Political Engagement
There now appears to be some new unwritten rules of political engagement. The usual, polite and sophisticated politicians are looking ancient and hugely ‘out of touch’. It’s a bare-knuckle fight that favours those with nothing to lose and all to gain. Many of the new contestants have never held public office before and will throw mud, rocks and anything else they can get their hands on at the their ‘establishment’ opponents. The brashness and inflammatory language clearly (and sadly) works. They are the new ‘challenger brands’ that have the incumbent politicians on the run – everywhere.
Back to Brexit.
We are now pejoratively labelled the “out of touch elite”. ‘Globalisation’ was suddenly, the enemy. It seemed to defy logic, but it was our horrific reality. The brutal truth is it was never going to be about logic.
The Clever But Totally Underwhelming Approach Of The Remain Camp
A huge mistake the leaders of the Remain camp made was that they could use historical data and intellect to propel them to victory. They never came close to understanding or accepting that old axiom, “hardly anyone remembers exactly what you said, but everyone remembers how you made them feel”.
They stuck to their tried and tested, neat and docile management approach; a well thought out strategy based on historical polling data, supporting plans and activities derived from this intelligence – clever, yes, but totally underwhelming.
The ‘Remainers’ Used Emotionally Charged Rhetoric
The ‘Brexiteers’ continued their fiery and damning bombast, low on facts but long on whipping up the FUD of their vocal and marginalised base. They set out to debunk all the logic and facts of the ‘Remainers’ by using emotionally charged rhetoric, that played to the FUD of the electorate’s worse nightmares. There was no attempt to stick to the factual arguments; instead, they used compelling, if toxic, narratives to ‘touch the raw nerves’ of a dislocated and downtrodden part of the nation that had felt neglected and marginalised.
This was FUD mobilised and used to startling effect. The demonization of immigrants, and the playing to the paranoia of their audiences was not properly challenged, and their opponents refused to stoop to what they saw as ‘gutter politics’.
Donald Trump’s FUD Tactics
Donald Trump had already kicked off his use of the FUD tactics throughout the bitter and hard-fought campaign against his Republican rivals. He was irrepressible, there was no depth he wouldn’t stoop to. He loved hitting ‘below the belt’, and when called out for his obnoxious behaviour, he just punched even lower. His base just lapped it up and responded by saying that “he was only saying out loud what they had felt for years”.
Back to that fateful morning, the day after the Brexit referendum, the world awoke to the fact that FUD had worked. Fabrizio Moreira captured best what was really going on, “Brexit was not a coup. Far from it. In the eyes of most analysts, it was a clear sign that people are frustrated and fed up with the status quo; this is particularly the case with independent voters”.
Far too many liberals are bemoaning the rise of ‘popularism’ and nativism, and predicting that nothing good will come from these insular and narrow agendas. None of this is ‘new’ news, and we have seen this happen before in recent history.
Some will point to the sharp economic downturns or the outbreak of regional wars, that led to the troubling global refugee crisis. It is clear that this obviously plays a part in the rise of those who fear the impact of immigration, especially when unemployment begins to climb and xenophobic hysteria is wilfully encouraged.
The Solution Is To Find Real Visionary And Inspiring Political Leaders
The real and alarming issue is a deep and concerning lack of inspirational leaders right across our world at the most troubling of moments. The solution is not to veer dangerously towards the corrosive far-right agendas like in the recent Dutch election, but to find real visionary and inspiring political leaders.
The referendum on Brexit was lost, not won. A rather complacent Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t recognise just how big a risk he was taking to pacify the loud, but relatively easily resolved internal squabbles in his own Conservative party. He misguidedly took a huge miscalculated risk, inadvertently betting both his reputation and career on the prudence of the electorate.
Last year’s US election was an election lost by Hilary Clinton, rather than an election won by Donald Trump. Even the Democratic Party outlier, Bernie Sanders, would have trounced Trump, eventually, even President Obama fessed up to the stark reality, that he would have beaten Donald Trump. Sanders and Obama had clear visions that they could get excited about and infuse the masses to mobilise and get out and not just vote, but encourage others to get up and get involved.
Elections have become visceral affairs, not for the faint of heart or the intellectual policy wonks. It’s about having a vibrant and relevant clarion call that can be backed up by a real leader who can ‘touch’ and energise their base. Despite that this might be a minority, most get mobilised, whilst a complacent and also fed-up majority fail to get exercised by the usual and much maligned politicians.
Scaring Us Works
Pivotal European elections took place in both France and Germany and we have perhaps seen that they have learnt from the complacency of the established politicians of both the US and Britain and took the fight to the populists. It meant treading warily on their opponent’s platforms and matching their combustible rhetoric.
Angela Merkel was smart enough to climb down from her strong and supportive stance on both refugees and immigration, and paid a high price in the large number of votes she lost. But a more combative approach (which is of course relative in German politics) delivered her another term, despite her hugely reduced majority. Leaders must lead, and do so with an authentic conviction.
Fresh Faced And Relatively Untainted
A fresh faced and relatively untainted Emmanuel Macron brought a new energy and capitalised upon his inexperience. He was up against a highly charged atmosphere stoked up by his main rival, Marine Le Pen, the poster face of Europe’s new daring populism and nativism. He was not afraid to utilise FUD to his advantage, but he also had a vision for a new and reformed France. The electorate decided to back his optimistic view of France.
The Brexiteers Are Still Playing A Deceitful But Brilliant Hand In Scaring Us Witless
The Brexiteers are still playing a deceitful but brilliant hand in scaring us witless. By saying anything and everything to make us fear that the immigrants would be coming in such numbers that our jobs, our identity and everything we believed to be British would disappear.
Trump Does It Even Better
Trump does it even better. He looks to the downtrodden and marginalised and has taken on the role of becoming their spokesman and rabble-rouser in chief. He is a natural at identifying what they fear most, then animating and fuelling their anxieties by any means necessary.
Playing To The FUD
This approach of playing to the FUD of a particular constituency (or base) is nothing new. The second world war brought this out with the populist and nativist movements of Germany, Russia, Italy and Japan. They played on the growing suspicion of ‘outsiders’, who they denounced as trying to dominate, if not crush their national identities and cultures.
The technology industry has wilfully used FUD as a key approach to successfully selling even more of their products and services. Who could ever forget the non-event that was Y2K? We were told, and again in the most visceral of campaigns, that if we didn’t act, the world as we know it would come crashing down on January 1st 2000. This global panic was allegedly due to digital clocks in the engine room of every computer worldwide, that would malfunction as only two digits instead of four (00 not 2000) had been made available for the change of century and consequently, planes would fall out of the sky etc.
Well, of course nothing of the sort happened, but billions if not trillions of dollars were spent by panicked customers everywhere. The world did not stop, but most businesses and all governments had spent a king’s ransom in trying to ensure that the world would continue after January 1, 2000.
FUD has never been far away from the strategy of many ‘lazy’ technology businesses. Recently, every business, large or small, and every government has been made subject to its own FUD. Tales of wicked and ferocious hackers who are constantly trying to bring down your business and raid your customer databases. Of course, cyber security is a major and real issue, but reckless sales people, with huge targets to meet are stirring up FUD, and it is working. It is in much the same way that the Brexiteers and Trump played on the concerns of the vulnerable.
Countering the Doubters
Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands was able to withstand the constant FUD attacks of Geert Wilders and his far-right party, PVV. He achieved this by accepting that the world of politics has changed and he needed to manoeuvre his party, the VVD, (dangerously) close to that of his inflammatory right-wing rival. Whilst this strategy clearly paid off in blunting the attack of Wilders, it also cost Rutte a significant percentage of his party’s seats and votes.
Hillary Clinton’s new book, ‘What Happened’ again highlights her obvious strengths and her deep shortcomings for this ‘new’ politics. She loses sight of the fact that she lost in states that Obama had won, the Democratic party base tried everything to inject life and verve into a demotivated and uninspired campaign to galvanise the undecided to turn out to vote for the smart and intelligent, but lifeless Clinton.
This was further aggravated by Trump’s devastating use of FUD, ensuring that she appeared weak and untrustworthy. He made loud baseless claims that his supporters lapped up. He made himself out to be the only person strong and authentic enough to “drain the (Washington DC) swamp”.
Screaming Out For Something New
The lesson that needs to be learnt very quickly is that nearly all electorates are screaming out for something new, different and much more like them. They definitely don’t want the same old guard, with the same old polices and the same old out-of-touch hand-shaker!
When facing up to the challenge of a disaffected and low morale constituency:
- Let them know that you do know what it is like to ‘walk in their shoes’
- Speak their language – use their words not words they don’t connect with
- Humble thy self – get down off your platform and be at ease amongst them
- Use real stories not strategies or policies
- Give them something to belong to
- Give them someone to believe in
- Let them know you are in it for them NOT you
- Make tough promises and keep them
- Remind them of the promises you have kept
It is indeed in times of adversity that real leaders are found. However, maybe just like business has had to find out the hard way, it is high time for a new generation of political leaders who are much better equipped to thrive in these very different times.
It can no longer be purely about rank and experience. There are so many brilliant leaders who are not at the top of their organisations, and are not yet at the top of party politics, but stand out because they are able to establish an emotional engagement with people. They have the inherent ability to persuade and influence others to actively support the direction they set.
Can you influence and persuade others without using authority? If so, you might just be onto something.
The only thing worse than no leadership is poor leadership.
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