What politicians should learn from stand-ups, how anger makes you smarter, and what my hairdresser says about Sunday's final.
Gareth Southgate congratulating/consoling Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel after the England-Denmark semi-final. Mike Egerton/PA Wire.
Slightly shorter than usual because I’ve been spending all my spare minutes watching, reading about, listening to ver football.
POLITICS IS IMPRO
Labour’s close by-election victory over the Tories in Batley and Spen was rich in narrative. First, because the fate of Keir Starmer’s leadership seemed to hang on it. Second, the seat used to be represented by Jo Cox, the Labour MP who was assassinated in 2016 during the Brexit campaign - and this time around, Labour’s candidate was her sister, Kim Leadbeater. Third, the celebrity faux-socialist dickhead George Galloway chose to contest the seat. He targeted its large Muslim community, threatening to split Labour’s vote.
By-election campaigns are tightly controlled affairs but the key moment in this story was accidental. Leadbeater was going to her car when she was approached by young Asian men aggressively asking her to state her position on LGBT education in schools. Leadbeater (who is a lesbian) gave them what for: “This is where I live, this is my community. Don’t come here and shout at me in the street. The Muslim community of Batley and Spen deserve better than this.” She was visibly angry, jabbing her finger at them as she spoke. The video went viral.
At the time, it wasn’t clear whether Leadbeater had made a mistake by rising to the provocation. But when I saw it I felt it would be good for her - that if anything, she should have given them both barrels for longer - and the post-victory reports have all cited it as a factor in turning the tide her way. You can see why. Yes, voters, including Muslim voters, were angered by the intimidation. But it also seemed to reveal something about the candidate - that she was a fighter, someone who would give as good as she got.
I think these moments - unscripted, raw, messy - are increasingly important in political campaigning. Campaign managers keep their candidates away from voters in the wild because these encounters are so unpredictable. That seems sensible enough, but at the same time, a moment of true spontaneity can bring dividends, if the politician can think and react on their feet as Leadbeater did.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how voters have become deeply cynical about the robo-pol style of communication, and hunger for something, anything, more real. Trump and Johnson realise that gaffes - ‘telling the truth by accident’ - aren’t gaffes anymore. The value of being seen to be emotionally truthful out-weighs whatever is negative about the statement, whether it’s false or offensive or contradictory.
Contrast Leadbeater’s vivid response to Keir Starmer’s when confronted by a landlord angry about Labour’s support for lockdowns. Starmer just stands there and takes it, passive to the point of frigidity. Eventually he works up the gumption to talk about the need to protect NHS staff, and says “I really don’t need lectures from you.” Better - but still rather prim and proper; there’s no attempt to actually seize the moment and make something of it.
Rather than trying avoid these volatile encounters politicians should learn to use them the way a stand-up uses a heckle to inject energy into their performance and bond with the audience. That would mean preparing the kind of thing they might say should such a moment arise and then allowing themselves, in a controlled way, to lose a little self-control on camera. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but then politics is a game of tricky balances.
There’s an old saying that people don’t care about what you know until they know that you care. When voters see a politician baring their soul by accident they start to listen.
A MEME? IN THE RUFFIAN?
I’m against memes and gifs and in fact I’m against images on the internet generally but I’ll make an exception here, because it’s a kind of meta-meme and I think it’s funny. Plus it is, of course, relevant to a theme of CONFLICTED - that some degree of heat or anger in a disagreement is a good thing, including and especially on complicated topics. Emotion can cloud our thinking, sure, but it can also supercharge it. Emotions motivate us, and they can motivate us to have better, more incisive arguments than we would by discussing our differences calmly. As witness I call Bertrand Russell (who was talking about his debates with Wittgenstein over questions in the most abstract field of philosophy, mathematical logic): “There is nothing to compare to passion for giving one cold insight.”
If you want to go Deep Southgate, listen or watch to this interview with him about management, from earlier this year.
“The greatest set of tennis I’ve ever seen, the third set between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the semifinal of the 2021 French Open.”
Christianity is on the rise…in Iran.
The rise and fall of Six Sigma. (The business world has its own religious movements).
5 minutes that will make you love symphonies (I love this whole series).
Check out this intricately choreographed tracking shot from Superman. Superman was directed by Richard Donner, who just passed away at the age of 91. As Matthew Sweet says, if that shot had been by Altman or Scorsese it would be famous. Journeymen can be masters too.
Please remember to spread the word about The Ruffian! It’s free to read but not free to produce. Please share this link.
Oh and please buy my book on healthy conflict and productive disagreement. Malcolm Gladwell says it’s “Beautifully argued. Desperately needed.”
FACT OF THE WEEK
Last year, Michael Jordan made more than twice as much from the Nike Jordan brand as he did from his entire career in the NBA.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
The chief element of happiness is this: to want to be what you are.
Erasmus, In Praise of Folly.
I had a haircut today and this is what my hairdresser - about 28, black, East Londoner - said (it was actually more eloquent than this, but this is what I can remember): “I think Sunday will be a really important moment for the nation, especially if we win. When we win. It will close the chapter on everything that’s happened in the last year and help us move on. And it will make us feel good about ourselves again. Football is a tiny thing, it doesn’t matter at all, but at the same time it’s massive. I feel proud of this country right now. Just watching the semi-final, that night…downstairs from me, there’s an older white woman with a breathing condition, and she was cheering on the team, whoo, whoo. Over the way there’s a Nigerian guy, and he was ringing this school bell every time England did something good. And I could hear them both and it just felt like, yes, this is what this country is all about.
How to buy CONFLICTED - links to your favourite booksellers (UK and US).