Jane Devine: Politicians’ style has overtaken substance
Otto Kirchheimer was a German political scientist who wrote about the state and constitutional issues. He is best known for his thesis on the emergence of the catch-all party in Western European politics.
His belief was that, in their hunger for votes and power, political parties would ditch their ideology and converge on the centre where they were most likely to gain the votes that would lead them to power. They would then focus on managing the state, not governing with ideology.
Kirchheimer died in 1965 and his ideas were highly contested, probably most strongly by politicians. What is clear today though, is that while his theory on the catch-all party might not have been universally accepted, if you apply his reasoning to the politicians themselves, we have living proof of the catch-all politician.
They’re the kind who look the same, speak a lot, but say nothing, have left their ideology behind with their principles and who will do anything for power. As we near the end of the party conference season, that image fits well with many of those we have seen lecturing from behind the podium. Welcome to the era of the utterly slick, utterly unconvincing politician.
It all started with JFK in the United States and Thatcher in the UK. Television created the need to “perform” as well as to have ideas and principles and it made political parties start to take notice of the way their politicians were perceived. Whether it was voice coaching, clothes, body language or hair-dos and handbags, the image of the politician became much more important.
Now, in a different era of technology and instant access to news, the need to project the right image, get “the message” across and appeal to voters has meant that the way politicians look is even more important.
But, things have gone too far and it would seem that image has overtaken substance. BBC straw polls at each of the conferences showed that people on the street couldn’t tell their Cameron from their Clegg or their Osborne from their Miliband. It’s not surprising really: male, pale and stale with the same plummy voices and not really anything remarkable to say. They might have specific policies, but they spout so many words to make them sound clever and con us into believing they will really benefit us, that we get lost in the long-winded tedium and we forget who said them anyway, because they all look and sound the same.
Where’s the passion? Where are the personalities that talk with life experience and not spin? Where are the people who entered politics because they felt they had a cause to fight for, not a career ladder to climb? The ordinary person on the street remembers the politicians they can pick out from the crowd, the ones who talk from experience and the ones who have principles and stick to them.
Catch-all politicians take note, it is not by accident that the politicians on everyone’s lips at the moment are Johann Lamont and Boris Johnson.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
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Temperature: 11 C to 18 C
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