From a Behavioural and Influencing point of view, the reaction of politicians to the outcome of the first UK election Leaders Debate is fascinating.

The Tories in particular are running around like headless chickens - they seem to have no clue how to respond to the boost in support for the LibDems that has resulted from Nick Clegg's performance. And that is an indicator of how effectively Clegg outmanoeuvred both Cameron and Brown.

I don't know to what extent this was a deliberate application of influence techniques on Clegg's part, but he either has a highly developed natural ability to connect with people and their feelings, or he has a very good coach.

David Cameron has so far resisted pressure from some parts of his party to go full out against Nick Clegg (probably the best approach in the circumstances) but other senior party members are doing some  interesting things.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph on 19th April, Boris Johnson said "Liberal Democrat resurgence is the biggest load of media-driven nonsense
since the funeral of Diana." This suggestion was echoed in an article in the Evening Standard.

It seems to me that comparing Nick Clegg (at an unconscious level at least) to someone who is still one of the country's (and the electorate's) must loved icons is at best a risky move. Whilst there has been widespread discussion of the concept of the "Diana effect", I suspect that most people still have a generally positive view of her, and that for many, aligning Clegg with her is likely to be broadly beneficial to him.

This (presumably) unintended faux pas is reminiscent of the 2005 Conservative election poster that, next to a picture of Tony Blair, asked "Can you imagine five more years of him?" This was reinforced in Michael Howard's manifesto launch speech when he said "Imagine waking up on May 6 to see Mr Blair re-elected. Imagine
how you'd feel."

You don't need to understand a lot about hypnosis to know what people will do if you ask them to imagine something, or associate someone with a positive image.

Today, Ken Clarke has been unleashed to create the spectre of all things dreadful occuring as a result of a hung parliament, and accusations have been made of impropriety by Clegg in the handling of some donations.

The most remarkable outcome of this move is that two of Labour's big guns, Alastair Darling and Peter Mandleson, have leapt to Clegg's defence and deeply criticised the Tories. Clegg has so upset (ignored?) the normal rules of political engagement that even some of his most senior opponents appear to have switched party!

In the first debate, Clegg started to paint his opponents into a corner - leaving them with very little room to manoeuvre. The Tories appear to have snatched the brush from his hand, and continued the job for him. Labour, on the other hand seem almost to be saying "Ah,  we see you've painted us into a corner - now tell us, how else can we help you?"

As an avid student of human behaviour, I can hardly wait to see how all three leaders have adapted their behaviour for the second debate this evening.

BBC Deputy Political Editor, James Landale gives his thoughts in "TV debate: nine things to watch"

Incidentally, that 2005 speech of Howard's ended with the phrase "It's time for change. It's time for action." - plus ça change, plus c'est la
même chose.

 

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