Sunday 23 August 2015

The perception gap

It must have been about four years ago on the campaign trail in Wales that I decided not to become a politician. I had stood for local election and Welsh Assembly elections before as so-called paper candidate and I was (and still am) fascinated by politics, even though not particularly enamoured of the glad handing that politicians have to do. It was not the contact with ordinary folk on the doorsteps when canvassing that made me decide against a political career. It was the conversations with fellow campaigners.

My view of politics has always been shaped by what politicians say and do in the public eye. Coming from a country where coalition government is the norm, I always liked the idea of compromise and consensus. The politician's craft, as I saw it, was to bring about change by forging robust majorities around a policy, embarking on the hard slog of bending your principles and beliefs to make them fit reality.

Yet, compared to politicians, campaigners are a lucky bunch. They have the privilege of articulating (and sticking to) ostensibly 'true' and 'logical' political positions, oblivious of the straightjacket of political reality.

Party volunteers also tend to be the 'purest' in belief and outlook. Who else would come out on a cold and miserable rainy January day to push party political leaflets through letter boxes of strangers? You have to be fired up by something for that level of commitment. Consensus and compromise may not be top campaign motivators.

All this conspires to something we are currently witnessing, the Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump phenomenon. Times like these, when parties are essentially looking inward to select their candidate in primaries, are the play ground of the party faithful, those campaigners fired up to take on their opponents on the other side of the political spectrum. It's also a time (and the only time in the political cycle) when the chorus of purist political posturing may sound convincing to the few who listen.

The cruel reality of modern politics is however that party political campaigners are a small bunch of people, and that the conventional laws of human attitudinal behaviour still apply once the circus of party political navel gazing is over. The electorate, here as in the US, has opinions and views that conform to the shape of a bell curve, with the large majority of people clustered around the centre of politics. It's this iron law of the normal attitudinal distribution amongst voters that will come down like a ton of bricks on the Corbyns and Trumps of this world once they stop talking to their supporters and have to face the wider public.

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