‘Courage – not complacency. Leadership not salesmanship’. These were the words of John. F. Kennedy back in 1960. Arguably, fifty years on the same could be said to be needed in British politics.
The British public want a Prime Minister they can trust, someone they have faith in, and someone with passion and determination to lead the country out of recession and towards a promising future.
Leaders are able to build trust through creating positive perceptions of their character – Gordon Brown has had almost three years to do this, but what has he achieved? Surveys have shown that the vast majority of the British public do not see Gordon Brown as a natural leader, and instead state that he lacks charisma, arguably an important trait to possess when trying to build a positive public persona.
Consequently Gordon Brown needs to find a way to reach out and communicate with voters and make them aware of his abilities as a leader. Yet is it already too late for him to turn it around? If in nearly three years he hasn’t managed to win public support and gain the public’s trust, then three months certainly cannot be long enough.
In polls between Gordon Brown and David Cameron, Brown very often comes out on top when asked who the public believes is better equipped to run the country. If you look at this quality alone and discount the reputation that Labour has gained in the past few years, it would make sense to think that Gordon Brown could be chosen to run the country again.
However, when we look at persuasive communication – which political communication definitely is – it is often believed that there should be three full components in order to be effective.
Aristotle, a key philosopher on the study of rhetoric, believed that the essence of persuasion was a combination of three tools – Logos, Ethos and Pathos – which translate to winning arguments through logic, through strength of character and by forming an emotional connection with the audience.
While it seems that Gordon Brown may have a strong and logical argument, hence the reason why he is rated higher than David Cameron in these polls, it is clear to see that he is not as capable at persuading the public by using his character and emotion.
Has there ever been a more enigmatic politician than Gordon Brown? People do not feel they really know him. Perhaps the public do not need to know every intricate detail about him, despite the distinct personalisation of politics, though surely what he stands for and how he plans to achieve this are something the public should be enlightened about?
In contrast, David Cameron regularly tops the likeability and personality polls. While people may not have as much trust in the way that he would run the country, should he become Prime Minister, they have more favourable views of him as a person.
In public he is often seen out with his family or cycling to work. These activities all work in his favour when it comes to having a positive image in the media and with the general public. Gordon Brown is seen as the politician “most out of touch with ordinary people” and while this could come from his lack of personal and family interaction, low poll results could also be attributed to the fact that, no matter what Gordon does, just simply holding the title of Prime Minister may make many people automatically think that his lifestyle is a polar opposite to theirs.
Reaching out to these ‘ordinary people’, who surely form most of the electorate, should have been a priority; it is these people that needed communicating with constantly in order for Brown to persuade them of his ability as Prime Minister.
Only in recent weeks have the live leaders’ debates been confirmed in the run up to the election, however before this Brown often ruled out the idea, insisting there is a weekly debate in Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). Whilst this may be so Brown’s opposition spoke publicly about their favourable view of the debates, with Cameron arguing ‘PMQs is no substitute for a proper primetime studio debate’ and LidDem leader Nick Clegg contending that politicians need to find ‘new and different ways to engage with voters’. Brown’s lack of interest may have caused further damage to his image, emphasising his lack of direct communication with the public.
One YouGov survey conducted in recent months revealed that two-thirds of the general public are dissatisfied with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. Undeniably the recession has severely affected this perception, reflecting badly on the government as a whole and not exclusively on Gordon Brown. However, if more people did see him as a natural leader it is likely this percentage would not be quite so colossal.
For Gordon Brown to achieve higher results in these polls and for the Labour party to have more than a slim chance of winning the next general election, it would be advisable to try and improve the image of the leader of the party, as image plays a vital role in twenty-first century politics. Gordon Brown has made efforts recently to show his emotional side, by being interviewed by Piers Morgan for example, but attacks on his personality continue.
A study by Christ’l De Landtsheer (2008) revealed that “political candidate[s are] the focal point” of all political campaigns. For this reason it is necessary that the leaders of the parties are viewed as trustworthy, honest and have a clear profile that the public can identify with.
Evidence of Gordon Brown’s long-term negligence in this area may be crucial in the upcoming general election. He may be seen as a character deserving our sympathy, or an aggressive character out of touch with the mood of the nation. Which one prevails could determine the election’s outcome.