It must have felt “strong” and “decisive” and a thoroughly good thing in the bear pit of Westminister- but I am not so sure it was “a good look” when it comes to the general public.
Before I say why, let’s be guided by the science – this is compulsory in all briefings these days, of course.
Daniel Kahneman’s great book – Thinking fast and slow- starts with a picture of a human face. He explains that we are quickly and instinctively drawn to faces (for primitive reasons of survival) and have a highly developed ability to decode all the complex meanings of faces. We have an innate sense of whether someone is comfortable in their own skin or anxious, sincere or mendacious, depressed or energized and so on.
Faces can be your fortune and they can also be your downfall
The BBC’s current high levels of approval is partly attributed to a cast of homely and familiar faces of people that we instinctively warm to – like Hugh Edwards, Sofie Rayworth , George Alagiah and Clive Myrie. The BBC do not have to guess at our feelings towards its talent as they use audience research and can shuffle their cast accordingly, bringing forward the characters we like and moving others into the background. Toughs are allowed – like Andrew Niel and Emily Maitlis- but they are parked in low ratings slots like Newsnight. You would not have them fronting up the big rating shows like News at Six.
Politicians have to cope with over-exposure
We are going to be seeing a lot more of Boris Johston (whether he or we like it or not). We cannot but help develop instincts, from his demeanour, for what he is really like (which is the key lesson from Daniel Kahneman). His easy-going like-ability will be daily exposed by the rigours of government – which is complex, unpredictable and very hard work. How long before we intuit that he is not really in his natural domain? It took us a while to work out Tony Blair – but in the end his boundless vanity was exposed by wanting to look like the global player alongside George Bush. With Boris Johnston it will be quicker is my guess. The point here is that Sir Kier does not need to spell this out. He just needs to ask the right questions
Helpful notes for Sir Kier ?
“I would have sacked Dominic Cummings” he said, several times. But, for most of us, this is a very ugly statement. Many people who hear it will have been on the receiving end of job loss- a horrible feeling. Much better to call on common humanity and suggest that an honourable man would have done the decent thing by now rather expose his boss to reputational damage. We can work out the rest.
Besides Sir Kier does not need be in the business of calling for sackings ( or very rarely) – others will do it for him. Spend just a few minutes scanning through twitter and you will find a host of would be executioners – some of them putatively from Cummings own party. The twitterati feed on the general media, who feed on the twitterati and soon you have a media storm baying for blood. This, too, is humanity at its most ungenerous.
No Sir Kier should distance himself from the Twitter/Media/Westminister bear pit. This is difficult if you are caught up in the middle of it. But remember, most of us are not obsessively scanning twitter to see what the likes of Piers Morgan or Alistair Campbell have to say. We intuitively see through the neediness of these characters, whose self esteem seems to derive from being important and listened to.
Strangely, Sir Kier should take a leaf of the book of ” Early Corbyn” , who used to read out questions asked by the general public in The House of Commons. He dropped this technique- but the sentiment was right.
In my experience of running research groups, the general public are quite balanced, unlike the more deranged twitterati, and accept human frailty as the norm. Cummings has made a mistake, we all make mistakes- he did not start a war. Some people are still angry but most of us are bored of it (and of the people who are trying to keep the story going, mainly for political reasons, with industrial quantities righteous indignation).
If Sir Kier is struggling to stay connected to the mood of the general public-which can happen to the most grounded folk when in the Westminister bubble- then he could take a leaf out of the book of Early Blair. It was much sneered back then, but his strategists made regular use of focus groups to stay in touch with general public’s mood. He won three elections.