Brown should learn from the setbacks of Cameron and Obama, and abandon this nice-guy politicsby Freddie Sayers / October 27, 2007 / Leave a comment
In early September, Gordon Brown made a speech to the NCVO. Rejecting the “old tired sloganising politics of the past,” he announced the need for a “new type of politics … a politics that is built on consensus and not division, a politics that is built on engaging with people and not excluding them.” He then announced the appointment of two Tory MPs, John Bercow and Patrick Mercer, as government advisers. A week later, he invited Margaret Thatcher around for tea.
This is not just evidence of the ongoing battle for the political centre ground. In the last few months, Gordon Brown has been showing signs of embracing a new, fashionable political style: the politics of nicey-nicey. It typically begins with a grand announcement about a “new style of politics” and is followed up by a calm, polite tone and gestures (like taking tea with icons of the opposition) that indicate a lofty, gentlemanly approach. But examining how this strategy has served its poster boys on either side of the Atlantic, David Cameron and Barack Obama, suggests that niceness might not be a recipe for success after all.
Cameron and Obama came to prominence in a similar way. Youthful and passionate, they offered an antidote to cynicism. “I’m fed up with the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster,” Cameron said. “When the government does the right thing, we will work with them.” Obama has based his presidential campaign on a similar largeness of spirit: “We’ve got to get beyond the small politics… the slash and burn politics that have become the custom.” Instead, he said he wants Americans to embrace the “politics of hope.”
But both Cameron and Obama have found that the niceness that made them media favourites has tied their hand politically. After dreamy statements of intent, momentary drops in civility can be seized on as evidence of hypocrisy. Obama recently lost his cool and described fellow candidate Hillary Clinton as “Bush-Cheney Lite” (the worst of insults in Dem circles), and the Clinton campaign had a field day. “What has happened to the politics of hope?” Hillary asked reporters.
When criticism is required, the nice politician’s favoured option is to stick the knife in gently and politely—but killing with kindness can seem passive-aggressive and even unattractive. Commentators used to refereeing old-fashioned political brawls eventually find it off-putting. After the love-in that was David Cameron’s first prime minister’s…