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How ‘exciting’ should politicians be?

15th March 2018

Fay Jones, Account Director, considers the problem of being boring 

On International Women’s Day last week, the Prime Minister was asked the question: “Tell me how you let your hair down?” 

If you haven’t seen the PM’s reply, I can summarise what followed in a short hashtag: #awks 
Clearly a student of media training, Mrs May tried to steer the answer back to her agenda; promoting the government’s important work against domestic abuse. Her efforts missed the mark and the interviewer continued to push for a good description of the PM’s ‘ideal night in with her girlfriends.’ Mrs May looked uncomfortable and pressed on, saying she was too busy for a night in.  Critics poured scorn on social media; saying that the PM looked “out of touch”, a “robot”, and “devoid of personality”.  

There’s a sound debate to be had on whether a male prime minister would be asked “Tell me about a night down the pub with the boys?” but that’s a different blog. 

The real question is – why is it a problem that the PM didn’t have a good answer? Why did she appear to be the one thing that British people can’t stand – boring? Notably, Mrs May is not the first leader to be accused of being ‘grey’.  John Major and Gordon Brown faced the same issue.

We are a fickle bunch.  If the Prime Minister had painted a vivid scenario of the Downing Street sitting room, awash with chilled Chablis, M&S takeaway and a boxset of The Crown – the response would be one of indignation, that the PM was a dilettante who should be getting on with her job (which, ironically, is what she argued she was doing when she pivoted during her answer).  

The electorate seems to like to think that its politicians are ‘one of us’ but not too much.  Put one foot on the wrong side of the line and you’ll be dismissed as either eccentric or robotic.  And with that label, you surrender your credibility.  

This appears ironic when you remember that a strong part of the national psyche is pride in our diversity.  We revel in things being a bit different and a bit odd.  But not when it comes to a typical politician.  We have a very set formula: 

You must be funny (but not flippant), wise (but not nerdy), sociable (but focussed on the job in hand). You must be an achiever – but not an over-achiever.  If you are able to explain Keynesian economic theory, you must also explain the offside rule.  

There are, of course, exceptions. But whatever you do, you should never be boring. 

Fay Jones

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