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September 18, 2014



"They did this by investing in advertising and product differentiation"

Westminster politicians tried this with "spin" - but it discredited them all the more.

The most trusted politicians - like Salmond and Farage (and I'd add in Boris) have managed to spin a very un-spun image, which is part of their success.

Salmond and Farage also have a very simple message to sell - independence (from the UK/EU) will solve all your problems. As likely a proposition as snake oil curing your toothache. But voters will prefer a simple, false message which chimes with their prejudices over more complex, realistic ones.

gastro george

The simple message thing is true, but the ground is polluted by the London business/political/media bubble and TINA.

Dave Timoney

You'll get a different answer re Salmond if the question is "Do you trust him as First Minister?" as opposed to "Do you trust him to deliver real independence?".

For example, a Panelbase poll in early September scored him 49% to "act in the best interests of Scotland", compared to Cameron on 19% and Miliband on 17%. The salience of the referendum (even if a neutral question is employed) means you're comparing apples and oranges.

Similarly, Farage is cute enough to pitch his appeal around delivering a "genuine" referendum on EU exit. Outside of that, most people are well aware of his inconstancy and flakiness. After all, he's happy to make a virtue of it himself.

What this suggests is that people are likely to judge the character of others instrumentally, as much as try to assess some persistent quality. For example, Churchill was highly thought of in 1945 but was not trusted to deliver the fruits of victory.


When Cameron said "We are all in it together", for example, that didn't make me think, Cameron, bless him, he actually believes this. God bless the naive fool, what a chap with integrity.


I thought, you fucking lying piece of shit, you dishonest fucking wealthy arsewipe. Do you think we are that stupid you posh twat. I wouldn't buy a used car from you you slimy, smarmy lying piece of horseshit.


I suppose politicians have always been rather suspect characters. Recent events including expenses, failure of social care and of social services and police do point to a fundamental dishonesty - not of individuals - but of the systems they have created, work within and refuse to change in any effective way. There seems a wilful desire not to take obvious precautions to prevent obvious abuses of power and process. Setting up obviously stupid rules, refusing to look into obvious conflicts of interest, cynically exploiting incentives for fiscal or electoral advantage. Worse still those who get found out are able to walk away from their failures and into another nice job. This seems no accident, but a cynical design designed to make government a more comfortable job. The people may be decent enough but they operate within a corrupted system and seem powerless or unwilling to change it.


I am very happy, and more than a little relieved, at the result of the referendum. However, I don’t agree with you here.

When people accuse Alex Salmond of being a “snake oil salesman” we need to discuss the two aspects of this separately.

First, one of the core skills of any politician is that of a salesman. Alex Salmond has that skill while Alistair Darling does not. Academics often sneer at the concepts of sales and marketing but that merely illustrates that they don’t live in the real world. One of the key moments of the campaign was the eleventh hour passionate speech by Gordon Brown which sold an alternative vision for the Union which had been lacking previously.

Second, one man’s snake oil is another man’s compelling vision. One way of looking at politics is to contrast the ‘-ism’ approach with the problem solving approach. Nationalism is no different from Thatcherism or Trade Unionism. They are all simplistic ways of looking at the world. They all divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’, or ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, and then build a worldview around these things. They all make emotional appeals to ‘us’ and ‘our values’. All of the world’s problems are seen through the same lens. As a result, the only possible solution is an ill-defined ‘revolution’.

The problem is that the people who are attracted to politics, and to writing about politics, are mostly people who think in terms of -isms and believe in these -isms. The -ismists are romantics who think in terms of big ideas but pay no attention to practical detail. The reason that the SNP don’t think through the practical consequences of their vision is the same reason that computer systems never work in the public sector.

In contrast, the practical problem solvers are not attracted to politics so the -ismists don’t even recognise their existence. However, the problem solvers are the silent majority. They are the swing voters. In the referendum, they were the reluctant No voters.

The -ismists think that people cast their votes in favour of the best -ismist vision whereas the problem solvers actually cast their votes against the worst -ismist vision and for practical problem solving ability. For example, Margaret Thatcher was not elected because of her vision. She was elected because the previous Labour government was incompetent. The -ismists in the Labour party then spent years arguing that they were rejected because they didn’t have enough -ism in their message. The -ismists in the Conservative party then spent years arguing that Thatcherism was the answer to everything. Insane and no different from Alex Salmond’s snake oil.

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