(apologies to the Bee Gees)
In the blog she posted earlier today my colleague Ann Bird analysed correctly why Nigel Farage is streets ahead of the other party leaders as a communicator.
So what are the mainstream party leaders getting wrong?
For a start, they’ve obviously received some very bad, or at least very old-fashioned, media training – the type of training that turns out robots rather than human beings.
Obviously, whenever you give an interview there are a certain number of key messages you will want to get across to viewers or listeners, but you don’t have to talk like a speak-your weight-machine.
Too often, politicians – especially party leaders and ministers – sound as though they are churning out a script written by one of their SPADS (special advisers) from which they have been instructed not to depart one jot. As a result, many of today’s politicians sound as though they’ve had all the blood sucked out of them.
This is why we hear ridiculous phrases from politicians like “across the piece”, “leveraging” and “strategic”.
Then, there’s that most vacuous political phrase of all – “engaging with”.
Whenever I hear a politician pledge that he or she, their party or their government intends to “engage with” somebody over a particular issue, my immediate reaction is that absolutely nothing whatsoever will actually transpire from the “engagement”. Its cop-out language. “Engagement” is a word politicians can hide behind. The phrase appears to signal that the politician genuinely intends to do something about a particular situation, but it cannily avoids giving any details.
Let’s say you’re the Minister of Potholes. The residents of Potholesville are up in arms because they now have an epidemic of the damned things and they aren’t being fixed by the local council. As minister, you visit Potholesville and at the end of the visit you address the waiting cameras and promise to “engage with” with residents of Potholesville about the problem.
“Yes, but are you going to get the bloody things repaired” would be the reaction of most people watching.
If you intend to march into the local council offices and read them the riot act, say so.
If you intend to freeze council funding until they fix the potholes, say so.
If you intend to pass a new piece of legislation making it mandatory for councils to have a pothole repair programme, say so.
Simply to express your willingness to “engage with” the locals suggests you know full well that none of the above will happen. You, the minister, are just issuing sweet words that you hope will palm off the residents and keep the media off your back for a few weeks.
So it’s a twin affliction from which many of today’s politicians suffer: reciting key messages as though they are a mantra; and uttering meaningless, jargon-ridden words that you would never hear in the Dog and Duck on a Friday night. It’s a foreign language shared only by the political class.
By contrast, the words of Nigel Farage would be understood at the bar. The locals would probably buy him a pint in return.