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So I've been thinking about Britain's electoral psychology. Seems to me that this is something that we should all do to make sense of mess we're in. For those of you who don’t think psychology is important, consider that a lot of politics is about how people THINK and FEEL. 1/
I’ve been struck by research which shows that people rarely vote on basis of policies but, instead tend to be swayed by emotion and identity (see Achen, C. H., & Bartels, L. M. (2016). Democracy for realists. Princeton University Press). 2/
Seems that UK and probably most other western countries can be described as 'lazy democracies'. This kind of laziness not irrational; most of us don't have the time or headspace to think about policies in detail. Instead, we make our choices based on who we think we can trust. 3/
In fact, this has long been thought a positive feature of representative democracy as expounded in Edmund Burke's famous 1774 speech to voters of Bristol. Vote for someone you can trust and leave them to get on with complicated decisions you don’t have time to think about. 4/
Means that, at election time, packaging of politicians and policies at least as important as actual policies, perhaps more. Blair and @campbellclaret understood this better than most modern politicians. New Labour was criticised for ‘spin’ but for spin think ‘packaging’. 5/
Fundamental weakness of this political culture is it breaks down under combination of 3 conditions. First, if public asked to do something they are just not used to doing: taking decision about complex matter of policy with massive economic, legal and political ramifications. 6/
Second, if one side is prepared to violate norms of trustworthiness by lying effectively and break other unwritten conventions of democratic conduct (see Levitsky, S., & Ziblatt, D. (2018). How democracies die: What history reveals about our future. London: Penguin). 7/
[In passing, worth noting Cummings regards Bismarck as his inspiration. Bismarck, remember, united Germany by deliberately lying - Ems Dispatch incident of 1870 - to provoke a war with France:…. For Bismarck (and Cummings presumably) ends justify means.] 8/
Democratic norm-breaking especially likely when political leaders are psychopaths. Non-psychologists note: most psychopaths not mass murderers. Some successful businessmen and politicians. They fake trustworthiness, sometimes overcoming enormous evidence of untrustworthiness. 9/
[In passing, Google gold-standard Hare Psychopathy Checklist:…. Lists 20 traits of psychopathy – e.g. glib superficial charm, many children of different partners, and repeated lying. Compare it with the cvs of some of our leading politicians and weep]. 10/
Finally, the system also collapses if progressives forget the packaging issue and makes no attempt to understand the voting public and gain their trust. Having a leader with lots of baggage and who can't communicate effectively is a really BAD idea. 11/
These 3 conditions are recipe for popularism. History of popularist movements worldwide is that that they lead to social and economic disruption typically lasting MANY decades (see Wilkin, S. (2018) History repeating: Why popularists rise and governments fall, Profile Books). 12/
Think Argentina or, worse, Venezuela. We can tell ourselves that “it can’t happen here” and it won’t – until it does. Argentina once one of richest countries in the world. Countries can cripple themselves quickly and the road back can be long and arduous. 13/
So progressives need to take these issues seriously if we’re to avoid some serious shit. IMHO Brexit is now least of our problems; govt seems intent in turning UK into Singapore on Thames (which may be fine, but only if you live in close proximity to the Thames). 14/
Given Brexit was expression of English nationalism, rise in Scottish and Irish nationalism inevitable. Dissolution of UK may be unstoppable, in which case need to figure how to manage this rather than to try and stop it (which will just provoke more virulent nationalism). 15/
In short term progressives need to focus on how to project trustworthiness. Choosing leaders who appeal only to party faithful will be disaster. Leaders need to be perceived as trustworthy by the non-faithful. Not sure whether Labour really understands this point. 16/
Also, if we must talk policies consider how. @LouiseMensch (who I don’t normally agree with) makes good point that UK public are small ‘c’ conservatives and allergic to ideology. Choose words wisely. ‘Socialism’, ‘comrades’ are toxic; ‘fairness’ and ‘community’ are not. 17/
Be open to alliances. FPTP benefits Tories because UK progressives have always been divided. Need to project trustworthiness across competing progressive groupings. Natural to slag off those who are seen as our closest competitors (Lab-LibDem pile-ins) but terrible mistake. 18/
For those who think that focus on psychology is shallow, consider we’re in an arms race. So far, anti-progressives shown much more psychological nouse than progressives, so they’re winning. Think of psychology as tool that must be used for good – or it will be used for ill. 19/
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