When Politicians get Awkward

For far too many politicians, election time is silly season. Perhaps this is the result of a desire to make a lasting impression on the electorate, or through some delusional belief that indulging in things that other (normal) people do, will endear them. Those who do it well, or at least naturally, probably do connect themselves to their audience and we never hear about them.

In contrast, the MP Hall of Shame has a sizable side annex which is reserved for politicians being uncomfortable. Every election campaign the exhibit gets shuffled around to accommodate some new arrivals. This election campaign is already starting to throw up some candidates for the display cabinet marked ‘Awkward’.

Let’s start with the excrutiating image of Iain Duncan Smith invoking the lyrics from an Eminem rap to mock Diane Abbott for fluffing her lines on LBC last week (awkward but in a different kind of way). Live on Good Morning Britain, the leading Brexiteer put in a performance worthy of any dad sticking his oar in at a teen party causing his offspring to instantly wither in shame. Not only does IDS rap lines from the Eminem anthem, “Lose Yourself”, he makes it even worse by swinging his arm to keep the imaginary beat. If ever there was an advert for Britain’s youth to register to vote, this was it…

Meanwhile, in the Red corner, Ed Milliband made a complete hash of being a normal person by wrestling with a lawnmower while out on the campaign trail in Doncaster last week. It looked like a perfectly easy PR stunt to pull off – volunteer to help a constituent to mow the lawn – but the snap which has been doing the rounds since tells such a different story. Ed looking hapless in a suit (common people normally dress down for such an occasion, although Gordon Brown did once appear on a beach in office attire), tussling for a bit of extra flex in the Flymo lead while a ‘normal person’ looks on bemused. The kicker is in the quote that says the garden’s owner had to show him how it worked.

Of course, Ed has been here before. Bacon sandwich-gate bit hard at the last election. Undaunted, Ed tried (and partially succeeded) in turning this to his advantage while commenting on Theresa May’s scripted-to-look-unscripted visit to Mevagissey in Cornwall last week. The PM looked distinctly uncomfortable indulging in the normal everyday activity of enjoying a bag of chips by the seaside, a shot that has been parodied in many a meme since. Her Mr + Mrs One Show appearance was also slightly awkward, such as the cringey admission that in the May residence there are “boys jobs and girls jobs.”

Yes, there are awkward moments on the campaign trail but none of them compare to the moment in 2010 when Gordon Brown was intercepted by Gillian Duffy, while campaigning in Rochdale. Unaware he was still microphoned up, his “bigoted woman” response to her comments about immigrants contributed to the wheels coming off his bid to return to Number 10. Ironically, that run in lit the touch paper on a narrative that, 7 years later, has led us to this election to rubber stamp a red, white and blue Brexit.

Luan de Burgh

May 2017

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.