How Pushing Buttons Wins Elections by Eric Foggitt

May 21st, 2015 | By | Category: Articles, Eric Foggitt, Psyche Books, Regular Posts by OMBS authors

eric foggitHow Pushing Buttons Wins Elections 

People have their “buttons” – the trick is to know which button to press. Press the wrong one and the reaction can be the opposite of what you intend. My friend Nina (an immature type 3, so fairly obsessed with her appearance and with what others think of her) responds so immediately and favourably to a “Hey! You’re looking awesome today!” that it’s becoming something of a joke where she works. But try that on Janet (a stressed type 1, who doubts just about everyone’s honesty) and you’ll get your head to play with.

During the past few months of electioneering I’ve discovered that it’s much the same with cultures. Whole nations have buttons too and politicians need to learn which positive ones work – and, most cleverly, which negative ones will make people run into their arms for rescue and safety.

The extraordinary results in Scotland, where 56 of the 59 seats were won by the SNP, are a testimony to this. (We might add that they also show that the voting system in the UK is scandalously unfair: with 50% of the vote you win 95% of the seats. But that’s by the by.)

The type 6 culture in Scotland (“we’re in this together”; “we’re not like those English people”; “let’s show them what we can do together” are all messages which the culture expresses) was sparked into life when their negative buttons were pressed by Labour, LibDem and Tory politicians: unfulfilled promises after the independence referendum last Sept, the “Englishness” of the other party leaders and portrayal of the Scots as a threat to the stability and security of the UK as a whole. Negative buttons indeed. Nicola Sturgeon – the very image of a firm-but-friendly leader doing the “6” thing at every opportunity, offering selfies and declining personal security whilst meeting “the people” as if they were her bosom pals – played her role to perfection. At the moment, she could walk on water, politically-speaking. Interestingly, the Scots are showing strong cultural affinities with the Netherlands, also a type 6 culture.

But England is another story entirely, and that’s the rub. Here, some 37% of the vote was enough to give Cameron’s Tories a comfortable majority and send Labour into a frenzy of introspection. Cameron’s persona or political image is that of a type 8 – the leader who oozes both confidence and security: “You are safe while I’m in charge” is his unspoken message. He doesn’t need to be liked in the way that Nicola Sturgeon does. Indeed, most people don’t, even among those who voted for him. His tactic (because England has a type 1 culture) was to threaten the integrity and purity of the state, hence the bizarre claims that a Labour-SNP alliance would create the biggest crisis since the abdication and that such a government would lack legitimacy. Type Ones want things to be correct, pure and legitimate; Cameron’s Tories offered that. (This from a government which had just months before begged the Scots to remain part of the Union, and not many years before had worked alongside the SNP in the Scottish parliament to keep Labour out!) But in England in 2015, provoking fear pushed people towards the candidate offering security; invoking the spectre of illegitimacy pushed people towards the “natural party of govern­ment” – Cameron’s Tories.

We’d like to believe that what matters most in politics is policies, but it’s not so. Spending on healthcare in the UK is now down to levels seen in Greece and Italy, well below the OECD average but, despite their well-known fondness of the NHS, most English people voted for parties proposing no improvement. In Scotland, NHS spending fell by 1 per cent in real terms between 2010 and 2015. In England it went up by 4.4 per cent. Previous to that, between 2002 and 2010, spending per person on health increased by a mere 29% in Scotland, whilst in England the figure was 43%.*

But these facts matter much less than perception, and perception is the result of the glasses you wear, which culture colours your vision, shapes your emotions and influences your priorities. Clever politicians like David Cameron know which cultural buttons to press to make themselves appear as the answer. In anxious times, when no-one can offer really good news or a great hope, fear that things could get even worse is a powerful motivator.

But the future for the Tories is less bright. Their favoured heir apparent, Boris Johnson, presses many of the wrong buttons. His amiable buffoon style is great for winning people over on a personal level and he works wonderfully on TV. But it triggers several negative reactions even in people who like him: he does not embody safety in the way Cameron does. Security and gravitas are not qualities that spring to mind with Boris. So Labour need a leader who can embody those qualities if they want to defeat BoJo in 2020.


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2 Comments to “How Pushing Buttons Wins Elections by Eric Foggitt”

  1. Interesting article, Eric. It aligns with the way I perceive the election outcome, although I take a different perspective. To me the result is a reflection of the prevailing consciousness of the electorate as a whole, and that’s disconnected, fragmented and afraid. It’s looking for someone to dig them out of the hole and afraid of taking responsibility for that themselves, So the electorate has given its power to an agency that looks as if it will lift that responsibility from their shoulders – even though they know it’s going to hurt.

    • Eric Foggitt says:

      Thanks for your comment.
      I think you are right to say that many people are afraid, and looking for a “place of safety”. My thinking is that this more true in England than in Scotland – the SNP is more edgy, risky and anti-austerity in image, if not in substance.

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