30 March 2010

Vince Cable shows how 'Yah-boo politics' can win victories for the LibDems

I've just been watching last night's Channel 4 broadcast of the Chancellors' Debate, and was fascinated to see that Vince Cable was the only one of the three spokesmen who prompted applause from the audience during his closing statement (see transcript & video clip below).

A victory for 'Yah-boo' politics
It proved something I've always argued, namely that 'Yah-boo' politics works just as well for the LibDems as it does for the other main parties - in spite of the LibDems' long-standing 'holier than thou' claim to be the only party that doesn't lower itself to using 'Yah-boo' tactics.

During Paddy Ashdown's leadership of the party, I often found myself arguing against such an approach, for the simple reason that we knew that 84% of the bursts of applause in political speeches are triggered by two particular types of message (or a combination of the two):

Boasts about our side: 40%
Attacks or insults aimed at opponents: 34%
Combined boast + attack: 10%
(Our Masters' Voices, pp. 34-45).

So, if you're really serious about refraining from 'yah-boo' politics, you're voluntarily reducing your chances of winning applause by more than a third.

Liberal 'Yah-boo' moments from the past
This is not to say, of course, that the LibDems have always (or ever?) been consistent in practising what they preach when it comes to avoiding 'Yah-boo' politics.

After all, Vince Cable's most famous line during his temporary leadership of the party was his 'Yah-boo' remark about Gordon Brown becoming more like Mr Bean than Stalin.

More than 30 years ago, during the 1979 general election, Liberal leader David Steel was also not averse to it, as you can see from this neat example of how to use a puzzle with contrasting solution to say 'yah-b00' to both the other parties at the same time:

[PUZZLE] 'There are two Conservative parties in this election.
[A] 'One is offering the continuation of the policies we've had for the last five years.
[B] 'And the other is offering a return to the policies of forty years ago.'

Cable's latest 'Yah-boo' moment
In his closing remarks at the end of last night's debate, Vince Cable again showed how to use this 'plague on both your houses' approach to craft a 'Yah-boo' sequence that wins a positive response from the audience.

As with the Steel example from 1979, it showed that a rhetorical advantage for LibDem politicians is that there is always plenty of scope for making simple contrasts between the two main parties - and, in this case, Cable adds to the rhetorical impact of that by listing three dreadful things that each of them is alleged to have done - all of which are offered as the start of a solution to the puzzle with which he opened the sequence.

Then, as he moves towards making a favourable contrast between the LibDem's and both the alternatives, he's interrupted by one of the evening's few bursts of applause:

[PUZZLE] 'The question is who can you trust to do it?

[A1] 'The Labour government led us into this mess
[A2] 'they've done severe damage to pensions and savings
[A3] 'they've wasted a vast amount of money on over-centralised public services.

[B1] 'The Tories presided over two big recessions in office
[B2] 'they wasted most of the North Sea oil revenue
[B3] 'they sold off the family silver on the cheap

'Now they want to have another turn to get their noses in the trough and reward their rich backers.

'I- I - The Liberal Democrats are different..'


'.. the Liberal Democrats are different.'



Alan Douglas said...

If I UNknowingly buy a stolen car, then I could forfeit it on discovery.

If the Lib Dems unknowingly buy a stolen donation of £ 2.8m, them they get to keep it, and are quite happy to use legalistic manoevres (sp?) and twists to keep it, despite the clear MORAL case for returning the money to its rightful owners.

Very saintly.

Alan Douglas

Sentient WV : folly

Frugal Dougal said...

Very astute post - either party underestimates the Lib Dems at their own (and our) peril.

Anonymous said...

You know why they're linking to you, right? It's because it gives Iain Dale a chance to riff on "holier-than-thou Lib Dems". Stalin had a word for it.

Max Atkinson said...

Anonymous: Iain Dale may be a Tory, but I don't have a problem with that - especially as he's also linked to quite a few of my earlier posts featuring critical and/or humorous comments about Conservative (and Labour) politicians.

Given that this is intended to be a 'non-aligned' blog that's more concerned with analysing speaking and communication than with taking sides, I regard Iain's willingness to feature such diverse stuff in his Daley Dozen quite encouraging.