You could see me wiping my brow even as we speak.
I’ve been wrong with my predictions before, but never have I been so happy about it.
I thought we were heading for either a hung parliament or a wafer-thin Tory majority, which betokened some scepticism about our thoroughly corrupted populace.
The electorate of which millions voted for Marxist yahoos is still corrupted – but evidently not yet so comprehensively as I feared. Mercifully, the British still had enough gumption left to avert the ultimate catastrophe of a Trotskyist government. Thank God for that.
I’m grateful to my fellow countrymen on a purely personal level as well: having spent the first 25 years of my life under a communist cabal, I couldn’t bear the thought of living out my last remaining years under its reincarnation.
The results also prove, much to my chagrin, that politics and advertising have even more in common than I thought. Both fields proceed from the assumption that the punters en masse are incapable of grasping more than one message at a time.
Whenever my advertising client insisted on multiple messages, I’d toss him an orange from the fruit bowl and cry “Catch!”. He’d do so with ease. I’d then throw half a dozen oranges, and he’d typically still catch only one. A cheap trick, that, but the illustration usually worked.
The task is to identify the message most likely to produce the desired response and stick with it through thick and thin. To that end, both fields of endeavour use the same polling and research techniques – and in fact it was advertising that borrowed Gallup methodology from politics, not the other way around.
When advertising planners identify the single message that supposedly distinguishes their brand from competition, they call it the USP, the Unique Selling Proposition. The creative department then encapsulates the message in a terse memorable slogan, which then underpins every piece of communication.
Political consultants use different terminology but exactly the same process. The resulting slogan could be either negative (Thatcher’s “Labour Isn’t Working”) or positive (May’s “Strong and Stable” or Corbyn’s “For the Many Not the Jew… sorry, I mean the Few”).
The other day I actually criticised the Johnson campaign for hanging their hat on a single peg, Get Brexit Done. That, I thought, effectively reduced the general election to a second EU referendum, and there were signs that the people were so jaded about the whole mess that they no longer cared one way or the other.
I did stipulate that I had no research facilities at my disposal to prejudge the effectiveness of this message. And even assuming that the Johnson campaign had strong focus-group support for their strategy, I spent too much time in advertising to trust market research implicitly.
Thankfully, Johnson’s campaign manager Isaac Levido (another Aussie – are they better strategists than we are?) got it right. Throughout the campaign Johnson was saying “get Brexit done” in response to every, even unrelated, question. All scare messages about Corbyn were strictly background noise to that mantra, but it was important background noise.
Ever the idealist, I’ve always believed that electoral campaigns should be more Aristotelian than Pavlovian, appealing to people’s reason rather than instincts. Also, I thought, flogging a political party like a tube of toothpaste vulgarised the whole process no end – politicians shouldn’t be brands: unlike toothpaste, they can change our lives.
Yet I realise this is how it has to be. To turn politics into serious business for sensible grown-ups, we’d need different politicians, different voters and a different world.
Let’s rejoice that the ABC of politics (Anyone But Corbyn) held firm. Even voters who didn’t care about getting Brexit done, or for that matter undone, still heard the background noises about Corbyn’s irredeemable monstrosity – and reacted on cue.
Boris Johnson now has not only a sizeable parliamentary majority but, just as important, a more or less homogeneous group of Tory MPs no longer weighed down with the ballast of mock Tories like Clarke, Heseltine and Grieve.
Boris purged them with Stalin’s ruthlessness, if fortunately (some will say unfortunately) by less sanguinary methods. That points at the remote possibility that we just may finally have a statesman at 10 Downing Street, rather than a demagogic spiv.
The possibility is indeed remote, given the whole political landscape of the country and indeed the world. Hence I’ll be going after Mr Johnson every time he falls short, which I fear will be often.
But his landslide earns him a grace period until next week. So congratulations, Boris! Thank you for what you’ve done for the country – and for humble little me personally. Whatever happens next, I’m in your debt.
P.S. Yesterday I heard the tail end of Jo Swindon’s speech, with her squeaking: “I can only be me.” That, my dear, is the whole problem.