Conservatives must find their Great Communicator

Elizabeth Anderson thinks that it is time for politicians to speak the same language as the electorate and capture their imaginations, whilst doing it.

by Elizabeth Anderson on 23 April 2019 19:49

Charisma.  Much as teachers of leadership these days would disagree, charisma is a large part of what makes people follow someone.  This can be good, it can be bad.  It can lead to massive changes for good (think Gandhi) or evil (think Hitler).  It's that certain something that makes an individual stand out, and hundreds - thousands - millions, come behind them.

Britain is currently badly lacking a charismatic leader.  Much as I'm not a fan, Tony Blair had it - the public united in a desire to say goodbye to the grey established men of 1990s and unite behind someone young with new ideas.  David Cameron came along and delivered a similar image, a breath of fresh air after the failure and recession caused by New Labour. 

But then came an issue even more divisive than party politics.  It was an issue that everyone had a view on, and it transcended the need for the man on the street to remember the difference between left wing and right wing and who sat where and the intricacies of the economy.  It was called Brexit, and it split the population very nearly down the middle, pitting friend against friend and turning them (hopefully briefly) into sworn enemies.  It still does.

Mr Cameron, aggrieved by the result, departed, and after a rather unsuccessful leadership election (where party members never did actually get to the electing part), Theresa May came forward.  Mrs May is undoubtedly committed to her party, and she has tried hard to lead in what is almost certainly one of the most difficult peacetime periods of British democratic political history.  Regardless of where you stand on Brexit, or whether or not you feel she has done her best, you cannot say she is charismatic.

And this has left a void for a charismatic leader.  Step forward Nigel Farage, who, again, regardless of your views, has found he has the common touch that enables him to gather vast numbers of followers very quickly.  Chuka Umanna tried, Jeremy Corbyn is arguably a tired socialist who belongs back in the 70s.  Whereas Farage has still never quite had his moment.  And he knows something that politicos forget - very few people live in the Westminster bubble.  They don't care.  They don't care about the in-fighting or the negotiations or the point scoring.

They care about simple things.  They just want a man or woman who speaks their language, thinks what they think, and promises to get it done ... and has charisma.  People want commitment and personality, not a boringly consensually driven approach that aims to make everyone happy but simply dissatisfies everyone.

If the Conservative Party is to survive, it needs to do these things too.  Speak the language of the electorate.  Represent what the electorate voted for.  Promise to get it done - and actually see it through rather than giving up half way.  And be exciting and passionate and charismatic.  The time for safe pairs of hands in suits is gone (if it was ever here).  Now is the time to look beyond the obvious, find people who talk the talk and actually do walk the walk, and give them the opportunity to do something dangerous by saying what they think, and getting it done.  Because otherwise, a new breed of politician will destroy the old guard, and it will take an age to come back to the centre.


Elizabeth Anderson coordinated Vote Leave campaigns for South East London in the 2016 referendum. She is also co-editor of the 2017 conservative policy book, True Blue.

blog comments powered by Disqus