Saturday, 2 May 2015

What's in a name?

One thing which really annoyed me when I was watching the BBC Question Time special on Thursday evening, with all three main party leaders answering questions from an audience, was the over-use of people's names.

All three party leaders did it.  A question would come from an audience member called, say, Joseph.  "Well, Joseph, I think that's a really good question…" David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg (whoever's turn it was to face the audience) would begin in response.  (It always is 'a really good question', isn' it?  These politicians never tell an audience member that what they've just said is an absolute load of nonsense, do they?  Even when it is…)

It's a device politicians use to seem personable, reasonable, down-to-earth people who genuinely care about the people they're talking to.  But it doesn't wash, because it sounds rehearsed and stilted, and is obviously something their exorbitantly expensive voice coaches have trained them to do.  It is a perfect example of the polished faux-sincerity which, rather than making politicians look like 'real people', just makes them seem slimy and willing to do anything to ingratiate themselves with voters.  (It is probably worth pointing out that politicians, like as not, don't actually want to do this – but they feel they have to, because there is a perception that we, the voters, want to see politicians who behave like 'ordinary people'.  Even though we then crucify them for giving us what we so often seem to be telling them we want from them.)

Ed Miliband, however, took this device a step further on Thursday, though.  As well as using the names of audience members whose names had already been given (either by them, or by David Dimbleby), the Labour Party leader went out of his way to find out the name of anyone else who asked him anything as well.  It was obvious that the only reason he was asking for people's names before going on to answer (or, in some cases, before going on to avoid answering) their questions was so that he could shoehorn his little "I'm a nice, genuine guy, honest!" gambit in before going on to say anything of any worth.

Unfortunately, the fact that he did this – and did it so obviously, too – made him appear the opposite of genuine, decent and reasonable.  He came over as someone who can't answer a straight question without relying on the 'crutch' of little pre-prepared phrases and tricks designed to make him look good.  It also made him seem profoundly creepy, asking people for their names, taking an unnatural interest in them as people and constantly returning to them, repeating their full name in little idioms which had obviously been carefully worked out in advance.

I would implore all politicians to drop this faux-sincerity that makes them look like such creepy trie-hards, and instead just be genuine; actually genuine – not forced 'genuine' which has clearly been carefully rehearsed to fit certain criteria.  As with any performance, you come over best when you relax, and don't try so hard to look like you really, really want to be there.

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