If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Dealing with Hecklers

There was a time when the ability to deal with a heckler was an essential skill in the kitbag of every politician. Election meetings were usually public affairs, and the response of the audience was far from predictable. The politician had to be prepared for almost anything, and have an ability to think on his (or her) feet. Someone would shout "What about the workers?", and the speaker would reply "This gentleman asks about the workers. Well let me tell him something about our policies ..." Handled well, it showed good humour, an ability to answer tough questions, and a working ability to remember policy detail and relate it instantly to real situations. Handled badly, it showed everyone you were not on top of your game.

Now that everything is done through the medium of television, that streetfighter skill is not in as much demand as before. But seeing how a politician deals with the unexpected still tells you a lot about them.

Today, all three party leaders faced unscripted interruptions to their careful plans. Cameron and Clegg were heckled in the street (no links yet, sorry), got slightly flustered, answered their questioners, and got back on with campaigning. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown was giving a speech to the party faithful (again) when a heckler interrupted. What happened next tells you all you need to know about Brown's lack of humour, flexibility and spontaneity and New Labour's knee-jerk control-freakery:

Note how he carries on reading from the autocue and maintains the weird grin. He says that "there'll be plenty of chances to answer his questions later" - not 'answer your questions', as if Brown will deliver his speech and leave, with questions picked up by junior assistants later on. The heavies bundle the guy out (why? he didn't look angry or threatening to me) and the event carries on. It showed that, to Gordon Brown, the script is everything, and nothing can be allowed that deviates from the plan.

I bet someone got it in the neck afterwards, though. "Who arranged that? Who allowed that to happen? Sue, I think. Ridiculous."

Just imagine how Cameron or Clegg would have dealt with it.

Edit: I've just noticed the carefully arranged doughnutting at the end. Five people, all young and well presented, and all clapping wildly, surrounding the smiling head of the Great Leader. The Kim Jong-Il school of crowd management.


  1. endemoniada_882 May 2010 at 02:34

    He ain't normal.

    I've got to ask: if these are the party faithful, why does he sound like he's delivering a gullet full of vitriol through fiercely clenched teeth? To the few people left who can still stomach him?

    Word of advice, Gordo - try NOT fighting every minute of the day for your future, because it doesn't seem to make you happy. And don't bother trying to conflate that with the future of Britain's hard-working families (and when did they suddenly become favoured by NuLabour, anyway?), as more than 75% of them don't want you anywhere near office.

    Give up, kick back and try something productive, like nicking all the soap and towels from No 10. I'm sure Dave won't mind.

  2. He does a curious thing (no, not the jaw trick) when he finishes a point that he imagines is a 'final word' on something. His eyes narrow, and his voice gets guttural for the last couple of words, and then he looks from side to side to see how people are reacting. It makes me think of a weak and nerdy kid (remember I went to a boys' school) who has just told the school bully that 'my Dad's a policeman, so there'. It doesn't look adult or confident.

    I think that deep down Brown is very insecure. Through his childhood, he will have been measured by his 'effort' and 'good works', and he's terrified that if he lets his efforts slacken, he will be 'unworthy'. If he could, once in a while, put his feet on the table, lean back and say "fuck this, I need a pint", he would not only be a more rounded person, he's be happier too. We would warm to him as a normal human being, and he might even find himself back in No. 10. He's like Marvin the Paranoid Android without the self-deprecating humour.

    That said, he's still a twat.


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