Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons’ Foundation, Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell’s Laws of the Public Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
The eighth Rule is a variation on the maxim: “don’t get mad, get even”. Norman Tebbit once told me that his preferred maxim was: “get mad AND even” but that is not this week’s Rule. Instead the preferred political maxim is: “don’t get mad – except on purpose”.
This is not an exhortation to mock anger. Play-acting may be common place in professional football and it is certainly a problem in politics too. Fake indignation is a mark of insincerity and is very much the provenance of the Left. All too frequently, after scratching beneath the surface, one finds that the supposedly indignant individual is not really indignant at all – instead he is only feigning indignation to embarrass his (usually conservative) opponent.
Much depends on the image that the politician is seeking to cultivate. Conspiracy theorists hypothesise that John Prescott’s famous punch in the 2001 election was pre-planned so as to show him to be “a man of the people”. Despite the right’s disgust, the fact is that it did Prescott (and Labour) little harm.
By contrast, John Nott looked like a fool when he famously lost his temper and stormed out of a television studio during an interview by Sir Robin Day. Michael Heseltine similarly left a studio in a huff.
Anger has its place in politics. It shows emotional empathy with those on whose behalf the politician is angry. It shows commitment. And the public frequently tell pollsters they want politicians to be more passionate and to have stronger views (rather than to say whatever focus groups tell them to say). Nonetheless the anger must not verge on the petulant or psychotic. It must be channelled. It must be controlled. Loss of temper in a stressful situation could come back to haunt the politician in later life. It is for this reason that one should only get mad on purpose.
Previous entry in this series: Don’t fire all your ammunition at once