Tag Archives: Politics


” … We have a conception of good looks and, in all probability, we want our elected politicians to look good”


Labour needs more than empathy and catchy pledges to win power - Telegraph Labour needs more than empathy and catchy pledges to win power - Telegraph

Q: Looking at the Election debate on telly last week, I got to wondering: who looks the most likely leader here? Do we judge people’s capabilities on such cosmetic features as their looks? I know this is totally superficial; that’s what made me think of you. Your arguments are usually pretty superficial. Do you think it’s possible that the way people look could influence the way we vote in the Election?
A:  We’re likely to be influenced by a candidate’s looks as we are the more substantial features, such as taxation, public spending, immigration controls and foreign policy. Looks do make a difference. Not just in politics either: whether you’re applying for a job or asking someone out, looks do matter. We might attach too much importance to good looks, but it’s a fact of life: if you have them, it’s a start in life. Physical attractiveness is an advantage.

Q: That’s a terrible indictment of today’s culture. It means that poor old Ed Miliband and Ed Balls (above, top)  who have often been likened to Wallace and Gromit (above, bottom … sorry, I mean the other way around), are starting from an immediate disadvantage. Do you have any research to back this up?                                                                                                                                                            A: Actually, I do. For a start, over ten years ago America’s NBC television recruited Dr. Gordon Patzer to assist in a minor experiment in which they got a couple of super-good-looking models to drop a file of papers in the street, just to see how quickly people rushed to their assistance. Then they got an NBC colleague (who we assume was plain looking) to do the same. “That was a classic example of everything we find in the scholarly research that we do,” said Patzer. “Those of higher physical attractiveness are automatically or immediately assisted, provided help.”

Q: Wait a minute. That’s just getting help in the street. Is that all you’ve got?                                          A: Patzer’s research goes wider: he reckons we actually trust people who are good looking. Trust is a powerful acceptance of a person: it means we take what they say as truth, without evidence or the need for further investigation; it means we believe firmly in someone. Patzer concluded: “We trust more those people of higher physical attractiveness.”  He went on: “This is something anthropologically that has existed for as long as history exists.” Even justice is not blind to beauty. Studies have shown that juries find arguments more persuasive if they’re made by attractive lawyers.

Q: Presumably, this would mean that better looking people have an edge when it comes to getting a job.                                                                                                                                                                  A: There was some research published in 2009 on this subject. People with facial disfigurement, birthmarks or scars are more likely to receive poor ratings in job interviews than people who do not have any noticeable facial marks. Professor Mikki Hebl who conducted the study explained: “Our research shows if you recall less information about competent candidates because you are distracted by characteristics on their face, it decreases your overall evaluations of them.” So flawless skin and an absence of prominent features will put you in good shape for a job.

Q: This is all very depressing. It suggests we have become a superficial society. Surely, an important political election is different.                                                                                                                         A: I wrote a blog a few of weeks back in which I referred to the impact of  John F. Kennedy, an impressively handsome man, who was the first politician to use television to his advantage. Now, this didn’t mean that every successful politician since JFK had to look like George Clooney or Angelina Jolie (below), both of whom are politically engaged, by the way. But it does mean that candidates who have faces that are liable to distract voters with particular characteristics, are at a disadvantage. Researchers at Princeton University found that voters never admit they are influenced by faces, but produced evidence to show that, in fact they were. The lesson here is that we don’t even realize how we are influenced by looks.

Angelina Jolie

Q: I’d like to think that, as we approach the Election, voters will use intelligence, analysis and an understanding of policy implications when they weigh up their options. In the cold light of day, they will, won’t they?
A: These are all factors, but, at a more basic level, perhaps at a level below our consciousness, we will be influenced by how the politicians look. We live in a culture that places a high priority on the way people look.   What counts as good looks and ugliness are culturally specific, of course; beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. In this place and in this time, whether we like it or not, we have a conception of good looks and, in all probability, we want our elected politicians to look good. All politicians are aware of this, which is why they pay attention to their dress, their hair and to how they will appear on the tv screen. They all know that their looks play a part in their ultimate success or failure. Let me return to your original question: looks will play a part in the Election.


Q: Last week was one for Jeremys. First we heard that Jeremy Clarkson (pictured below) got dropped by BBC, then Jeremy Paxman dominated his interviews with the two main political candidates in the General Election. Let me start with JC: I heard you on radio recently talking about how we licence celebrities to break rules the rest of us stick to. I disagree. It’s nothing to do with us if the likes of Clarkson goes about trampling on people’s feelings and assaulting his colleagues. So your argument is pretty much like everything else you pontificate on: BS. No disrespect.

Jeremy Clarkson

A: Think of all the wellknown figures we follow devoutly but have crossed the boundaries at some point. It doesn’t make them any less fascinating; quite the opposite in fact. Take Tiger Woods’ transgression, as he called it: we actually found him more interesting as a result of his philandering. We thought David Beckham was wholesome family man who would never dare look at another woman before the Rebecca Loos affair. But the episode gave him a bit of devilry as far as we were concerned and that sort of humanized his public image.

Q: So you don’t think because we see a high profile celeb violating acceptable codes of behaviour, we tend to emulate them? After all they are role models, aren’t they?

A: No. Just because Clarkson hits his producer doesn’t mean his millions of devoted fans will ape his aggression. In any case, just think: people who break rules at one point in history are often seen retrospectively as pioneers. It wasn’t so long ago that being gay was a serious violation of social norms, and domestic abuse was seen as a private matter. At the same time, bullying at work was not seen as such a big deal. Now the first is not an issue at all, the second is a matter of social concern and the third is met with, in Clarkson’s case, a dismissal. History doesn’t stand still and nor do social rules.

Q: Which leads me to Paxman (pictured below): he was the star of the show when interviewing David Cameron and Ed Miliband. He dominated the exchanges and pressured Miliband so strongly that he asked, “Are you alright, Ed?” at the end of the interview. Is he a bully?

The Paxman stare

A: Not at all. He’s a self-important figure and he always makes sure no politician is going to steal his thunder. But you have to remember, he’s grilling the men who are aspiring to be the leader of the UK. So I think Paxman is our proxy.

Q: What’s that mean?

A: He’s acting on our behalf. So he’s asking difficult questions and expects the likes of Cameron and Miliband to be able to answer them. OK, he’s got a research team behind him to design his questions. But we want to see how politicians handle them. Asking Cameron if he knew how many food banks there were was a mischievous one because it’s doubtful if any other politician, or anybody else for that matter, would have the answer at the ready. His insistence on repeating one of the audience’s questions about Miliband’s brother was also below the belt. I mean, Ed is there to answer questions about himself, not whether his brother would make a more credible candidate. But this is Paxman’s stagecraft: he manages to entertain rather than educate us. It was an enjoyable programme, though I can’t say we learnt much more about the two candidates than we already knew.

Q: Is that what you think these televised political debates are for then? Entertainment?

A: You’ll recall I wrote a blog a week or so ago about how politics has been hijacked by tv. Bill Clinton was the first politician to master the transition to pure showman. I don’t think our main candidates are in Clinton’s class. Not yet anyway. Both take their cues from him mind.  Take a look at this from 1992: Clinton is brilliant. I think we learn a bit, though not much, about the politicians’ skills. But the main effect is to entertain us, yes. Television is a wonderful medium for this. I know some think it is an instrument of enlightenment and, on occasion, it can be; but its primary effect on politics is to make them more entertaining. That’s no bad thing, mind: if it gets people engaged, then it’s done its job.

Q: Before you go, what about Zayn Malik? I’ve never heard such a fuss about a guy leaving a boyband. What on earth is all that about?

A: I haven’t got time to explain here, but I’ll refer you to something I wrote the day after the split. See what you think. You’ll probably think it’s more BS! Click here.

Why we should be grateful for Fabricant’s lack of caution

“OMG! Just said “twat” live on air …”

I wonder if Tory MP Michael Fabricant thinks the word “twat” refers only to a person who is stupid or obnoxious. He may not realize it is also vulgar slang for a woman’s genitals. Or perhaps he does and just doesn’t care. When he used it on BBC WM, he was dissing Russell Brand for his theatrical responses to Jeremy Paxman’s questions about his politics. Setting aside the interview itself, in which Paxman allowed Brand to pontificate critically about the ineffectiveness of democracy, Fabricant’s sideswipe at Brand has prompted outrage on a scale Brand himself would envy [skip to 1.36 minutes]. In condemning Brand’s lack of realism and his use of nouns such as paradigm, Fabricant must have forgotten his media training and lapsed into an everyday vernacular, which prompted listeners in the West Midlands to complain. He seemed to regret his lack of discretion, or he could have been be luxuriating in the fuss he caused when he later tweeted: OMG! Just said “twat” live on air with @adriangoldberg on BBC WM referring to Russell Brand and his pompous remarks on @BBCNewsnight.”

But perhaps we should be grateful for his heedlessness. Politicans today are meticulously cautious when they appear in public: every word is thought-out, every sentence is measured, every gesture is rehearsed. Since the Tony Blair period, politicians have become entertainers: they know the power of the media and adjust accordingly. Politicians create a persona and display this, much as Vincent Furnier displays Alice Cooper – as public figures rather than private individuals with a remit to engage, amuse and in many other ways, keep us interested. There has been a dramatic drop in confidence in politicians since the war: we no longer believe they prioritize the nation’s interests above their own personal interests; we don’t accept they have any moral authority to make pronouncements; and we have concrete evidence that they will resort to the most cringingly embarrassing rule-breaking, like fiddling their expenses. Politicians are more tolerated than respected. All the same, should we decry Fabricant for speaking his mind, even if he did it a way that offended a few puritans? We hear the offending word in soaps and other tv dramas all the time. I thought his evaluation was refreshing in its honesty. Think about it: this was an elected politician speaking his mind in a language that was coarse yet candid. It was a spontaneous expression rather than one of those endlessly tiresome interviews in which the responses seems almost independent of the questions (they actually are: politicians are taught to use media interviews to project views rather than answer questions). Politicians who let their guards down are often criticized for making gaffes. Think of Godfrey Bloom who recently put his foot in his mouth with his “bongo-bong0 land” remark. But we should be grateful: we get to glimpse how they think rather than how they are told to think. @elliscashmore