Theresa May: Less charisma than John Major?

Simon Wren-Lewis on Mainly Macro raises a good point about the role of charisma in modern elections. Did Jeremy Corbyn win votes because Theresa May lacked that quality so loved by tabloid hacks?

It’s an interesting question, especially considering there are examples of people winning elections in spite of a perceived lack of personal warmth. John Major, anybody? Edward Heath?

And the Oxford lecturer admits the argument is muddied by the fact that Labour’s manifesto focused on what many people wanted, while the Tories’ did not.

But he states: “What happened was that voters, particularly younger voters, discovered another side to Theresa May. May looks good in controlled situations: soundbites and speeches to the faithful. When she lost control after the launch of the Conservative manifesto, she looked evasive and robotic. The independent media, who tend to pounce on weaknesses, focused on this rather than the ‘old news’ about Corbyn’s past. [1] What is more, the qualities that May seemed to lack were exactly those that a much more confident Corbyn displayed: genuine passion rather than robotic spin. It was May’s inadequacies that allowed many voters to see Corbyn in a different light.

“If this story is right, it suggests charisma and personality are still important in elections… I continue to think this is unfortunate, because people greatly overestimate how much they can accurately judge people from limited contact with them… People had decided based on limited and filtered information that Corbyn was hopeless, and now (particularly following the Grenfell fire) they can see his qualities, but I’m not sure they are much nearer knowing whether he will be a good or bad prime minister.”

Or maybe they are.

One difference between Jeremy Corbyn and the other ‘charismatic’ politicians named in the article (Kennedy, Thatcher, Blair, Clinton) is that Corbyn was unpopular when he started out.

Perhaps we are seeing that Corbyn has the personality – and the commitment – to do the job right?

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