Daddy Alex had already conked out, and Daddy Richard was on his way to bed last night and I was watching NEWSNIGHT, like I do sometimes, but paint me stripy and call me a zebra if I didn't see the lady who lives upstairs, on the TELLY!
Unfortunately, she was in the audience for another turn by second-rate STAGE MAGICIAN Frank Luntz, who was doing his "AMAZING" mind reader act again.
So I have been upstairs to ask her what it was like!
The first thing I learned was that everyone there arrived with pretty strong opinions, angry about being let down by the government, whether it was over crime or education or the health service. Mr Blair and Mr Frown were going to be on a hiding to nothing with this audience right from the start.
In spite of what you might have seen on the telly, the audience was not REALLY that positive for Mr Balloon. They were open minded, and willing to listen to what he might have to say, but so far they don’t know what to make of him as he hasn’t got any policies. What they wanted to say was that they were being shown Mr Balloon at the start of his career – and they all remembered how they had felt much the same about Mr Blair back at the start of his career. AND they remembered how BETRAYED by Mr Blair they feel now. So they were wary of him as well as open to him. Though on the whole they were pretty certain that he WAS a TRUE BLUE Conservatory. Just like Mr Blair.
The NEWSNIGHT piece kept SUSPICIOUSLY QUIET about Mr the Merciless. But there in the room, apparently he got a very strong response: he was very much the man that the people in the studio TRUSTED, and he was the man they thought would be BEST for LOCAL GOVERNMENT (not, I have to say, for NATIONAL government, where they felt – interestingly – that they wanted more of a “PARTY” politician). They also felt that the LIBERAL DEMOCRATS were the party most trusted to get things sorted out locally.
I hope I have represented their views properly.
I think that this is all very interesting because it shows that NEWSNIGHT put QUITE a different SPIN on what they really said.
Oh, I forgot to ask her: would it make a difference if she knew that Mr Luntz was at University with Mr Balloon and his little gang of friends?
For those of you who don't know, Mr Luntz CLAIMS to be an expert in polling opinions and then "AMAZINGLY" convinces the audience that they THINK that his old university CHUM Mr Balloon is best. Last year he pulled off this trick at the Conservatory Party Leader contest and along with Mr Nick Mate-of-Dave Robinson helped to get Mr Balloon his job.
Mr Luntz is a bit of a DODGY GEEZER as these people have noticed.
His TECHNIQUE involves playing clips from the TELLY to the audience and giving them a KNOB to twist.
At the risk of upsetting the MAGIC CIRCLE, I will now tell you about the FIVE rather obvious ways that he can TRICK them.
He gets to choose the audience.
The people in the studio are described as "SWING voters", but that COULD mean that they are voters who swing between Conservatory and one of the other parties.
Something like between SIXTY and SEVENTY percent of people WON'T consider voting for OPUS DAVE – they prefer to choose between the Labour and the Liberal Democrats or one of the other parties like the Nationalists or the Greens (NOT Mr Balloon's Blue-Greens). And they are all KEPT OUT by Mr Luntz's TECHNIQUE.
So, he could actually pick an audience with a subtle Conservatory bias and still describe it in a way that sounds (to coin a phrase) FAIR and BALANCED.
He gets to choose which clips to play.
Oddly enough if you play the audience ten minutes of MR FROWN droning on about exponential growth in targets for widget straightening, then the audience is going to start thinking that MR FROWN is a bit BORING. If you follow that with Mr Balloon getting lots of applause for making one of his snappy speeches about how he likes NICE things then the audience will quickly feel more positive about him.
He gets to choose which bits are seen by up people watching the telly.
If he shows the audience in the studio a ten MINUTE selection of clips, but then only picks out ten SECONDS to broadcast on NEWSNIGHT then it is EASY to pick and choose the bits that make it LOOK like Mr Balloon is getting the popular response and Mr Blair is going down the plughole or Mr the Merciless is flat in the middle.
(You can see this from the fact that the clip we saw of Mr Balloon was of him getting APPLAUSE and at that point the lines were going up. Well DUR! Speeches are written so that the audience response goes UP at the points were you're meant to clap!)
He controls the lines that appear on the screen.
The lines on the screen are SUPPOSED to represent the responses that he is getting from the studio audience TWISTING their KNOBS. But how do we KNOW that their KNOBS are connected up to anything at all? And even if they ARE, it is not difficult to FAKE the line going UP and this ENCOURAGES the audience to dial UP or to FAKE the line going DOWN and this ENCOURAGES the audience to dial DOWN. People LIKE going with the flow: if the MOOD seems to be "this is BAD" then people start to AGREE that it is bad and will start to say so. Even if the line is FAKE to begin with, people can remember that they AGREED with it afterwards.
(Pollsters see this after ELECTIONS: more people will SAY that they voted for the WINNER than actually DID vote for the winner because people like to be IN with the CROWD, especially the WINNING crowd.)
He gets to ask the questions afterwards.
At the end of Mr Frown's go, he can say "Oooh, you all seem to find Mr Frown very BORING – why do you find Mr Frown BORING?" This means that people are ALREADY thinking in terms of how they JUSTIFY saying that Mr Frown is BORING. People who DON'T think he was boring are more likely to keep quiet because the MOOD of the room is against them and they don't want to stick their neck out. So it LOOKS like the whole room is AGAINST Mr Frown. (And if anyone says anything positive, then Mr Luntz can edit it out before it goes to telly.)
Then he can ask: "Now, the response to Mr Balloon was REALLY AMAZINGLY POSITIVE – why are you so positive about Mr Balloon?" And the people who can think of positive things will answer with those positive things. It is like being back at school and KNOWING THE ANSWERS: it gives you a GOOD FEELING to tell teacher what he wants to hear.
He also uses some more SUBTLE psychological tricks.
In his Tory-leader bit last year, he had photos of the five candidates up on a board at the front, but a bit to the right of the middle where the telly was. I think it was Malcom Rifkind on his own at the top, then on the first line were Mr Balloon on the left and Mr Davis David on the right and then Fatty Clarke and Fantastic Doctor Fox on the bottom. This may sound like a really SILLY thing, but it is actually a basic PR TRICK: the first one you look at is Mr Balloon and you associate him with left, nearer the centre, and first. Mr Davis David then looks like the man who is right, extreme, and second. Mr Rifkind is isolated and also looking down on you, the others are losers because they are second rank. It is a GIMMICK that PR people use to PRIME their audience: it doesn't work on it's own but it is there to make them EASIER to LEAD.
For last night's piece, the walls of his studio were decorated with portraits of the party leaders in a variety of different colours: I saw Mr the Merciless in Red and Blue, for instance. The aim here is to BREAK UP the usual party/colour associations so that it EMPHASISES the "they're all the same" feeling in people's heads. AND probably to undermine the Labour's new "Dave the Chameleon" campaign by making ALL of the leaders be chameleons too.
His last question was "I'm just a dumb American: you all seem pretty angry about a lot of issues but you re-elected this government last year. Why did you do that?"
You can tell he is being DOUBLE CLEVER here because he claims he is being DUMB!
This is CLEVER (in the sense of INSIDIOUS!) as it puts the studio people on the back foot: it makes them look for SOMEONE ELSE to BLAME for the things that they are cross about (because otherwise it's THEIR OWN fault!)
So you could pretty much guarantee (which is JUST the way that a STAGE MAGICIAN does MIND READING) what they will say: "We hadn't got a proper choice" and "All the parties are the same."
This is all to ADD to the TRICK of making people think that Mr Balloon is NEW and therefore DIFFERENT, even if it is the ONLY difference, while everyone else is OLD and part of the SAME old failures.
Add to that the TWIST that you are SAFE to vote Conservatory because the other parties are not so different. This is just the same as Mr Balloon's current "Vote Blue Feel Green" (translation: "be selfish; I'll cover for you") campaign to make people THINK voting Balloon is OK.
Of course this is a GREAT BIG FIB.
In the first place, we did NOT re-elect this government last year: they ONLY got 35% of your votes. But the SYSTEM is RIGGED so that Mr Blair STILL got a majority that he DOES NOT DESERVE.
(It is in the interest of Mr Blair AND Mr Balloon to keep the RIGGED SYSTEM because otherwise they might have to listen to what PEOPLE actually WANT, rather than using FOCUS GROUPS like Mr Luntz's little trick gathering!)
And in the second place, the parties REALLY ARE NOT that similar.
(Although, to be FAIR, Mr Balloon has NO POLICIES at the moment, so he MIGHT be identical to Mr Blair or he MIGHT be identical to GENGHIS KHAN, he just wont tell us. Which is NOT VERY HONEST, really, if you THINK about it.)
If you want a party that will try to control everything, to fix everything, govern from the centre, do everything for you, nanny you from cradle to grave so long as you fill in all the right forms and feed all of your life into an INSANE COMPUTER in exchange for a bit of plastic card and don't mind paying huge taxes to be spent on checking targets (and they might also bomb a Middle Eastern country or two, but don't mind that as they won't ever ask you for a mandate to do it) then you have Mr Blair's gang.
If you want a party that will try to give you the best start in life with free education to university level and the most dignity in old age with a proper pension and free care when you need it but then expects you to take some responsibility for the environment and for your local services because they will hand power down to the local level and want to change the system so that it isn't rigged in anyone's favour (even their own) then you can vote for Mr the Merciless and the Liberal Democrats.
Or if you want a party that, er, employs a STAGE MAGICIAN, well I suppose you've got Mr Balloon
I think this is the best political posting I've read in the last month.
And who'd have thought all that insight could come from a non-feline being ...
My face is suffused in smile.
By the way, have you spotted the remarkable similarlity between the policy agendae of Messrs Cameron & Luntz?
I came across your reaction to my focus groups and I just had to comment on a couple of points. It's 5:30 am in the states so I won't take it apart bit by bit, but two points need a response.
First, when I layed out the photos in the initial session to look at the prospective British Conservative leaders, I didn't even know what Cameron looked like. In fact, the only two people I recognized and knew anything about was Clarke and Fox (whom I had met once before).
This assertion that the photos were put in some explicit order is ridiculous. They were handed to me in an envelop in that order and that's just how I put them up on the board. I'm sure if I had put Cameron on top, or on the bottom right, or some other place, you would have ascribed a sinister strategy.
Second, and this is most important, the results of EVERY dial session I have done for Newsnight has been accurately reflected in the subsequent election. The Labour collapse amd Lib-Dem gain, Cameron's election in 2005, and Labour's further drop in 2006 were all documented in the Newsnight sessions. The groups may not confirm what you personally believe, but they do accurately confirm -- based on the election results themselves -- what the people of Britain are thinking.
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