THE BLOG

Leadership and Communication in British Politics

24/06/2013 11:11 BST | Updated 22/08/2013 10:12 BST
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The academic study of politics is methodologically diverse and informed by the research interests researcher concerned. Academics studying political leadership are likely to be impressed by Fred Greenstein's typology of investigating effective leadership. He identified six areas of effective leadership. These are effectiveness as a communicator; organisational ability; political skills; vision; cognitive style; and emotional intelligence. For his seminal work Greenstein analysed FDR, Truman, Nixon, Ford, GWB, and Obama, amongst others. In so doing he discerned that his model shines light on various leadership techniques that have created some of the most memorable leaders in recent history, whilst those lacking such skills tend not be remembered as fondly.

For me, I examine the political communication of leading figures in British party politics. I have published on the oratorical and rhetorical impact of George Galloway and I have also published on the rhetoric of the Coallition government. To do this I use a methodological approach that examines both what politicians are saying and how they are saying it. This is because I think how ideological messages are communicated (both internally and externally) affect their success and so change the way policies are devised and/or implemented. This is my distinctive research agenda because it is i: under developed, ii: actor-centred, and iii: intellectually interesting. The methodology is well developed in US politics, but much less so for British party politics. As such, transferring it to UK political elites draws out a new dimension of better understanding the success of British political leaders.

For example Ed Miliband's attempts to convince the electorate that One Nation Labour is the answer to our economic and social problems necessitate communication skills that are likely to be persuaded. However if he lacks some or all of the leadership skills identified by Greenstein, and the ability to communicate then his ideological message simply will not prove convincing to his audience. Miliband is often critiqued for not have the same communication skills as his opponents. This is because he lacks a number of Greenstein's leadership techniques, which reduces his ability to convince an audience of his argument.

Communication skills can be analysed in two ways. These are rhetoric (content of a speech) and oratory (delivery of the speech). These are different sides of the same coin which are examined in isolation. Although political scientists examine them separately they are used daily by politicians interdependently. For analytical purposes rhetoric can be scrutinised using the Aristotleian devices of ethos (character/credibility) pathos (use of emotion) and logos (logic of argument). The most effective speaker would draw from each when delivering addressing a chosen audience. Oratory is how that message is communicated. The methods for analysing these include judicial (forensic), epideictic (performative/dramatic), deliberative (consider/debate driven) oratory. By combining the oratorical with the rhetorical analysis a stronger understanding of why and how certain messages resonate with a specific audience can be achieved.

Of course we must not forget the audience. The more effective communicator knows their audience, their expectations, and how to convince them. For example Miliband knows the Labour conference very well. As seen with his One Nation speech he was able to convince the audience that Labour's renewal strategy was partly enabled by going beyond New Labour through splicing social democracy with a vision of One Nation. The same speech to a different audience may facilitate a less positive reaction unless changes to the content and style of delivery are made.

As a political scientist I find this interesting. How leaders communicate - the language they use - determines the success or failure of their argument and therefore affects how ideologies grow and adapt. When modernising or changing the dominant ideology of a party the rhetorical and oratorical devices depend upon being a convincing leader. When a leader proves convincing - as in the case of Cameron's modernisation agenda - it becomes possible to change the image and electoral success of their party. When a leader proves less convincing, then such modernisation agendas become harder to sell to the electorate. Whether this will be an electoral problem for Miliband awaits to be seen.