British Politics are Failing the Charisma Test

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The UK’s political landscape is in complete disarray. Theresa May, whose Conservative party won the most seats in this month’s UK General Election without reaching a majority, is flip-flopping from one PR disaster to another, while her rival Jeremy Corbyn is strutting around like the Labour party has been elected – even delivering a speech to the apparently adoring masses in an appearance at Glastonbury music festival last weekend.

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, perhaps more deservedly taking his place on the Pyramid Stage, bemoaned the UK’s “useless politicians”. And he’s right: you’d struggle to find a less inspiring, less charismatic bunch.

It’s a word that’s used frequently but, despite the Oxford English Dictionary definition above, it’s difficult to explain why we’re drawn to charismatic people. It’s not beauty and it’s not power, strength, or vision alone. It’s a quality that some people just ‘have’, but that most people – and certainly our current crop of politicians – don’t.

A YouGov poll that jones knowles ritchie (jkr) supported before the Election set out to investigate how the UK’s party leaders fared when it came to charisma and, unsurprisingly, every one of them fell flat.

Corbyn – who admittedly made impressive gains on Election night – came out on top with 23 per cent agreeing that he’s ‘charismatic’. May followed closely on 20 per cent, while the Liberal Democrats’ Tim Farron (nine per cent) and Paul Nuttall of UKIP (six per cent) were well behind.

Of course, that sentiment was mirrored by the results. Labour improved against all odds, the Conservatives desperately clung onto power, while the Lib Dems picked up a few seats and UKIP disappeared from the House of Commons completely.

Ultimately, charisma is about being yourself – and that’s one reason it doesn’t tend to mix very well with politics. But it’s also the reason, despite much of his own party initially writing him off, Corbyn has begun to see so much public support – while May shies away from interviews and the great unwashed, he’s embracing the limelight. And, while it’s folly to put too much trust in a politician’s public persona, he comes across as genuine.

But how might things have turned out had the public been presented with a truly charismatic figurehead to get behind? Channelling Lord Buckethead may be a step too far, but in a similar survey we ran ahead of the 2015 Election, 41 per cent of respondents agreed UKIP’s outspoken Nigel Farage was a charismatic leader – that’s twice May’s score and still way ahead of Corbyn.

Our job at jkr is to inject our clients with a shot of charisma, so we make a point of regularly assessing how the world’s biggest brands fare – and they typically index at over 60 per cent. KitKat (59 per cent), Snickers (61 per cent) and Innocent drinks (63 per cent) are rated as three times more charismatic than Mrs May, while even Vaseline – yes, that’s not a typo – has been ranked twice as charismatic as Mr Corbyn (48 per cent).

We know that charisma is a proven aspect of strong leadership. People intuitively follow charismatic leaders and, just as we choose to spend time with charismatic people, so too we notice and pick charismatic brands because they provoke an emotional response.

Corbyn, thanks to his Glasto gig and other public appearances, would undoubtedly score higher were we to re-do our poll today, but the fact remains that he and the rest of Westminster still have a long way to go.

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