I wrote this blog just before the hateful Manchester attack – rightly – pushed election stories off the front pages. That said, I respectfully suggest, with voting just days away it’s still worth paying attention to how our political storytellers are seeking to alarm and or pacify the electorate. So, throw on your Rocky Horror bustier and let’s do the Time Warp…
We humans love stories. Which is odd, when you think about it, because all stories are designed to make us anxious. All stories disrupt the status quo, throwing characters (and us) into various levels of unease until equilibrium is reestablished.
Storytelling is the management of anxiety. A good storyteller is like a master chef turning up or down the heat on the delicate soufflé of our emotions. And a key to make the audience more or less comfortable is to play with the time line. Put a threat just round the corner and we’ll be on the edge of our seats. Move it away to the horizon and we’re pacified. It’s just landscape.
As elections approach, our political storytellers usually shorten their timelines to raise the stakes and destabilise us. Imminent destruction, or salvation, is one vote (our vote) away. Once elected they move the time horizon away again. It’s ‘a journey’ we’re told. Big problems take time. Real solutions are many years – and elections – away.
All parties have been playing this trick on us. But hats off to Teresa May and her team (formerly the Tory Party) for simultaneously lengthening and shortening the timeline this week. Her campaign is all about long term stability, remember. She’s looking beyond the chaos of Brexit to the sunny uplands of a newly great Britain 5, 10, 15 (who knows?) years hence. So we can relax. Or can we?
At the weekend we learned May’s long term vision (notice how it’s ‘her manifesto’ now) includes repossessing our houses when we die to pay our social care bills. Oops. Turns out the electorate didnt like the ‘die happily ever fable’ so with her popularity plummeting the PM screeched into the present tense (so-called because it is designed to make us tense). Monday’s tale put the existential threat ‘days away’. The Brexit negotiations are so soon there’s “no time for a new government to find its way”. Choose between me and Corbyn, she cried, gambling that death and penury may be scary, but the Bearded One is scarier. And chose NOW because “there’s no time to waste”.
One day, and a U-turn (sorry, clarification) later, and the problematic issue was pushed back into the misty middle distance . The Social Care measure isn’t stealth tax after all; it’s nothing but prudent long term planning. So we can all just settle down. And anyway, by the time we reach our own mortal deadlines, there’s a good chance we’ll be so doolally we won’t remember it was called the Dementia tax in the first place.
What’s your favourite Time Warp Tale of this Election so far? Tell us and you can win a free copy of my new paperback Story For Leaders