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Speak no evil, lest you be thought evil yourself

A person stands in the middle of a crowd of on lookers pointing at a someone opposite him, loudly says something derogatory and cutting about them, while all his friends guffaw from behind him, slapping their legs in delight and joining in with the jeering. You could be forgiven for thinking that Prime Minister’s Question Time was actually a bunch of boys in a prep school playground. Insulting not only the opposition, but also their colleagues, by calling them “a mug”, “frustrated” (the implication being ‘sexually’), or telling them to “Calm down dear”  will no doubt soon be followed by such gems as “Yeah, well so’s yer mum” and “I know you are but what I am I”.


As I was listening to Ed Miliband on Radio 4’s Today show yesterday, it struck me how exhausting it must be to constantly have to battle with the opposition, as well as actually doing the job of, you know, governing the country, or whatever it is that opposition parties do, tending to constituencies and stuff. I wonder how much more governments would get done if they weren’t constantly nitpicking at their opponents, and having to fire fight problems arising from slips of the tongue, or throw away comments.


That’s not to mention the financial cost of all this fighting. The US election this November is estimated to cost upwards of $6 billion, and that is without the expense of a Democratic primary. $6 billion! I can’t even begin to conceive of how much money that is, let alone what that money could be better spent towards. I’m no statistician but I am guessing a few hospitals, doctors, nurses, ensuring that millions of poor and uninsured Americans receive medical support… Instead, around half of that money is spent on advertising. While in the UK we have to watch dull Party Political Broadcasts while we are waiting for Eastenders, the US are subjected to creative nefarious attack ads accusing the candidates of all kinds of conspiracies and evil deeds. These adverts cost hundreds of thousands to produce and air on prime time TV slots.


But while politicians of all nations and parties continue to trade snide insults via adverts, the Today Show, or on Twitter they would do well to consider the findings of psychologists in the US who in 1998 published a study which demonstrated that ‘communicators are perceived as possessing the very traits they describe in others’. They call this ‘spontaneous trait transference’. So when Cameron is calling Miliband “a mug”, Mitt Romney calls Obama “a failed president”, or Labour MP Simon Danczuk calling Cameron a liar over rises in train fares, they risk themselves being seen as possessing the very trait that they are accusing their opponent of.


So can they just accept that this hectoring and one-upmanship is pointless, distracting, and sometimes even derogatory to their own cause, and just get on with running the country? I’d call them a bunch of brainless and juvenile bags of hot air, but then you’d just think that I was actually describing myself…