Sunday, 29 June 2014

Before we can win the minds of men, we must first win their hearts

Back in the 1980s politics was black and white and everyone was judged against the yardstick of "one of us". Life was much simpler for a young Conservative then.

With chilled Champagne and king prawns on skewers delivered by Lycra clad pretty young things appearing on rollerscates from clouds of dry ice (courtesy of David Hart of the Committee for a Free Britain) we cheered Nicaraguan Contra Freedom Fighters, Jonas Savimbi, Unita, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Solidarność. And we booed communists, Nelson Mandela, Irish terrorists and CND.  I do recall one heady fringe meeting when I turned to a sharp suited YC colleague (now an MP) and said, "isn't it odd how we cheer Lech Walesa for standing up for the workers in Poland, but we despise union leaders when they do the same in the UK?"  This produced an outburst of invective of such vehemence I realised, even then, that I might have touched a nerve. 

Leaving one fringe meeting with the sound "ten more years" ringing in my ears and proudly wearing a badge bearing insults to the ANC, I bumped into a respected, wise and moderate member of the Conservative party from Liverpool. His brand of conservatism was completely out of step with the 1980s, but his longevity and seniority was such that he was never dismissed. After a brief chat, he pointed at my badge and said, "when trying to understand what drives and motivates people to do what they do, try to remember that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."  I remember the stark and obvious truth of the statement striking into the heart of my developing psychology, though given my  comments a few days earlier about Lech Walesa, I suspect it was an open target. The phrase, of course, was not original; I think it was first used by Ramsey Clark.

Over the years I have been very careful when I have used the analogy, not because I am ashamed of it, but to avoid the obvious and simplistic reaction from those who take a more robust view of such matters, normally along the lines of, "oh, so you agree with the terrorists, then...."  Which is not only wrong and offensive, but completely misses the point. This blog is not about eschewing violence or terrorism; it's about the importance of understanding what drives and motivates those who hold strong beliefs as a prelude to bringing about change.

Radicalised young Muslims leaving the UK to fight for their beliefs are not the first, nor will it be the last example of such bravado. It's happened many times over the centuries and for many causes. Let's not forget that approximately 600 British citizens joined the International Brigades fighting for the Spanish Republic between 1935-1938 and upon their return were met by Clement Attlee and Stafford Cripps and given a heroes welcome. An enemy of my enemy is not always my friend!

History has taught us that you cannot legislate, bomb or torture beliefs into extinction. The power of the entire Soviet apparatus could not extinguish the hope of those imprisoned in the Gulags. The B-Specials, internment and political exclusion in Ulster did not convince a single Roman Catholic *Republican (see footnote) to rejoice at British rule. Millions of deaths and the most heinous war may have overthrown Hitler and his allies, but they did not destroy National Socialism or Fascism; those concepts are as alive now as they were in the 1930s. The changes we have achieved came about through education and enlightenment.

I am not a policy specialist, or a military historian or a someone blessed with a deep understanding of statecraft. I do however believe I have basic comprehension of the importance of winning control of the narrative as a stepping stone to winning the hearts (and votes) of others. And I believe the same principles apply to so much of what we wish to achieve in life. 

The first rule of winning any campaign is not to give people a reason to dislike you. Then you need to find a message which will encourage and motivate those who do support you to invest their time and faith is securing your advancement. It's a very obvious concept, but I never cease to be amazed at how many candidates and activists completely fail to comprehend its simplicity, then show surprise when the antagonised seek their revenge. 

We are fortunate that in our business, the revenge is only via pieces of paper deposited in a plastic ballot box. For others, the price is much higher.

I am grateful to a friend who phoned me about my reference in this blog to,

"The B-Specials, internment and political exclusion in Ulster did not convince a single Roman Catholic to rejoice at British rule."  

This statement is, of course, incorrect. There are a great many Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland and all across the UK who are proudly British and Unionist. I should, of course, have written

The B-Specials, internment and political exclusion in Ulster did not convince a single Republican to rejoice at British rule.

I am happy to acknowledge and correct the error, and trust any friends or readers who were offended will understand that I did not intentionally wish to cause offence.

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