Last week saw extreme conservatives do well in European elections. Parties such as the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) got the sort of success their leaders could only have dreamed of five years ago, resulting in much wailing and gnashing of teeth across the political spectrum.
As with so much in life, the experience of reading and writing fiction can bring something to the discussion about these results.
Stories and politics
The thing about politicians like Nigel Farage, UKIP’s ubiquitously grinning upper-class leader, is that they tell powerful, simple stories. They present a conflict – immigrants threatening our way of life. They present an antagonist – Europe. They present a hero – themselves. There’s a sense of challenge – things are getting worse! – and of hope – Farage to the rescue!
This story might bear little relationship to reality, but that’s not the point. As the ballot box testifies, it’s a story that people find moving.
Losing the plot
Mainstream politicians are losing ground in large part because they don’t understand this. They talk about GDP growth and reform, but they don’t present a story. In fact it would be harder for them to present a convincing story – after all, they’re far from underdogs in this fight. But if they could find ways to tell better stories – and they have the staff and resources to find a way – then they might do better.
As Hugo Chavez showed, you don’t have to be in opposition to tell a powerful political story.
The power of stories
Humans tell stories to make sense of the world. Part of the power of stories is that they can convince others to see the world the way that you do. And until other parties find ways to tell better stories, to lead and shape public perceptions instead of being led round by their opponents, they will never make back their lost ground.
Picture by FutUndBeidl via Flickr creative commons.