Do Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall’s looks affect their electoral prospects? Probably.

Liz Kendall, Bristol in August 2015, by Rwendland

Spectator columnist Charles Moore caused quite the kerfuffle a fortnight ago with his suggestion that the looks of Labour leadership candidates Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall might play some role in whether they could win an election.

His column bears full reading for context, but the section that irritated the Twitterati went like this:

“So what are the right looks? Possibly Ms Cooper has them — there is something quite appealing about her slightly French crop and black and white dresses, especially when she is being so boring that one looks rather than listens. But she is so contrived and cautious that there is no touch of appealing vulnerability. Ms Kendall looks like a nice person, but not in a distinctive way.”

In the latest issue of the Speccy Cooper continues the backlash against what she terms “the most hilarious old-buffer politics”:

“The most absurd and outrageous thing. I wasn’t sure whether he said that I might — I just might! — have the looks. It’s like: thanks Charles! I couldn’t quite work out if his argument was because he thought Tory backbenchers would fancy me like they had Margaret Thatcher. You know, that’s one demographic I’m really not appealing to.”

And at the time Kendall was equally unimpressed:

No doubt it was a mistake for Moore to single out the women candidates whilst leaving the appearance of Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham unremarked upon, aside from a sneer at the former’s “dull beard”. But the question of how much looks matter in winning elections was lost in the virtue signalling contest, and is rather interesting.

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of pop psychology will tell you that looks affect how fast your career will advance, in part because people assume that good-looking people are more talented generally because of a phenomenon known as the “halo effect”.

How this applies to politics is a little more complex. Taller men seem to do better in American presidential debates than shorter ones, for instance, whilst other research has argued we infer signs of competence from less than one second of studying a candidate’s face.

Perhaps the most worrying effect of a candidate’s appearance is that it seems to influence the less well informed more readily than the better informed. And those not reading political blogs when they should be working almost certainly outnumber those that are.

Many of the above studies tend to focus on men, who still dominate politics in both America and Britain. But women, whose appearance tends to attract more attention than the grey besuited men,  probably face different problems when it comes to looks and elections.

A study from Name It Change It, a campaigning group, argued that whenever the media comments on a woman’s appearance her poll ratings suffer. A study backed by several universities in America also concluded that women who appear less feminine can suffer electorally, but only in more conservative states.

Other researchers have criticised studies like those above, arguing they fail to control for other variables or that ultimately looks are outweighed by other factors in political decision making. But every pol who bothers to wash their hair before a television appearance must somewhat agree that looks matter.

Image Credit – Liz Kendall, Bristol in August 2015, by Rwendland

28 percent of Corbyn supporters think ‘world is controlled by secretive elite’

Illuminati Eye Re Black by Wendelin Jacober

Some 28 percent of those likely to vote for hard leftist Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election strongly agreed with the view that “the world is controlled by a secretive elite.”

Those backing the North Islington MP are more likely to describe themselves as “dreamers”, oppose being told what to do and welcome change than those opting for the other three candidates in the election, according to data from the pollster YouGov.

Labour leadership attitudes survey, August 2015, YouGov

Commenting on these specific findings, which were taken outside of the context of the Labour leadership election, Freddie Sayers, editor-in-chief of YouGov, said:

At first, the loose positivity of being a ‘dreamer’ seems to clash with the almost militant-sounding statements that the ‘world is controlled by a secretive elite’ and ‘I don’t like being told what to do.’ But in the context of a perceived political elite who have defined a permissible ‘centre-ground’ and who reject as extremist any ideas outside it, it makes perfect sense. It’s not necessarily about specific policies – they are intuitively more attracted to non-conformist alternatives and Jeremy Corbyn appeals to their broader world view.

Other findings from YouGov’s polling, most of which took place in the first week of August, confirmed that Corbyn’s backers were generally poorer, more leftwing and more likely to get their news through social media than supporters of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.

Policies Corbyn’s lot strongly backed included utility nationalisation (86 percent), greater redistribution of wealth (85 percent), and less private sector involvement in healthcare (84 percent).

Almost half disapproved of Royal Air Force (RAF) involvement bombing of Islamic State, two-fifths think university tuition should be entirely paid by the government, and almost two-thirds oppose the British royal family (the only sensible view – Ed).

Rather bemusingly, 18 percent of all the Labour voters polled by YouGov did not claim to be interested in politics, and 15 percent did not describe themselves as leftwing, with a small segment seeing themselves as rightwing or centre-right.

A full breakdown of the results can be seen here.

Image Credit – Illuminati Eye Re Black by Wendelin Jacober, cropped by the Right Dishonourable

Labour gender spat continues, Burnham acts as if maleness shouldn’t bar him from leadership

Andy Burnham, NHS Confederation 2014 by Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham squirmed when challenged on whether it would be great for the Labour party to have a women leader on BBC 5 Live on Tuesday, as the furore over his stubborn commitment to not being female continues.

Nicky Campbell, the moderator for the hustings in Stevenage, asked Burnham: “Wouldn’t it be great to have a woman-leader?” – a troubling issue for Burnham to deal with given his lack of a vagina.

Clearly flustered by the question, Burnham mumbled “in time…when the time is right” to squeals from his two female rivals in the leadership campaign, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.

“When the right candidate comes forward,” he finished lamely, no doubt aware the twitterati were already circling:

Just what Burnham was supposed to say to that question, which seems to suggest somebody would make a better leader because of their sex, is unclear. The stupidity of it was picked up by at least one Twitter user:

The near-gaff follows on from a spat in July provoked by Cooper, who complained that it would be “startlingly retro” if two men were elected to be leader and deputy leader for Labour. As if some crazy people are voting purely based on suitability for the job…

Hear the clip from BBC 5 Live below.

 

Image Credit – Andy Burnham, NHS Confederation 2014 by Andy Burnham

Labour Leadership Debate, BBC 5 Live – Commentary and Updates

Labour logo

Dull Burnham and Cooper face backlash in Newsnight Labour Debate

Andy Burnham, Health Hotel, Sept 2009, Labour Reception

If anyone was in any doubt where the four Labour leadership candidates landed on the political spectrum before BBC Newsnight’s Labour Debate, their ignorance will surely have vanished.

Early on Liz Kendall tried to brush off being the Blairite candidate, but wasn’t shy about cleaving to the right, with a message that was pro-business, keen on controlled immigration from outside of the EU, and supportive of deficit reduction.

Representing the left was Jeremy Corbyn, flaunting his anti-war stance, whilst defending immigration and those on benefits. He was the most passionate in his exchanges, the least careful in his answers, and the most entertaining. But even he acknowledged that he had borrowed votes from other MPs in order to make it onto the ballot paper.

Lastly, and firmly in the centre, were Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, former secretaries of state. Whilst it was they who received the greatest backing from the party’s MPs, neither of them made impassioned cases for the leadership. This point was even picked on by the audience, with a handful expressing their frustration at the pair’s failure to be win them over.

Still, of the pair Cooper was the most distinctive, noting she would be Labour’s first female leader and speaking about business – specifically tech. Burnham meanwhile failed to touch on business at all, preferring to focus on fairness, the NHS and benefits.

Yet if anything this was where we saw the shadow health secretary stumble. He seemed unable to get into his stride with answering questions, and his disconnect from the audience was palpable. Whilst Cooper too seemed overly trained – a trait which didn’t go down well with the studio audience – she at least had moments that felt less scripted.

As the above hints, the audience was the fifth star of the broadcast. Those who were vocal came across as much more leftwing than the electorate, but all sides were willing to confront contentious issues such as benefits scroungers, the deficit and immigration. At one point the fated line “I’m not racist, but…” was even spoken.

Judging by social media you’d have thought Jeremy Corbyn won by some margin, whilst Kendall’s message came across as if spoken in a foreign language. But if we learnt anything from the general election it’s that the Twittersphere is even less representative of the public than the polls.

Perhaps instead the most telling moment came towards the end of the show, Burnham said he would always put the party first. “The country comes first,” Kendall snapped back.

It is arguably this dispute that Labour has to move past if it is to again become electable.

Header Image – Andy Burnham, Health Hotel, Sept 2009, by Labour Reception