(Photo: The Guardian)
By Alex Meredith – Contributor
Today’s global political age is far more complex than ever before. In such a short space of time, we have witnessed various challenges and unusualness in contemporary politics. These include increasing presidential style elections (even in non-presidential systems such as the UK), the political division of the UK as a result of Brexit (coupled with the rise of European Populism), the evidently increasing partisanship of both the Democratic and Republican parties in the US, and the issue of the media in politically influencing ordinary people through pre-set biases. In this day and age, as the traditional liberal order of contemporary democracies appears to be in crisis, our attention must be focused directly on key candidates, in terms of their background, experience level, ideology, locality, charisma, and incumbency, which will be the key focus throughout this article. As Boris Johnson acknowledged, during his first speech at Downing Street as PM, in July 2019, the ‘people are our bosses’, which implies high expectations that require an ideal candidate to be within the people’s interests. Therefore, in order to truly understand the increasing complex society that we are living within, it’s essential to acknowledge the ‘perfect’ candidate that can associate with the vast majority of citizens.
First of all, just like there is no such thing as a pitch perfect essay, there is no such thing as a pitch perfect candidate. Candidates inevitably gain and lose support from various social groups depending on their campaign pledges and strategies, as well as the party label and ideology. For example, taxing the wealthiest in the country may be well supported by the 95% of people who won’t be affected, but the remaining five percent would unlikely support the party/candidate as a result, meaning that it is virtually impossible for any single politician to win the support of every single individual in the UK, meaning that sacrifices are inevitable in order to win over groups of voters. Indeed, if this was the case, it would be likely that the winning party in General Elections would achieve more than fifty percent of the vote casted for them, something that has not been seen since 1931.
Here are the main factors that may contribute to the idea of a perfect candidate in the 2020’s:
Despite politics once focusing on a strong MP constituency link and the desire of the MP to truly understand and represent their constituents (i.e. being from the constituency that they intend to represent), the 2019 general election arguably showed this to have little meaning when determining the perfect candidate. This was shown through Labour Party candidates Faiza Shaheen and Ali Milani, who both ran Chingford and Uxbridge. Their intentions were to unseat prominent Conservative MP’s, including the Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Uxbridge. One of the key strategies they used throughout their campaign was that they both heavily emphasised the fact that they are local residents and spent their younger years living within these constituencies, in comparison to their opposition Tory candidates, and thus could relate to the issues that many residents are going through. It was revealed that unlike Milani, Johnson did not even have a registered address within the Uxbridge and South Ruislip Constituency and so could not vote there. A very strong MP-Constituency link indeed.
Despite this, Johnson increased his majority from 5,034 in 2017, to 7,210 in the recent election, completely wiping off the suggestions that Labour could take the seat and make it the first time in over a century that an incumbent Prime Minister was unseated. Although Shaheen managed to close the gap on Ian Duncan Smith’s majority, it was still not enough to win the seat, even with the Green Party even standing down their candidate to give Labour a clear run in that area, with the only other party being the Liberal Democrats. No deal was struck between Labour and Lib Dems during the election at all, despite some rumours that a deal could be done within Uxbridge in an attempt to unseat Johnson.
In addition, Johnson did not even turn up to local constituency hustings, most likely due to the fact that he was focusing on his campaign throughout the country, yet nonetheless was attacked by Milani. Despite this however, it is clear that this did not truly resonate with the vast number of constituents, in which Labour’s vote remained stagnant, and the Conservatives increasing their majority. Thus, we can imply that candidate locality and local debates are playing increasingly less of a role when determining the 2020’s perfect candidate.
Ask any British voter which politician is the most charismatic, and you will unlikely hear a different answer than Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson. Both trying to appear in relation to ordinary people who may agree with most of their beliefs, not least of course Brexit.
Nigel Farage has long been a charismatic politician, who served as an MEP for South East England from 1999 to 2020. His central aim has inevitably been to ensure Britain’s exit from the European Union, and as Max Weber suggested in his ‘Vocation of Politics’, someone who stands by and remains strong to his cause, will be seen as a charismatic individual. As a ‘Populist figure’, Farage is typically affirmed with being a ‘man of the people’. He is able to unite prominent Eurosceptics from both the left and the right wings of politics, seen drinking pints in various pubs, and having originated from a business background (as opposed to the privately educated, privileged nature of more mainstream politicians), is often seen as being ‘more in touch’ with the average individual. He is also able to rally a substantial number of supporters to various political rallies, most recently for the Brexit party in the run up to the May 2019 European Parliament elections, in which he led his party to victory. His thought and character is often admired by much of the electorate and he is able to successfully use his own initiative in such a way that works in his collective favour, even if it involves sacrificing his own personal aspirations. This was demonstrated at the 2019 general election, in which during the campaign, Farage announced that he would not stand any Brexit party candidates in the 317 seats that the Conservatives won at the 2017 election, in an effort to avoid splitting the vote with the Tories, and thus would give a greater path for the Lib Dems to gain more MP’s.
Despite the Brexit party failed to win a single seat, they were arguably effective in splitting the Labour vote in many Northern and Midland heartlands, contributing to the demolishment of the ‘red wall’, and therefore in the creation of the Conservative’s landslide majority of eighty seats. This has allowed them to successfully leave the EU on 31st January, and in the words of the Conservative manifesto, ‘Get Brexit done’. To this day, Farage remains strong on his beliefs and thus makes him someone who can make well informed decisions and put country before self-interests and party by strongly sticking to his cause. It is rare to find a greater example of a charismatic politician, especially within the UK.
As we are arguably shifting into an increasingly populist, anti-establishment era of politics, the idea that experience matters to a high extent when determining the perfect candidate in the 2020’s, is mostly flawed. Whilst it should not be dismissed entirely, it is important to note that recent political trends, in terms of the success of various candidates, have pointed to such experience not being a key factor in determining an ideal candidate.
In the US, for example, Donald Trump was the first ever US president to be elected without any political or military experience whatsoever, therefore a true ‘Washington outsider’ and thus was able to define his key populist pledges of ‘Making America great again’ and ‘bringing jobs back’, particularly in the Midwestern ‘Rustbelt’. His opponent in 2016, Hillary Clinton, in contrast, was a prominent ‘Washington insider’ candidate, having served as Secretary of State under Obama, a previous Democratic candidate in the 2008 primaries, and served as Senator for New York between 2001 and 2008. She was therefore seen as the more experienced and more politically insider candidate for the election. Yet Trump was able to win the presidency by seventy four more electoral college votes, despite three million more people voting for Clinton.
The 2020 election and experience will depend on who will emerge victorious from the Democratic primaries. Assuming it is Bernie Sanders, it will simply be a socialist version of Trump, with previous candidacy experience within the primaries in 2016. If it is someone like Joe Biden, it will almost replicate Clinton, as he served as Vice President under the Obama administration and is therefore be more of a ‘Washington insider’.
Although incumbency can be affiliated to the UK as well, for this factor, I will focus on the United States, as evidence shows that in the most recent presidential elections, incumbency has played a much greater factor in determining the perfect candidate going forwards.
The last time an incumbent president failed to win an election was 1992, when Bill Clinton defeated Republican incumbent George HW Bush. This defeat was mostly down to the economy, given that the US was in a budget deficit at the time of the election, as well as Bush breaking a key promise not to raise taxes beforehand. Therefore, the presidencies of Clinton, Bush, Obama, and (most likely, looking at the present US political situation) Trump, have all served their full two terms as presidency.
Incumbency does play a major role, as name recognition tends to be greater for incumbent Presidents compared with non-incumbents (i.e. people know who they are and they already have a strong base in terms of voters, campaign strategy, and finances). Whilst this does not exclude non-incumbent candidates from winning an election, it does put them at a structural disadvantage as they need to get to the same status as the incumbent candidate, especially if they are successful within office (e.g. US economy has grown under Trump). This, therefore, contributes towards the perfect candidate in 2020.
So, as demonstrated, there are many potential factors that could help to contribute to the perfect candidate in the 2020’s. Ultimately, all of the above points have a combination of truths and flaws within them when determining this ‘ideal candidate’. Thus, it is virtually impossible to pin one single factor down as the most determining outcome of the most successful, or indeed, questionable as to whether a candidate who possess all of these qualities can be perfect. The continuing challenge and shifts within our political and social