Most teenagers would admit to knowing very little about politics. They might know more about the latest online games but the two are not so far apart in today’s world of politics and gaming. Assassins Creed is all about a secret society that fights to protect free will from the power-hungry Templar Order. The overall goal of the game is to rise through the ranks of the Assassin Order by carrying out a series of assassinations given by the leader of the Order. Caesar is another game where players set up the kingdoms, keep the populous happy and grow the economy providing health and education services and good governance. Sound familiar?
The structure of these games is based on a hierarchy of leadership and there are ample opportunities to cooperate or conspire. As games appear to mirror real life so real life appears to mirror games.
Strategies are at work in politics on a daily basis. In the last two years one could argue that the Pandemic has been one, which has really highlighted the best and worse of politics. We have seen claims and counter claims that this nation or that leader is doing the right thing and others are wrong. We have seen a far more public display of strategy involving character assassination and smear campaigns than at any time in history thanks largely to the online phenomenon of instant opinion and reaction.
In politics character assassination can be a part of a political “smear campaign” that involves intentional, premeditated efforts to undermine an individual’s or group’s reputation and credibility. The purpose of such campaigns is to discourage or weaken the support base of the target.
In order to do this one has to discredit them, showing their arguments and decisions are weak and they are incapable in their work.
Perhaps the most famous case of this is playing out before our eyes now as Boris Johnson struggles for political survival. The motives and means for the assassination are not pretty and in civil society we have campaigns which encourage our children not to do this. It is a form of bullying ranging from emotional and psychological abuse in order to destroy the credibility and reputation of the victim, thus giving the perpetrator a position of power and control. What if those perpetrators are the opposition with something to gain. Does that make it legitimate? Don’t we all call some people bad names when we feel frustrated and later regret this?
Why does an individual attack another person’s character? First, for the sake of argument, we assume that the attacker’s actions are mostly rational and pursue a reasonable goal. In the case of Boris Johnson the prime motive appears to be the outrage over his alleged behaviour during the pandemic, which is seen as a one rule for him and another for the rest of us.
In other cases, a person’s motivation to attack reflects the attacker’s desire to harm the reputation of the victim. This reputation is judged in the court of public opinion. In other words, the attack should be public. The attack should diminish, shatter, or even destroy the victim’s chances to succeed in a political campaign, a business endeavour, or a career. Are there elements of this in the way that leading politicians are attacking the Prime Minister?
What are the typical conditions under which a person’s character is attacked? One potential victim is a person who is engaged in a political or other type of competition requiring people’s support or approval. Character assassination is the ultimate goal of the attacker because it eliminates a victim’s chances of success. One can use any of the following methods:
Discredit them, showing their arguments and decisions are weak and they are incapable in their work.
Use defamation, damaging the good reputation and name of others.
Demonise them, turning them into bad people that everyone hates, such that anything they do will be considered bad.
Dehumanise them, treating them as a ‘thing’ and framing them as non-human with negligible values.
UK Government, OGL 3 <http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3>, via Wikimedia Commons
Has there ever been a time in the last century where the lifestyle of a leader has come under more scrutiny? Historically we have seen many examples of the scrutiny and the character assassination. Almost all of the UK’s Prime Ministers at some time have messed up and seen their leadership come to an end. Scandals or loss of support have impacted on a number of politicians and prime ministers including Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ted Heath. The list is endless and includes leaders from around the globe. Scandals included Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Ronald Reagan and Iran Contra, Richard Nixon and Watergate to name but a few.
Labour’s James Callaghan was the last prime Minister to lose a vote of no confidence and was forced to call a General Election. As with online gaming no one really sees or knows what is going on in the background unless it is revealed, leaked or suddenly arrives by way of Game Over.
Strategy is most definitely at work from within the smaller kingdoms who strive for more power. The same is happening within UK and European politics. The European Empire is mighty but depends on the outlying kingdoms for success. If they diminish so does the empire. There are struggles within empires. The UK is made up of a union of nations, England, Scotland Ireland and Wales. They each have their own palaces of power and they are each hungry for power. How loyal they are to each other and to the union depends on what each can get from the head of the union. If they don’t like it or if they are inclined to seek a change, to disrupt, then they can do so. It is a risky strategy because if it fails then the likelihood of being showered with gifts lessens. That new road, those new homes, the new industries, the supplements for growing and producing food.
When Margaret Thatcher wanted to defeat Arthur Scargill she discredited him first. The attacks do not need to be true. An accusation is often enough especially when it is taken up by a wider audience and repeated in the public domain.
Politicians are experts in the art of attack. They are fully aware that if the accusation is made no matter how true or baseless and without factual evidence it is, that it can cause damage. It is the role of the media to provide some element of truth but the phrase ‘fake news’ has surfaced more and more during the last decade. The relationship between politicians and the media is a fragile one and one, which some might argue is open to abuse. The sheer volume of information online has become difficult to manage and to separate into propaganda and verified facts.
No one is doubting that when someone in the public eye and someone who is responsible for making laws and rules and then breaks them has it coming to them. No one is doubting that the public outcry and backlash when double standards and hypocrisy, cover ups and lies have exposed a person in the highest office that they should be outed and suffer the consequences.
In the case of the Prime Minister the focus on his wrong doings have been relentless. He can hardly move before another revelation, an accusation and a call for his resignation. Like the online games there are strategies at work. There will be people hedging their bets, supporters and haters from within and outside of the leader’s circle. Enter Dominic Cummings, the wicked wizard from the North. His book of spells and revelations have and will continue to reap havoc on Downing Street.
How much of this onslaught the Prime Minister can absorb and deflect is dependent on the army in the background. The party faithful, the MP’s within his own ranks. Again, strategy is at work. Bark too loud, push too hard, jump to soon and you are out. Circling the Prime Minister will be other forces. The media in particular. What they find, what they are fed and how they present that is also a critical element in the survival or downfall of the Prime Minister.
Champagne Charlie, BoJO the Playboy, One of the Lads, A Good Egg, A Bit of a Loveable Cad or conversely, The Villain and his team who allegedly partied as the Queen sat alone for the funeral of her husband. The contradictions could not be more acute but hold on to his leadership he does. Nothing to see, nothing to hide, let”s move on, lets give the people something to feel good about. It is an old trick but one that is still prominent in politics. Those who question motives and decisions are labelled as cynical, obsessed, in the way of progress, focussing on the trivial not the job in hand.
The Online game we are seeing being played out between Boris Johnson and the leaders of the home nations really could make a best seller. The red dragon of Wales breathing fire when the British Lion just wants to be left to sleep for a while. The Scottish thistle a thorn in the lion’s foot challenging the Union and the Irish clover not so lucky for Boris if they join in with the beating.
It would not take the average teenager long to realise that British and European politics really is a great game of strategy but with high costs. As with most games, the consequences are not as severe as those felt by real people in real life. Those who have loved and lost know and feel the real pain and real suffering all to well. Many may be of the view that it is ‘better the Devil you know’ and others will be suspicious of the motives for the witch hunt being entirely political. The findings of the enquiry into the behaviour of Boris Johnson will be the end of the game but whether it is game over for the Prime Minister remains to be seen.