Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Politicians and their wily tactics

A while a go I wrote about political speak, and what politicians really mean when they use certain phrases. It’s also true that politicians have a range of tools at their disposal too that allows them to survive and thrive. Here are some of their favourites explained:

The Report – A vital part of any politician’s armoury. The report is designed to shift the blame, to remove the need for me to make a decision on my own. I can quote the report ad nauseum; praise the expertise of those who authored it. Ensure that it takes long enough to tell everybody what they already know that I can have a response ready. I can then say my hands are tied by the decision if people don’t like it, blame it on the report.

The Committee – Ah yes, the ultimate delaying tactic. Referring this to a committee is the crutch I can always depend on. It will get the matter off my desk, away from prying eyes. The beauty of it is that the committee will also come up with several different views and argue among its members, guaranteed to display to the public how difficult my job is. In the normal course of events I can rely on the committee to take forever to get to a point where it will present a range of options I always knew were there and then I can hopefully kick it down the road some more as I consider their findings.

The Expert Group – Well, the clue is in the name. How can anyone argue with me asking for the views of experts that I shall personally select? The perfect solution when I already know what I must do. but fear that I will be told I’m wrong. Once I can say the ‘experts’ agree I am in the clear, you can’t argue with me!

Consultations – Now this is a beauty. In a country like Ireland I could probably ring and meet all the people with genuine input and ideas in a matter of a week but that might leave me exposed. No, consultations should take anywhere from 6 months to a year and should double up as often as possible. I don’t have to worry about going to them, let them come to me. It is a wonderful opportunity to portray myself as a man who listens, who cares, who wants to hear your views, before doing what I always intended doing from the beginning anyway.

The Press Release – This is an interesting one. I mean if I was actually going to say anything of real note it would be picked up fairly quickly. Indeed I would probably call a press conference. Therefore, when I know that the media or the public probably couldn’t give a damn about what I am saying, but I desperately need some attention, I will issue a press release, in the hope that some paper will have a gap at the bottom of page 10 and use me as a filler and I can feel very pleased with the coverage.

The Protest – Anyone can arrange a protest. I don’t need to be elected to do it. However, if I am not winning enough support in the opinion polls, the protest is a great way of promoting the image that I have the support of the majority of the people and we are about to storm to power. Its also great to stand with the people, I don’t need to be elected to do it, but when I’m finding myself utterly ineffectual at being elected, it’s a great way of looking like I’m achieving something.
The handshake – Now this is a critical one. When things are not going well it is imperative that people see me shaking the hands of other leading figures. I must be seen as important, respected even if the other person is not altogether sure who I am. I can invite heads of state over to talk about nothing really except ‘strengthening links’ but it looks great. I shall stand up, shoulders broad, look statesman like, but welcoming, a colossus on a par with other great figures. When I have lost all respect at home it is a sure fire way of looking like I still matter.

The Soft Interview – A trick as old as time but it never loses its value. The public need to see me as human, a softer side. Time to arrange a nice folksy interview, where I can tell you all about the lovely chap I am. I can tell a few jokes, a few great stories about my personal life. I will dress down for it just like one of you ordinary people. In the end you will see that I am just like you, except more clever, more fun and I’m on telly.

The big speech – Now this is one to be used with caution. A big speech is not easy. I have to have the ability to carry it off, but if I do I am onto a winner. First I pick the subject, not too controversial, something everyone can agree on, I will either pick a target that everybody already has a problem with or else find a strong human rights issue where if anyone disagrees they look like the bad guy. Then I shall reach soaring heights of hyperbole, wooing the masses with my power and conviction. The trick is, however, that through all the fine words I don’t tie myself to an action. It is about what I would do if only I could (but of course I can’t). It is all about the ideal world but it has nothing to do with any immediate thing that I am going to do. In fact, it will probably relate to a subject I have no influence over whatsoever. Sorted.

The head to head – OK so you all continue to think I’m wrong. I do my best, I avoid the confrontation but it’s not getting through. Time for a nuclear option, a big head to head debate with a tough interviewer or an opponent. Time to show you all that I fear nobody, time to lay out the case. This is a risky strategy, but sometimes you are out of options. Now of course I don’t really intend getting into trouble so I have a strategy. First of all I will let you come at me, push me, rile me, let you look like the bully. Then I react, I’ll wait for one small point then drag you down on it, focus on it, keep the debated on it for as long as I can, wasting time blocking your hits, ‘NO no Wait, this is a very important point’. I will get offended, I will shrug you off, I will come up with a fast one liner but I sure as hell am not going to answer that question.

The TV address – Whether is an address to the nation or talking to the cameras from the plinth of Leinster house, the TV address is all important. You know I have something important to say when it’s late in the evening and I’m talking to the camera. Clearly night time, working all hours, caring, worried, perplexed. I’m taking the time to explain it to you so you better listen. I’ll tilt my head and furrow my brow, and you will know that this is a serious matter. You just can’t beat gravitas.

The newsletter – A much underrated piece of artillery. Vital in fact, this is where I can dump all the information from the press releases that nobody printed.

The non political event – I love this one. Where I do a run, climb a hill, kick a ball, go on a date, sing, dance, or skate all to show you that I am a great person and of course it’s nothing whatsoever to do with politics. Now just forget I’m a politician, cast it from your mind, that’s nothing to do with anything. Really, its not….My name will feature in the credits wont it? And there will be media coverage?

The leak – This must be used selectively, but when I need to apply pressure, fly a kite, test the waters or undermine somebody, the leak is a great way to do it. It works best so long as I can completely deny it and when I’m too afraid to say what I actually think. Of course, if what I say proves popular and people like it then I shall have to arrange another leak to let people know I was the original leak that said the thing they liked.

The meeting – Well now, there is nothing like a good meeting. Film them on their way in, film them on their way out and issue a press release after. A meeting can cover a multitude and is a great method of proving my dynamism and activism. Public meetings, private meetings, it doesn’t matter, they are all just great. It requires a special skill though, you must remember that it’s before and after the meeting that is important, the best meetings are the ones where the meeting itself is entirely irrelevant. It should not deliver action points and at all costs avoid those business types that want to set ‘goals’ or ‘tasks’ on the back of a meeting. No it should be loose, friendly, lots of chat and lots of ‘We must investigate’ ‘We will come back to you on that’ and ‘We must seek to apply pressure’ but god forbid it should ever have an outcome that would involve a decision. That’s a very bad meeting indeed.

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