The Peppa Problem: Why Boris Johnson’s CBI Speech Bombed So Badly? | Boris Johnson
In recent speeches Boris Johnson has quoted Kermit the Frog and James Bond, and drew all kinds of football analogies. Yet none of them have been as widely criticized as the one he gave to business leaders earlier this week, when he threw up a long – and seemingly unscripted – riff on Peppa Pig.
According to political scientists, the fury is a sign that cracks are starting to appear in his freewheeling political style.
While they (mostly) admired the way he always got his point across, they said critics suggested people were starting to tire of the Crisis Mode booster that seemed appropriate for the early stages of the pandemic.
It’s not that Johnson’s CBI speech on Monday was particularly different from those he gave before. But this time around, he was widely criticized as “chamberlain”, “a mess” and “most embarrassing from a conservative prime minister”.
Experts who spoke to the Guardian said that rather than a change of style, the speech could represent a point where voters are no longer amused by his jokes, in a new chapter of his tenure as prime minister.
Michael Kenny, director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, said the CBI speech was a “car accident”. âAs the political context changes, the big question for him is whether this way of speaking should adapt.
“His boosterism – relentless optimism and inflationary rhetoric about what the government does – works best in a position of political strength, not when you’re under tremendous pressure and there are a lot of obvious problems people are starting to worry about.” to worry. The risk is that you look disconnected and almost avoiding.
Yet Johnson’s speeches were the cornerstone of his “unique” political style, which draws on comedy and the performing arts. This made him “the first real famous prime minister in British political history,” said Matthew Flinders, professor of politics at the University of Sheffield.
âHe’s absolutely fantastic in terms of performance and being able to work with a crowd. He uses speeches not to convey information, but as a tool for entertainment, to have fun and develop as a character.
This use of humor also allowed him to control the conversation through deflection, Flinders said. “His most famous tactic is to ask him a serious question, he’ll respond with a story that turns into a joke, and by the time you hear that you’ve forgotten the original question.”
Political scientists agreed that Johnson’s style was part of a larger trend toward a more informal way of doing politics that rejected the technocratic professionalism of the 1990s.
Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham, said the way Johnson’s speeches conveyed clear messages – such as ‘do Brexit’ – fit better with the ‘attention deficit culture’ today than the more complicated political arguments of the past.
Academics specializing in linguistic analysis said Johnson’s speeches showed a distinctive use of language. Helen Thaventhiran, lecturer in philosophy of language at Cambridge University, said he had used many of the “stylistic tricks” of populism, for example its use of everyday language, slogans, anecdotes and jokes.
âYou think you are getting something that makes you feel full or satisfied. Do you remember the “Picasso-style hair dryer” [as Johnson described Peppa Pigâs appearance], but you don’t really get anything nutritious, you don’t get policy or logical thinking.
Dai George, a UCL syntax researcher, said that exceptionally the sentences in Johnson’s transcribed speeches were “broken and scattered.” “This allows a more complex syntax to land with the punch of a tabloid sound clip.”
George added that while Johnson’s analogies were generally welcomed thanks to their “imaginary flair or cognitive spark of surprise”, the Peppa Pig story failed because it sounded like a “crude anecdote from a witness speech” .
Zahira Jaser, an assistant professor at the University of Sussex specializing in the psychology of leadership, suspected that the CBI speech would also not have succeeded due to the hearing.
While in his much-lauded Conservative Party conference address Johnson was able to take a more natural stance as a “heroic leader” through classic references and grandiose statements, at the CBI “the people before him will be convinced by the numbers, and he finds it much more difficult to reason in numbers than in words, âshe said.