Thursday 5 July 2018

Wisdom, impact, or just luck?

Amongst the many comments made following the downfall of the Tories’ Assembly leader, several mentioned that whilst he may have fallen out with many in his party (including the then Prime Minister, David Cameron) over his support for Brexit, as things turned out it was Davies who correctly read the mood of the electorate and ended up on the winning side.  It’s one of those superficial pieces of analysis which sounds like the truth, but which raises more questions than it answers – and specifically a particular chicken-and-egg question.
It’s undeniably true that the electorate supported the position taken by Davies, but was he (and all the other leavers) following the public mood in Wales, or helping to create it?  The margin wasn’t that large, and it’s entirely valid to ask whether that margin was the result of the campaigns waged or not.  The suggestion that those who ‘campaigned’ on the winning side chose the right side based on the outcome, whilst those who ‘campaigned’ on the losing side chose the wrong one contains an implicit assumption that ‘campaigning’ has more to do with correctly guessing which side is going to win than with changing anyone’s opinion.
Perhaps it’s true that no-one actually changed their opinion at all as a result of Davies’ decision to back leave (and a true cynic might even argue that it’s possible that his decision to back leave might have driven some people to support remaining); but if that’s true for one ‘campaigner’ why would it not be equally true for all the others – on both sides?  It strikes me that an approach to ‘campaigning’ which is all about correctly guessing which side is going to win isn’t really campaigning at all.  Nor is it about leadership, unless we’re talking about leadership in the Ledru-Rollin sense of the word (“There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader” - although like many of the best quotes, its attribution is far from certain).
Arguing that someone who happened to join the side which eventually won a debate is somehow blessed with particular wisdom or insight is surely debasing the whole idea of leadership and campaigning.

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