A call to arms. Photo: Getty
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David Cameron vs Ed Miliband: what the body language tells us

Analysing the body politic.

Is it possible for the voting public to learn something about their leaders just from watching the body language they display when they speak in public? Given the number of obviously rehearsed gestures made by both David Cameron and Ed Miliband as they made their respective party conference speeches, they must both be banking on it.

Batoning gestures are natural vertical hand gestures performed in time with verbal stresses and both Cameron and Miliband gave us plenty of these. Their hands could regularly be seen shaped in carefully studied positions. Sometimes both Cameron and Miliband held their hands in a fist with the thumb over the top and other times they placed their thumb and fingers in a purse position. Both of these hand positions are taught to politicians for a very good reason. They are trained to adopt these gestures in order to avoid more weapon-like positions, such as pointing index fingers that jab and stab the air. Gone are the days of Gordon Brown nervously rearranging his paperwork during speeches; all major politicians are now trained to be televisual from head to toe.

Cameron and Miliband were well-prepared, displaying their parties' planned poses as they spoke. Cameron and the Conservatives chose a commanding style of leadership, while Miliband and Labour aimed to present a more open style of leadership.

Miliband was notably speaking without a podium with part of the audience behind him – although he did not turn to address them. This was a bold choice as it left him in a very exposed position. Instead of creating distance between himself and the people he was addressing, he was surrounded. He had to move around much more than Cameron, who stuck to traditional positioning behind a lectern, facing his audience.

Miliband’s openness also appeared in his hand positions. In many cases when his hand was open, his fingers were spread out, while Cameron’s finger positions were often more natural and less spread. For example, when batoning in a cat’s cradle position, Miliband’s fingers are spread abnormally far apart. Miliband naturally looks open because of his big open eyes and large mouth, which the media recently compared to the gormless look of Wallace from Aardman Animation’s Wallace and Gromit series.



The super splay. Photo: Getty


A podium adds power and distance to a speaker, and Cameron’s traditional pose behind a podium was more closed, especially when he was deliberately looking angry. Cameron’s deep set eyes, small mouth and thin lips have a natural predisposition toward appearing petulant, and Cameron’s speaking style leans heavily upon this anger to put across an air of determination and steadfastness.



Petulant pointer. Photo: Getty


When belittling the Labour party for the NHS Stafford Hospital scandal, he projected this stern, parental anger to warn Labour: “Don’t you dare lecture anyone about the NHS again”. This and other angry moments in his speech were typically accompanied by a dagger-like forefinger gesture that suggests an aggressive attitude.

At one point, Cameron even joked about a photo of him topless on the beach in Cornwall, and said: “People will ask have we got what it takes [to build a land of opportunity] … I’ve got the stomach for the fight.” It seems paradoxical to say that one may be clear in being indirect, but the body language that accompanied this joke and other comments was perfectly transparent. The Prime Minister showed meticulously stage-managed domination. His success in projecting this image was proved the moment he ordered the audience to give a standing ovation to Britain’s soldiers. Without hesitation, the crowd was on its feet as if Birmingham had suddenly become the final scene of an American feel-good movie.


What they didn’t want you to see

But alongside these sculpted poses, both party leaders leaked some information about themselves that they probably hoped you wouldn’t notice.


Miliband usually kept his hands close to his vertical mid-line, avoiding extremes of left and right. And on several occasions his hands came protectively together in front of his abdomen. This suggests some anxiety, although it is hard to tell if this related to his struggles as a leader or just the a result of the strange set-up in which he found himself, flanked on all sides by onlookers in a talk-show style gathering with no podium to protect him.



Confident but nervous. Photo: Getty


His hands often assumed another central position, steepling in front of his abdomen, which is a sign of technical confidence. This position is often seen in engineers and experts, and is even reminiscent of Miliband’s brother David. In some ways, though, Miliband’s tendency to position his hands centrally is a defensive mechanism. They are the hands of a geek in the playground, worried that a bully is about to kick a football at him.



Cameron’s unique lip purse. Photo: Getty


Cameron’s most revealing gesture is found in his face. His thin lips regularly purse inward at certain times in a particularly idiosyncratic way. Thinning lips are typically a sign of anger but the inward movement of Cameron’s lips, as if he was about to bite his lip, is actually a sign of anxiety. Before becoming Conservative leader, he used to blush uncontrollably in front of a crowd but has managed to control that sign of anxiety. His lip movements reveal that his anxiety still hasn’t been completely vanquished though.

These two leaders are different in so many ways and their body language tells us what kind of prime minister they are, or would be. Many of their actions and positions on stage are well-rehearsed but others are impulsive. All confirm that Miliband is open while Cameron is commanding. Their bodies give away tell-tale signs of nerves while public speaking, but neither gave off signs that they are unfit for the job of leader. Cameron is evidently an aggressive presence in Downing Street, but if Miliband were to be elected, we could expect him to exert more technocratic control.

The ConversationHarry Witchel is Discipline Leader in Physiology at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue