A story in The Sun reveals that “top Tories” – an intern at CCHQ with a penchant for pop psychology – fear the royal baby will lead to a Labour victory.
Kate Middleton’s next child is due any day now. The odds are that it will be a girl called Alice, but this apparently hasn’t stopped some government bods fearing the worst: that the baby will be a boy named Edward, thus giving Ed Miliband a boost in the election.
In a suspicious feat of tabloidese, a source tells the paper:
“Hopefully Kate and William will realise the effect it could have. The last thing we need is Kate’s bump giving Ed a bump.”
From confessor to sickly child to abdicator, Edward is a name that runs through the British monarchy’s history, so there’s a reasonable chance that should the baby be a prince, it could be called Edward. It’s more likely than David, anyway. Or Nige.
So is a Miliband win on the cards if this happens? This mole sniffed around the brains of some psychologists to find out.
Dr James Moir, senior lecturer at the sociology division of Abertay University, despairs but accepts that the name’s popularity might rub off on Miliband:
If the reports about naming of the royal baby Edward and the Conservative party reaction to this is true, then we seem to have truly entered into a Baudrillardian world of hyper-reality in which symbolisation is all and where reality has slipped altogether from view.
It is not the case that the Conservative politicians may be wrong in their assessment, but rather that they realise that the public reaction is exactly likely to be as they say: that there will be a wave of popularity associated with the name that may well rub off on Ed Miliband.
Steve Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews – who has looked into psychological processes in election campaigns (including the element of risk-taking in the Scottish referendum) – is more sceptical:
Our work on leadership, notably political leadership, stresses how an effective leader depends upon construing a relation with the social group he or she intends to lead. This has various dimensions such as being seen as part of the in-group (“one of us”), being seen as acting for the group (“working for us”), and being seen as effective in delivering what the group values (“achieving for us”).
Miliband, compared to Cameron, consistently polls in ways that show he is more concerned for ordinary people (the second dimension), but less able (the third dimension). Therefore anything that constituted him as more able, having more gravitas, would improve his overall appeal.
Now, whether having the same name as a royal confers – at least symbolically – such gravitas, or indeed mitigates against attempts to portray him as alien and not one of us, I very much doubt. If it did have any effect, it would depend upon an active and subtle use of symbolic politics.
At the very most, it would constitute what the very successful British Cycling team under Dave Brailsford put under the category of ‘the accumulation of small differences’. But these only matter if your bike is good and your legs are good.
So things don’t look royally bad for the Tories then, unless Miliband decides to actively use his nominal link to the royals.
But Professor Adam Alter of NYU, an expert in marketing and psychology, and author of a New Yorker piece “The Power of Names”, thinks it is likely Labour would benefit from the birth of a Prince Edward:
People form impressions of names based on at least three criteria: how easily they can pronounce the name (they prefer ease to difficulty); how the name sounds (some sounds are pleasing while others are rougher to the ear); and what the name reminds them of.
In this case, it’s possible that the third factor will play a role in shaping how people perceive Ed Miliband, even if those impressions are subtle and beneath the level of conscious awareness. If the prince is named Edward, and assuming he and his parents are popular, Ed Miliband may enjoy a small bounce in sentiment.
Hmm. A “small bounce” or “small differences” don’t scream electoral success. But considering the polls are pretty much neck-and-neck, Kate and Wills could be more of a political force than the constitution gives them credit for…