It is often acknowledged that there is safety in numbers. This can apply to all sorts of issues where we want to feel common cause in our likes, dislikes, allegiances and concerns. It’s nice to know there are people out there who think like I do.
For example, in areas involving ethics or morality, knowing that we are part of a general consensus regarding, say, the prohibition of capital punishment, it is reassuring to know that our country’s legislation wholly supports us. Equally, I am relieved to be joined by my friends in regarding UKIP’s policies as extremely repugnant. On a frivolous note, I would hope to not stand alone if I held out against beehive hairstyles, although maybe Amy Winehouse was the exception that proves the rule.
So far so good. But when does allying yourself to a campaign, which is in general perceived as a demonstration of commitment, simply become a question of jumping on to a bandwagon? Most of us receive countless requests through email and social media to like/support/tweet on a variety of causes and issues, and depending on how much coffee we’ve drunk/other campaigns we’ve liked/charities we’ve supported this month, we might click in or just click out.
The trouble is, as so many psychological experiments have demonstrated, in general people prefer to conform.
Bandwagons are useful things in the appropriate context. The term was apparently coined by Phineas Barnum, the American circus owner, to describe the wagon that transported his circus from place to place. It would be lavishly decorated as the troupe arrived in town, with the aim of attracting as many people as possible to the show.
In 1848, and also in the US, Dan Rice was a well-known clown and extremely popular amongst the general public; as his popularity grew he decided to run for the office of President. He started to use his bandwagon and music as a vehicle to attract attention to his campaign. It was so successful that other politicians strove to join and get a seat on his bandwagon, hoping for success by association. ‘Jump on the bandwagon’ became a well-used phrase.
Mark Twain said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Fast forward to the present day and Ukraine has, literally, a clown for a President.
Reflecting on politics back home, I can recall the somewhat unfortunate spectacle of John Major on his soapbox during his 1992 election campaign – not exactly a bandwagon and I don’t remember the soapbox looking particularly decorative, but he did win after all.
In the current battle to decide who will be the next leader of the Conservative Party, Rory Stewart tried a similar approach, albeit with a handheld camera rather than a soapbox. He didn’t do as well as John Major. Maybe the soapbox is the key to political success.
Now the Brexit party bandwagon is racing through the country, assuring us that a no-deal Brexit will lead us all to the land of milk and honey. People seem to be flinging themselves on to it with gay abandon, but the image of lemmings comes to mind here. An elderly acquaintance of mine is French by nationality and has lived in the UK for at least 40 years. Her neighbours hung a Brexit party flag outside their house and told her that ‘she isn’t wanted here’.
Is this what Messrs Farage and co. have in mind?