A cool article examining the come-back of Anthony Weiner made me think, what exactly are the steps for getting back into politics after disgrace?
I’m talking about the sort of disgrace in which a politician is exposed doing something which is off beam with society’s professed values; something embarrassing or unethical. We’re not talking about disgrace associated with being found and convicted for illegal activity (although the following rules might work).
I need to state at the outset that the primary rule is not to do something worthy of public opprobrium in the first place. But that’s not realistic. Politicians make mistakes, and are driven by the same vices as most of us. Also, it’s sometimes hard to anticipate exactly what will cause ‘disgrace’. In the modern era of 24/7 shame-seeking pressure, it’s all too easy to be tripped up for something innocuous.
So here is the golden rule: never stand down in disgrace in the first place. Every example I can find of politicians who refused to stand down after embarrassment ends with them carrying on fine in politics, sometimes even blooming. I’ll discuss the art of facing down scandal in another blog.
Let’s assume a scandal forced you to resign from your position and/or from politics completely. If you want to get back in, here’s what you do next.
- Work out a bloody good excuse. You need colleagues and peers feeling you were hard done by. So apologise, grovel, contextualise and blame others. Don’t explain – just give a straight forward and quick explanation then get out of their faces.
- If you can afford it, take time off. At least six months and up to a year. No more. you don’t want people to forget you (infamy at least gives you name recognition). It will help if you have a new baby, new partner, sick Mum. The personal touch will get media or voter sympathy later.
- Go back to your colleague and get work in an advisory capacity. This is not ideal as it makes you beholden to them, and doesn’t provide any “real life” publicity credits. But it pays the bills, and thus keeps your life together. You need family stability to get back into public life.
- Find work with a charity or other sort of NGO – even if you have to do it for free. Make sure the organisation has links to your future political network. On your return to politics you will be able to point to repentance in which you served a sort of community service.
- Work out your political identity. What do you stand for now? Who will vote for you and why? Find your core again.
- Star in a photo feature. Give an interview and inside story about life since the resignation to a media outlet you know will be read by the political class you need to impress.
- Start going out. You need to be seen in all the right places of those political networks. Crash, plead or worm, your way into events (that NGO stuff will be handy now). Even if you’re only in the crowd, be there – partner alongside you where possible.
- Write letters and features. Start having opinions again. Begin building that political identity. Start a blog, write letters to smart papers, mags, journals and on-line, about topical issues. Perhaps even write about your experience of infamy. don’t revisit it – you lost, get over it. Just give the personal experience since that time.
- Find an enemy. Find someone who you sense the public is turning against. Become one of their fiercest critics. You’re now on the side of right and the public.
- Start rumours you’re being asked. ‘People’ are asking you to consider political options again aren’t they? Sure they are. Tell people you’re considering those options seriously, and now you’re back in the game.