The heart weighs far more than the head

please-dont-goIn David Thorpe’s recent post his opening sentence asked: “Ever lost a lover and then spent hours replaying the whole of the time you had together back in your mind?”

This sentence resonated with me and little did I think on the announcement of the referendum result that I would end up doing exactly this.  Being a bit of a news addict I think my initial reaction to the referendum was to find the whole thing quite exciting.  During the campaign it was a standard joke in our house to come home and say ‘I’m an inner today’, followed by the next day of ‘I’m an outer today’.  I researched and thought about the likely economic impact of Brexit.  Researched and tried to distil fact from fiction on immigration and budget contributions.  Still I was undecided. Why, when all the hard evidence pointed to remain?

Then one day I caught a glimpse of the cover article of Der Spiegel with ‘Please Don’t Go’ blazoned across a Union Jack.  Bang! My mind was made up and fixed. The EU is really made of people who wanted us to stay, our neighbours, friends and colleagues.  Europe is in our DNA, literally, even Boris Johnson’s family tree is testament to that.  Yes, we have arguments and sometimes we don’t treat each other particularly well but we are still a family. What were we thinking about? It took that headline to give me that emotional connection to the remain side of the EU debate.

Then came the Donald Trump victory. This man’s campaign, based on slogans like ‘Lock her Up’ and ‘Make America Great Again’. How had this happened?  How had he beaten the competent, experienced and rational Hillary Clinton? Has the world gone mad?

Just as in David’s opening sentence, I think these events only make sense if you examine them in the light of our emotional and rational roles in decision making, and maybe there are lessons here for our liberal cause.  In that moment of my decision, I realised that my head and my heart had suddenly come to rest on the same side of the scales and it was a relief not to have the two fighting one another. The other thing I realised is that the heart weighs far more than the head. In our Brexit debate it was endless treasury projections (head), easily dismissed as ‘Project Fear’ and the ‘Take Back Control’ (heart). David Cameron’s campaign was completely inept in developing any emotional aspect of the Remain argument and the Leave side had captured the emotional ground without a fight.  Moreover, in this ‘post-truth’ world it would seem that the head is increasingly being subjected to the equivalent of a ‘denial of service’ cyber attack and people are falling back more and more on emotional responses to decision making.

I read LibDem Voice and find it intelligent and insightful. Liberal arguments are rational, deep and caring, but until we can distil our beliefs into powerful emotional hooks I fear that our well meaning voice will prove ineffective against more visceral emotional attachments.  It is not enough to fight on rational arguments alone anymore. We need to engage emotional intelligence and weaponry as well. Or are we just too polite?

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  • Richard Underhill 21st Nov '16 - 12:56pm

    My most telling experience was that while delivering leaflets for Remain in Paddock Wood I came to a fully glazed transparent front door behind which was a householder on the floor. She was conscious but unable to get up. There are fewer milkmen about these days. No post was visible. I did not know how long she had been there. She did not seem to have a mobile ‘phone or other electronic device.
    The next door neighbours had a key to the front door, but she was blocking the inward-opening door. All the windows were closed. They telephoned a relative of hers who lived nearby and had a key to the back door. Within half an hour NHS paramedics arrived and soon afterwards they were admitted.
    She was 98 and living alone.

  • Catherine Smart 21st Nov '16 - 1:34pm

    This echoes what I have been thinking for a while. During the Referendum campaign I suggested that Remain needed a song to a good catchy tune because the case was being made exclusively for the head. Gladstone and others of that age used songs rather than leaflets and it seemed to me that we needed to go back to that. But neither I nor the people I was talking to took it further so it stays as a thought on the breeze.

  • “… in this ‘post-truth’ world it would seem that the head is increasingly being subjected to the equivalent of a ‘denial of service’ cyber attack… ” – This is such a good line, Mary.

  • This is very true. I think that the UK has always felt detached from the EU emotionally in a way that the rest of Europe hasn’t. This is probably because a) we are an island b) English is our first language c) we weren’t in as desperate a position when we joined the EU as many other countries and d) we have some lingering colonial arrogance which makes some people think we don’t need the EU.

    The result of this is a serious lack of an emotional and identity-based attachment to the EU which would make us stick with them through thick and thin. Instead all that we had was economic scare stories, and as Mary says, it wasn’t enough.

  • ethicsgradient 21st Nov '16 - 1:48pm


    I think there is some truth in your arguments. There does have to be an emotional appeal combined with more throughout out policy positions.

    I would caution over your reading of why Clinton was rejected though. She lost because she was not trusted. The “make America great again” had appeal but Trump would not have won if there had been any credible democratic candidate. We did not/do not get down untrusted Clinton was over there. It was on the level of Nick Clegg after tuition fees (I really don’t mean to bring that up again).

    So both head and heart are needed in Tandem I think. People need to be given/ believe in a vision of something better. But the person needs to seem credible by having functional policy positions.

    with Trump people were given a vision “make america great again”, played on the opponents critical weakness (trust) and seems to credible on the economy (a mixture of being a successful businessman and offering something akin to FDR’s new deal with massive infrastructure spending)

    Compare with Corbyn… He offers an emotional vision (increases in wages, large spending, lets make life better), but policy is not credible (defense, magicking 1/2 trillion , not shoot terrorists, etc) . Result Labour on 29%

  • ethicsgradient 21st Nov '16 - 1:54pm

    it is definitely true that if remain had provided a vision of Europe (positive emotion) things might have been different.

    An example actually is do you remember the response in the Clegg/Farage debates before the European elections to the question ” how do you see the EU in 10 years?” .. Clegg responded “broadly the same”… the reaction of the audience was an almost hostile disappointment. A combination of “your not getting our concerns” and “you are not offering something a vision for me to believe in/hope for”… The emotional side to the narrative.

  • John Peters 21st Nov '16 - 2:09pm

    Another in the occasional series of why don’t people vote for our wonderful ideas.

    Because they are racists.
    Because they are stupid.
    Because they vote with their heart not their head.

    You can endlessly manufacture excuses for why people don’t vote for your wonderful ideas.

    Occam would suggest it’s because your ideas are not actually wonderful and are not actually worth voting for.

  • Paul Murray 21st Nov '16 - 2:09pm

    Bild’s appeal to the British voters on the eve of the referendum was brilliant.

    Bild promised a number of things that the Germans would do if we voted to stay. These included making sure that there were loungers by the pool for the Brits in Spanish hotels, that Germany would provide the villains for all future Bond movies and that they would agree that Hurst’s goal really crossed the line in the ’66 World Cup Final.

    If that had been sent out to every household in the country then Remain might have won.

  • Sincere apologies – this post wasn’t by me, as it originally appeared. All credit goes to Paul Carroll. I’m afraid I forgot to set the authorship correctly when I was editing.

  • Oops. Then the appreciation I expressed in this comment – – belong to you, Paul 🙂

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Nov '16 - 4:12pm

    I’ve doubted the emotional appeal of the European Union for a while. I don’t agree with François Fillon, but he ran a patriotic campaign and is right on his campaign site where he says “Europe must be a tool, not a religion”. It is the same for the United Kingdom.

    I know two people who look to be switching from Conservative supporters to Lib Dems. It’s not the emotional appeal of the European Union that has attracted them, but their very real worry about the legal rights for migrants in Britain being eroded. The party should focus its pro-EU arguments on things like that.

  • The ‘popular’ press, enthusiastically encouraged by many Tories, had been blaming the EU for every ill for years…Like ‘Labour crashed the economy’, such ‘truisms’ are deep seated and take more than a few month’s campaigning to alter, especially when facts and experts are ignored…

    Sadly, May is right “Brexit means Brexit”…What it WILL mean for the UK is quite another matter..

  • For me it is as much about trust. I just don’t trust the major bodies, members of said bodies or the major national or individual powers / advocates within and for the E.U. Ethics, I watched that debate between Clegg and Farage; when Clegg answered ‘ broadly nothing ‘ to the question what will change in the next 10 years etc. I just did not believe that he believed his own answer and then thought he’s either outright lying, in which case, why, or he’s deluded, not sure which would be worse. It may be that he is actually right and that broadly nothing will change with the E.U. In the next ten years, if so , to my mind that is not an attractive argument to remain.

  • I went into the voting booth and I just did not feel any attachment for the EU. I don’t buy into the idea that it’s post colonial arrogance. Other European countries had colonies and empires at various points. I thinks its mainly because we’re an Island and broke away from Europe hundreds years ago, plus the EU is informed by a stronger catholic influence, as well as a in a lot of cases experience of rule by dictatorships within living memory.
    The thing that does annoy me is the Anglophobic tendency that goes into discussions about the EU. We are not the only European country that feels little attachment to the idea of the EU. We do not have a uniquely awful recent history. Nor are we anymore hostile to immigrants than other countries and nor are we particularly arrogant. I think a lot of Brits are not that European in outlook really.

  • ethicsgradient 22nd Nov '16 - 3:14am


    Agreed and that was the point I was try to make with that example. it was not an appealing vision/attractive offer to remain that Clegg gave. No positive vision. in the context of this article no emotional appeal.

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