What makes a good ‘Heckle’?

It had to happen.  It wasn’t a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’. The General Election campaign was barely 24 hours old before @benbutterworth accosted Gordon Brown en-route from ‘keeping in touch with the electorate’ and getting into his no-doubt bulletproof Jag, but what makes a good heckle?

Mr Butterworth’s beef was with the fact that he has been unable to get his eldest child into the state school of their choosing and as this footage shows, he didn’t shy away from giving the PM a piece of his mind. “Gordon! I thought you wanted to talk to the public” was the statement that could of easily doubled as a question and as the Prime-Minister made his hasty getaway the security bods made it quite clear that it’s the PM who gets close to the electorate rather than the other way around.  So now the dust has settled, what should we make of the Heckler and the Heckled?

The Heckler

Mr Butterworth’s tone was forceful, clear and passionate but importantly he didn’t ‘over-egg the pudding’.  Some hecklers get lost in the emotion of the moment and throw their tempers (and shoes) at their targets. Usually resulting in an arrest, this rarely benefits their cause, instead making a speedy exit look sensible rather than seedy.  Todays heckle was well delivered and it hit home hard.  Less successful political heckles included ‘over-egging’ John Prescott,  the protester didn’t really have that much to say and as it turns out, nor did the Deputy Prime-Minister.

Some hecklers also fall at the first hurdle which is ‘make sure your target hears what you’ve got to say’.  Other hecklers achieve much more with one incident in particular not only making the news headlines but was made ‘during’ the news headlines.  Who could ever forget the Lesbian invasion of the BBC News studios? (No-one thanks to this clip on youtube).

Hecklers may only be exercising their democratic right to free speech but they have more to lose than they think.  A poorly executed heckle can do more harm than good although Mr Butterworth’s example from today could easily go down in political history as ‘textbook’.

The Heckled

The second party caught up in the moment immediately starts at a disadvantage.  The element of surprise is a vital strategy, straight from the heckler’s handbook.  Like an assassination attempt, the heckle can go relatively unchallenged for a few seconds before anyone gets chance to react.  Mr Brown found himself caught in the classic dichotomy of what to do.  Should he try to rescue the situation with a smile and a handshake? (Unlikely at the best of times) or should he just get out of there as quickly as possible?

The Prime-Minister plumped for option two which sometimes can work well while other times can be quite damaging in itself.  When hecklers don’t appear too ‘rabid’ as in the case of Mr Butterworth, it can look quite ignorant when impassioned pleas for justice or answers fall on deaf ears.  In reality, Mr Brown probably didn’t have much option in the situation as security concerns can take precedence over PR however wherever possible, it can be helpful if the Heckled can muster some kind of response to what is put before them.

One of many?

As I mentioned earlier, we are barely twenty-four hours into this election campaign and it would be very surprising indeed if this heckle turned out to be an isolated incident.  With most heckles its probably healthy for us to remember that to see the real heckle and harangue pros at work, don’t need to look far beyond our illustrious politicians themselves.  They are all experts at it. In fact the irony of all of this is that you only need to watch them in Parliament to see how it really should be done.