Voices: Political leaders fall into two camps – ‘jocks’ and ‘nerds’. But Rishi Sunak is something else altogether

I could be wrong, but I reckon there’s exactly no overlap between the people who actively enjoy Twitter and the people who thrive on LinkedIn. There are plenty of sane people who wisely reject both, but on either side of what is probably the mainstream majority, you have two very distinct camps.

Of course, there are a lot of truly awful people on Twitter (including its owner) who behave in all manner of terrible ways, but if you like the rough and tumble of debate and you enjoy witnessing human behaviour pretty much unsanitised, then Twitter is for you.

Conversely, if you prefer people showing off their strategic plans, and presenting their ever-so-beautiful slide decks in a way that attracts pretty much uncritical adoration, then LinkedIn is probably the platform where you hang out.

It is my proposition that Rishi Sunak is our first ever LinkedIn prime minister. This isn’t a completely fresh idea, I admit. There is a fairly hackneyed political theory that countries’ political leaders alternate between “jocks” and “nerds”. You get the picture. Thatcher – jock. Major – nerd. Theresa May – nerd. Boris Johnson – jock.

Sunak is, of course, a nerd. But he’s worse than that – he’s the kind of nerd who seems actively to revel in presenting data on a PowerPoint slide – and would probably upload it to LinkedIn given half a chance.

Think back to the Covid lockdowns and all his press conferences in Downing Street. “Next slide please!” That was a politician in his element. That was a politician in command of his enormous data set. That was the environment that made Brand Sunak, because that was what we wanted from our leaders back then. A reassuring grasp of the detail.

But we’re no longer in the middle of a pandemic, thank God, and Sunak is a prime minister shorn of his slides and his graphs. And he’s beginning to look rather exposed as a result.

Just look at the new year’s speech he made last week. It wasn’t very good. And the reason? Management consultants don’t really do vision. (When they do, it’s reliably, appallingly insincere.)

And the problem, of course, is that voters are beginning to see this. When you speak to people in focus groups, the prime minister is still doing better than his party in terms of his polling (he could hardly be doing worse). He is still seen as a bit of a fresh start. But he is no longer the Rishi Sunak who delivered furlough and Covid interventions – indeed, he is often defined as the Rishi Sunak who is the husband of a multimillionaire.

In terms of his personality, he is seen as a bit odd. Voters see it in the way he talks and behaves. When he has to empathise with people, they don’t think he is at ease. It’s not that it makes him properly uncomfortable, but it does seem a little forced.

It is very hard to see how he moves away from this. Politicians like to reinvent themselves, but there are no reinventions possible – short of a divorce – that could suddenly make him a man of the people, and it is very hard to imagine a situation in which his speaking style becomes less “Deloitte strategy delivery”. And so this is what the Tories have to work with for the foreseeable.

The problem they have is that while Keir Starmer can also come across as a little wooden, he’s not a billionaire, and he does appear to like people. As a result, I suspect that the artificiality of LinkedIn would probably make the Labour leader’s skin crawl – and that, freed from the constraints of high office, he might rather enjoy a bit of a Twitter bunfight.

And if Boris Johnson and Thatcher taught us anything, it’s that the voters of this country, given a choice, deliver landslides for politicians that they perceive as saying it as they see it. Ideally without needing a confusing set of graphs to back them up.