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Confidence Trick?

We’ve all been watching ‘Partygate’ unfold over the past six months or so and after months of speculation over whether Boris is the right man for the PM’s job, the leadership question came to a head on Monday night with a ‘confidence’ vote (which as we know, went in Johnson’s favour). The immediate lead up to this was short - the Prime Minister’s special advisors went into overdrive on Sunday when he was told that the threshold had been reached for the vote. If ever there was an example of a potentially looming ‘conflict’, this was it. If he failed to get enough (or nearly enough) votes, it would have been ‘Goodbye Boris Johnson. Hello …? (fill in the blank as you wish!)

Boris wrote a letter and sent it to each conservative MP asking for their support in the vote on Monday (see the letter here on @chrismasonbbc’s Twitter post).

The letter itself is a great example of how, when conflict is expected, we will seek to influence first. It’s low cost (in comparison to negotiation) and when used skilfully with Robert Cialdini’s seven spheres of influencing it can be very powerful. Here are some examples from the letter:


Demonstrating a belonging to or part of the same team. The word ‘we’ is used a whopping 40 times in the text of the two and half page letter.

Commitment & Consistency

‘It was because we took tough and responsible decisions during the pandemic that we were able to open our economy speedily’. In other words, you’ve already made some commitment with tough decisions; be consistent and continue with this type of work going forwards.


‘We are helping 8 million of the most vulnerable households with £1200 of support’. Reciprocity is about giving to get. Helping people, will generate goodwill (and hopefully in return, votes at the ballot box).


‘We have shown time and again that we can be trusted to deliver’.’ Authority offers a shortcut to a ‘good’ decision. If we can demonstrate knowledge, experience and performance, people are more inclined to take our word (or authority) for things.


‘We are finding the cash because we are compassionate Conservatives, and because it’s the right thing to do’. This demonstrates that we are ‘likeable’ by doing and saying the right things, which should encourage others to like us more.

Social Proof

‘Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever your background, we will give you the opportunity to make the most of your talents.’ If we can increase the reach of our popularity, we can create social proof where our influence can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


‘We can do it, but it will need all our collective resolve’. Scarcity refers to the limitation of a product, service or knowledge. In this instance, the suggestion is to treat each vote as scarce and avoid complacency – let’s ensure we can all carry on.

Whilst Boris only won the vote 211 to 148, perhaps these influencing tactics helped to tip the balance in his favour – although I’m sure that there will be differing views as to the extent to which some of the above influencing statements hold true for over 40% of Conservative MPs.

It’s also interesting to note that the letter was written on Conservative Campaign Headquarters stationary. If Boris had written it on 10 Downing Street paper (not sure if he was allowed) this might have given him a bit of added extra authority – just in case MPs had forgotten who the current resident is!

Whatever your view on how this will play out, one thing we can all be certain of is that the conflict has not gone away, and some might even say this is just the beginning. We watch on with interest…

Sam Macbeth, 7th June 2022

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