Body language expert, Judi James, speaking exclusively to Paddy Power Games, said, “When you bring an experienced ex-PM back into your cabinet you need to be confident that your own leadership charisma is profound enough for you to command the room and to dominate with your presence.
“You also need to be aware of all the many body language tricks and techniques that political leaders do to make them look like the one in control when the cameras are recording every moment. Cameron’s height gives him a natural visual advantage as research suggests people tend to expect a world leader to be tall, but as Macron and Margaret Thatcher knew, positioning and gesticulation can always compensate for a lack of physical stature.
“Rishi’s natural leadership presence is not strong. His body language is high on amiability and deference but low on status and authority signals. By bringing in Cameron he brought back a man high in both and it shows. So far Rishi and his comms team have made some grave schoolboy errors that have allowed Cameron to look as though he is returning in a leadership role rather than someone there to help shore up and support.”
The six ways Rishi is allowing himself to be eclipsed by Cameron’s visual leadership skills
“Rishi’s first cabinet meeting with Cameron made it look as though the ex-PM had just eased himself back into the saddle. He was given a seat directly opposite Rishi, forming a mirror-image effect that seemed to offer a choice of leaders to the viewer. The seat directly opposite also implies challenge and conflict. It looked as though the two men were on opposing teams.”
“Cameron used his body language to flex his power muscles by one very simple technique. While the others, including Rishi sat back in their seats in a more passive mode, Cameron leaned forward with his forearms on the table, standing out from the group and looking as though he was running the briefing.”
“Rishi’s style was subdued at this meeting and he seemed to rush through his points rather than giving a motivational speech to his ministers. He might have implied instant control by introducing Cameron to his colleagues but instead he made a small joke and pushed on.”
“Height doesn’t necessarily matter but Rishi and his comms team should have avoided this visual scene as Cameron, Rishi and Cleverly all walked together to meet the South Korean leader. Placing Rishi in the middle between two exceptionally tall men was a massive error. Rishi should have been at the end closest to the cameras because Cameron and Cleverly would have been seen looking together at him as he spoke, instead we have Rishi looking up between both men to listen to them.”
“Cleverly has adopted an almost military-style marching walk here to make himself look like a heavyweight presence. Cameron also has a long stride, which would have left Rishi rushing to catch up.”
“The ‘zinger’ in body language terms here though is the old trick of leadership gesticulation that Cameron in employing. When political leaders walk together each will vie to be the one using emphatic hand gestures to the other as they talk. It’s a very clever but common trick of implied leadership: the cameras will show one man or woman looking emphatic and dominant as they appear to be making a point or explaining something to the others, who will look passive and lower in rank as they are forced into a more compliant listening mode, as Rishi is doing here in response to Cameron’s ceaseless use of very active, chest-height hand gestures.”
“Cameron topped this off by being the first to jump up the stairs, which makes him look, again, like the leader, and he is then first in with the handshakes and greeting rituals, more like a leader and host than a supporter and follower of the actual PM.”
Talking specifically about Wednesday’s PMQs, Judi added, “Without Cameron’s calm and naturally authoritative presence to steal his thunder, Rishi retained his usual air of dispatch box confidence and swift delivery at PMQ’s. He is possibly at his best during these sessions, where he shucks off his body language signals of polite deference and allows himself to be combative and smug, with some staccato but rhythmical movements of his body and hands suggesting he is more than able to take the lead in his battles with Starmer.
“Here he actually does borrow some body language techniques that Cameron perfected during his own time at the dispatch box. He performs a confident body splay ritual before leaning on one elbow to suggest a sense of relaxed enjoyment at the ‘fight’.
“He also uses a double-flurry of hand gestures to suggest precise thinking and active authority. His right hand frequently performs the precision pinch to signal he is on top of his brief and his details, while his left hand employs a flailing arm with a stabbing, pointing index finger to look directional.
“For Rishi these are very active gestures and movements, and they are used more dramatically and emphatically than Cameron’s signature ‘smooth’ techniques. This implies Rishi is still feeling the fight when it comes to gaining and implying power and control, while Cameron’s subtler rituals used less effort, suggesting he found the role of leader an easier one to project and imply.”