But Professor Lakoff, whose The Political Mind challenges our core understanding of politics, is not just a foul weather friend. His arguments based on cognitive science and linguistics are of broader interest. But in the wrong hands these ideas can induce inertia: an attitude that all Labour has to do is project its case more forcibly and repetitiously and it will be in power. The problem is that it won't be as simple as that.
For Lakoff, conservatives in the US did not just win a political battle. They won a psychological battle with the prize being the American brain. Through reinforcement, repetition and the manipulation of trauma, eg 9/11, they skewed neural bondings towards a conservative outlook and ideology: authority, discipline, moral order, individual responsibility, and competition. Conservatives won the brain - at an emotive and subconscious level - and so they won America.
There is something that is reflexive and direct about conservative politics. The politics of the left tends to be reflective and systemic. The left appreciates that we live in complex social, economic and environmental systems and our well-being is dependent on understanding that. Crime, welfare dependency, national debt, terrorism, despotism, educational failure and the cost of fuel can be articulated within the reflexive, authoritarian conservative frame. But they can also fit in an empathetic, compassionate, and systemic leftist frame. This is not the contest of the rational versus the emotional. It is a contest of two different emotional rationalities. Which one outs is dependent on which one can win the battle of the mind.
If the socially responsible, nurturing, hopeful, empathetic, reflective, co-operative and compassionate aspects to our mind - that are just as intrinsic to our humanity as competition, authority, and individualism - are reinforced then the left wins. If fear takes hold then the right wins - either by shifting the left rightwards or by handing political office to the right. And make no mistake, the Liberal Conservative coalition has brilliantly deployed fear to win the argument when it comes to the economy: the fear of debt, bankruptcy, international humiliation, loss of control and independence and leaving the nation defenceless from marauding hordes of sovereign debt financiers or a `foreign power' like the IMF.
So what should Labour do to reignite our empathetic instinct?
Most immediately, it needs to be listened to again. That means a bit more honesty about where the party went wrong both in the context of the nodding dog leadership debate and the party more widely. It wasn't just incumbency taking its toll or the unpopularity of the leader. It was also the fact that Labour was seen to have spent too much, too wastefully and had become a meddling, interfering government and a not particularly successful one at that. Acknowledging shortcomings is the first step to being heard. After all, the next leader is likely to have come from within the Brown cabinet so absolution will not come from a change of leader alone.
Labour needs to develop a way of talking about politics that is metaphorical, empathetic and tangible. The Tories play on simple themes such as the household budget as metaphor for the national budget. Well, most people would take out a loan for a car that enabled them to get to their job and enjoy their leisure time more or a mortgage to buy a home. That's an investment and governments must invest also for a return. The left must do metaphor better.
It must resist conservative framings in the media and politics: deliberately divisive language that aims to break bonds of trust and empathy between people and creates negative imagery around certain groups in order to fire conservative friendly neurons.
Labour should not be afraid of articulating the importance of responsibility - for us all. Where it critiques the coalition, it must be on the basis of impact on people not policy detail. Professor Lakoff is clear that policy follows framing not vice versa. This will be easy to do on the forthcoming cuts but harder to do on public sector reform (which should signal the need for more caution in approach.) Again, Labour will only be listened to if its solutions are credible. It must articulate why the services and investments are important for all of us as individuals, for our communities and the nation. It must be clear how it would cut expenditure - or increase taxes - over what time and by what amount to make the bigger arguments. This is part of being heard again.
Labour must not look gift horses the mouth. Where the coalition is playing to an empathetic framing as it has on criminal justice and the Big Society - in thematics at any rate - don't blindly oppose. Civic involvement is good for nurturing an empathetic mindset so encourage the Big Society and pledge to expand it and improve it. The easy option is to mock it. But what could be more compatible with an empathetic mindset than people becoming active in their local communities? Don't forget, we are talking fundamental ways of thinking here: weaken the empathy then leave space for a conservative ideology to tighten its grip and that will have an impact across the whole of range of issues.
Finally, never waste a good crisis. Labour's opponents do not. So when the unnecessary severity of the cuts is realised, that will induce trauma and Labour must respond with clarity, credibility and haste. This must be reinforced over and over again.
Instinctive moral outlooks on the world drive politics. If we understand that then we understand how people - including ourselves - relate to politics. Linguistics and cognitive science are to our politics what political philosophy and economy was to the politics of the nineteenth and twentieth century. It's not about Orwellian mind control. It's about understanding our basic humanity. It offers hope of creating a better society, a better world. It also tempts us to believe our own propaganda. Which is it to be?