Elections are about people as much as they are about policies. It’s truer now than it’s ever been, but let’s not kid ourselves: personalities matter, and they always have done. In 1964, the aloof, patrician Alec Douglas-Home was bested by “man of the people” Harold Wilson, despite Harold Wilson actually being nothing of the sort.
But this election is certainly taking that to new levels. We can hardly be surprised, what with the election debates and all that. Indeed, when I look back at this post I wrote when the news first broke than the debates would definitely be happening, I now feel quite chuffed:
But most of all, I am worried that unless the debates are truly focused on policies and vision for Britain, we are going to hear a lot more about whether David Cameron “looks like a Prime Minister”.
We’ve had enough of politics being trivialised and reduced to the lowest common denominator in this country. It’s been a bad couple of years, yes, but not so bad as to completely sell out our system to soap opera style bickering and televised chat shows.
OK, the debates themselves have not been like that. The rules have made the conduct orderly, and the leaders have done their level best to have a debate on policy.
But that’s not what gets reported afterwards. It has been all about how each leader reacted to the pressure. How they expressed their point of view. How confident they looked on camera. Whether, in fact, they even looked at the camera.
And as any good PR person will tell you, it’s not the event that matters, it’s how it’s reported.
The debates have turned the election into one long serial drama. The third act will take place tonight.
Inbetween, we have been kept entertained with morsels about “who won”. But rarely has the conversation entered into the realms of what they talked about for 90 minutes.
And then, to cap it all, we have yesterday’s Gordon Brown gaffe, which totally destroyed the agenda of all the parties – they were wanting to talk about the economy in the lead up to tonight’s debate.
We’ve basically had three weeks of personality politics so far. Substantive examination of policies has gone out the window.
Who benefits most from that?
Ironically, it probably has to be the Liberal Democrats. Often we hear about them not getting enough attention. But this time, they are getting it, and it’s all being focused on the two key players at the top of the party: Nick and Vince. But if all the focus was on the minutiae of Liberal Democrat policy, you can be sure that the Tories and Labour would be spinning that “they say one thing in Labour seats, but say the other in Tory seats = you can’t trust the Lib Dems” – in spite of it being wholly false, because it plays into the stereotypes about Lib Dems that the electorate is so keen to wallow in.
But it suits the politicians. After all, who wants to talk about what sacrifices have to be made? The electorate will only punish you for telling the truth anyway.