April 2010 Archives
General election campaigns tend to have at least one memorable unscheduled clash between member of the public and a politician. Think Tony Blair and the woman outside a hospital in Birmingham or John Prescott's right fist and a voter in North Wales.
It's safe to say the 2010 general election unscheduled gaffe will belong to Gordon Brown after his 'bigoted woman' comment after meeting pensioner Gillian Duffy in Rochdale today.
Encounters between members of the public and party leaders have been few and far between this time around. This morning, Brown gave a speech at which one of his own candidates asked questions. Yes, really. So it's no wonder that people grab their chance when they can to ask questions when they see a politician walking down the street.
When David Cameron looks back on this week, what will he be thinking?
He's probably got more reason to be cheerful than a week ago. I'm not convinced by the poll for The Sun which said he won the leaders' debate, but he's certainly had a better week.
The few times I've seen him on the TV 'on the stump' he seems to be more approachable, talking to 'real' people rather than surrounding himself with a gaggle of Tory supporters.
A quick conversation with a shopper about people who claim benefits and turning the Mirror's stunt of sending a reporter dressed as a chicken after him at location into an opportunity to show he has a sense of humour are two examples which spring to mind.
To me, it suggests that the problem for Cameron isn't his instincts - he knows how to work the public - but the people devising the strategy behind him.
After appearing to come off the worst in the leaders' debate, David Cameron's response was always going to be interesting to watch.
Much of yesterday's activities can be discounted in that respect - the Tories certainly didn't just rustle up Gary Barlow to sing 'The Greatest Day of All' to Cameron after the ITV debate. Though, even if he had done best in the debate, surely his spin doctors must have known the prospect of Cameron clapping his hands and swaying along to a Take That song had the potential to become instant political send-up fodder on the internet.
His interviews would have been the same win, lose or draw in the debate - that he enjoyed them and thought they were now a fixture of British politics. And so it proved to be.
Today, however, is a different story. Cameron, says the BBC, has warned of the dangers of a hung parliament and said only a "decisive" Conservative government would "get the job done".
His argument is basically that if you vote Lib Dem, rather than Tory, you increase the odds of hung parliament, which will be bad for the country because it'll take longer to take decisions. That is a risk, of course, but by no means the guaranteed outcome.
9.9million viewers, three men on a stage, one audience in silence and a funny wiggly worm running across the bottom of the screen for online viewers.
There's no doubt the first of the leaders debates was impressive in terms of style, but the format itself meant that when it comes it substance, it was sadly lacking.
Eight questions over 90 minutes was never going to be enough to really challenge the leaders. Taking a question on health and then allowing the debate to evolve at the discretion of the three leaders takes control away from the very people who are supposed to be benefitting: the audience.
So what will you be doing on Thursday night? Revelling in the prospect of seeing the three main political leaders do battle or cursing that your regular evening viewing has been thrown out for the night?
While there's no doubting that the prospect of three televised leaders' debates is a massive step forward in terms of scrutinising what the main parties stand for, the success of the shows as a cure of the poor reputation of politics lies squarely with the three men involved.
Time and time again during the first week of election campaigning, vox pops on TV and radio have included people saying something like "I just wish they'd be honest and tell us about the pain they're planning" or "They just won't give us a straight answer."
I'm always amazed by people who do stupid things on Twitter. Why would anyone say anything on Twitter which they wouldn't want people to know they were saying?
Over the last 18 months, I've seen public relation executives slag off clients on Twitter, I've heard of cases of people bullying colleagues on Twitter and read about celebrities flirting with people other than their wives on Twitter - all in the arrogant belief that they can talk freely on the internet because those they are talking about won't find out.
Twitter isn't rocket science. It's a powerful tool and one which should be embraced. But just as one simple sentence in the wrong meeting or public event can be devastating, so can the wrong 140 characters typed on your phone on to Twitter.
At the risk of sounding as though political blogger Iain Dale is some sort of Mystic Meg, he did predict recently that someone would commit a big political howler on Twitter.
IT'S not very often I find myself agreeing with Boris Johnson, but thinking about it that's because I don't very often hear him speak about policy. I don't live in London so I don't need to pay too much attention to what he's saying in his role as mayor of London.
But his visit yesterday, with 'future prime minister' David Cameron (Bojo's words, not mine) demonstrated brilliantly the secret of his success so far.
There's no doubt Boris is an incredibly intelligent man, and perhaps the fact he is so bumbling is what makes him seem less threatening and, in some ways, a less sinister Tory than the other leading lights in the party. You get the impression that, with him, he says what he believes and, quite frankly, if you don't like it you can go elsewhere.
With many other senior Tories - Cameron, George Osborne, Chris Grayling, William Hague and so on - I hear them speak and can almost imagine a curtain behind them beyond which someone is trying desperately to keep the old Tories locked in a basement.
Time and time again this week, voters have appeared in vox pops through the media complaining that no one party is telling them the whole story, that no one party is doing anything other than telling voters what they want to hear.
The prospect of the Lib Dems holding the balance of power - once again demonstrated by the latest opinion poll for the Times appears to have brought out the worst in Labour and the Tories.
Several times over the past few days, senior Tories and Labour politicians, when locked in a debate with the Lib Dems, have pulled out what they think to be the trump card.
It goes a bit like this: "Well, that's easy for you to say because you'll never be in office."
It's like waving a white flag of surrender in a debate. You can't argue against the point, so you argue against the person.
Peter Mandelson, Kenneth Clarke and the loathsome Eric Pickles - more on him in a later post - have all done it in recent days.
One of the most uncomfortable aspects of modern politics has been the rise of the BNP, the far right party which has a leader who has done a very good job of wrapping up their racist policies in a cloak of respectability and nationalism.
Anyone who has seen the BNP in action knows that it's a very thin mask which conceals the nasty heart of the party from the public at large. While Nick Griffin might be able to stomp around pretending to be an honest politician, the party has yet to master the art of making sure all the members toe the same line as well.
Hence it's not unusual to hear low-ranking BNP members being very racists or talking up myths about immigration and general picking up on the politics of hate - finding a ethnic scape goat and blaming it for everything which has gone wrong in society.
With all the talk about televised debates and the impact of social media on the general election, there was something strangely reassuring to see that the Lib Dems have a battle bus.
Whether we see such emphasis on three battle buses charging around the country as in previous elections remains to be seen - I half expect Gordon Brown or David Cameron to announce they'll tootle round in a Toyota Prius to try and capture the green vote.
But it's who is on the bus, rather than inside the bus, which tells us most about the way the election campaign is expected to go.