Monday, April 19, 2010

Living in Cleggoland

I suppose I should have had something to write by now about the first TV debate last week and the astounding bounce that the Lib Dems have had from it over the weekend. In fact, baffled by the strength of public opinion (not for the first time - it's like Princess Di all over again), I've been lacking inspiration about what to say.

To take the lead in one opinion poll might be regarded as a freak, but to do it in three polls starts to look like a trend. We are a long way from living in Cleggoland - the Lib Dems will need to poll almost 41% to get an overall majority in the election and 37% just to get the most seats, while the Tories need 38% for a majority and Labour need only about 33% - but the party with the logo that looks like a worm on fire are the topic of hot conversation, even if few can really name any of their policies. They just make people feel warm and fuzzy at the moment.

I didn't watch the debate because I was driving back from an event, but I listened to it on the radio and felt that all three party leaders did reasonably well. If anyone was boosted in my estimation, it was Gordon Brown but only because I had a fairly low expectation of how he would do.

It irritated me how often both Clegg and Cameron felt the need to boast of sending their children to state schools (I wanted to shout: "You can afford to go private and you are denying parents with less money from having a place at what is no doubt a decent state school just so that you can be smug about it while you hire a private tutor.") The format, with the constant interruptions, annoyed me too. As did Clegg's need to keep on naming the people who had asked him questions, although it was a good way to win love.

But in the main I thought they all made a decent fist of it, so when I got home and heard the pundits proclaiming it as substantial a Nick Clegg triumph as Lord of the Rings at the Oscars, I was surprised. Maybe he came across much better visually.

Famously, the 1960 presidential debate between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon was regarded in different ways depending on how you received it. Those who watched on TV thought that Kennedy (young, handsome, white teeth) was more impressive than Nixon (sweating, stubbly). Those who listened to the radio thought that Nixon (experienced, gravitas) was better than Kennedy (sound-bitey, insubstantial). Looks matters.

A TV audience of almost 10 million is impressive, but I wonder how many of those who have been polled recently watched (or listened to) the debate. And if they didn't, but now say they will vote Lib Dem, is it just because of the media frenzy of the past few days?

We are becoming a nation that acts like a herd. People think and vote the way they think everyone else will and the media, which shapes opinion, like nothing better than a change of story that gains momentum. Reporting the same old stories becomes dull, so when there is an opportunity for a new narrative, the media leaps at it. This worked to David Cameron's advantage when he was running for Tory leader, of course.

Now Clegg and the Libs Dems are the hot topic but has he timed the run too early? With two and a half weeks to go to election day, will we get bored of the men in yellow and look for something more interesting? There is only so long anyone can spend in Cleggoland before the novelty starts to pall.

1 comment:

Angus Donald said...

Cleggo was pretty impressive on TV: he was the most glamorous to look at, for sure – Gordon Brown looked grey and exhausted, Cameron a bit waxy and stiff – but I also quite like the Lib Dem's policies: scrapping Trident's replacement (now that were not fighting a Cold War) seems worth thinking about, as does separating banks into retail and investment (casinos). I'm probably not going to vote for the Burning Worm party, but I can see why everybody is getting quite excited about their rise. I have to say I'm enjoying this election an awful lot and that is partly due to the Lib Dems' surge making it more exciting. So I'm grateful to them for their entertainment value.