Politics and the media

It’s time to talk politics. Sorry…

To avoid divisive discussions about the individual parties, I have decided to move on from the usual disputes about policy and personality. Instead, I want to talk about the importance of the media in politics. After all, while watching the political propaganda on camera, we tend to forget the massive advertising campaigns which trail doggedly behind the party leaders on their national tours. And I’m not just talking about the sea of leaflets they leave behind: this is a modern election, and that means social media is the priority.

Social media demands three things: soundbites, viral videos and cock-ups. Gordon Brown’s 2010 microphone catastrophe will forever remain a prime example of what politicians should avoid at all costs, but so far everyone’s done quite well. The closest we’ve been to a mistake was probably David Cameron’s picture with an uninterested little girl, but it will all blow over soon (despite some amusing captions on Twitter):

[tweet https://twitter.com/SimonNRicketts/status/585786078340210688 width=’700′]

Basically, every single party has held it together, so far. That said, the Lib Dems recently released what seems like a desperate attempt to make a viral video, following on from the 2012 viral autotune apology “I’m Sorry”, which made fun of party leader Nick Clegg. They have now tried to produce their own dodgy mash-up of their conference speech, to the tune of Uptown Funk. With 72% negative ratings so far, I’m glad to see this has failed. They need to realise that the secret to a viral video is to have no intention for it to go viral.

Of course, the leaders’ debate was far more important than these individual videos. Seven million viewers is an impressive number, but that still leaves a substantial majority of the population who didn’t watch; therefore, the actual brunt of the work was probably done backstage in the ITV ‘spin room’ — a vast cavern of manipulative rhetoric — with each spin doctor claiming their own politician won the debate. It seemed as if everyone had decided who they wanted to win in advance, viewers included, and even the front pages the next day were somewhat predictable, with newspapers either applauding their favourite candidate or criticising the others. The news became a compilation of the best soundbites, from a debate that seemed (to my ears) void of anything else.

The Sun was the most fascinating example of the battle between politics and print. Miliband has previously admitted his unpopularity with Rupert Murdoch, although I think it’s safe to say their front page “oops! I just lost my election” is wishful thinking from their point of view, this early in the campaign.

The Sun front page
Credit: The Sun

Like it or not, Ed definitely came across better in the debate than I was expecting (ignoring that constant staring at the camera – what on earth was that about?!) But he was completely missing from Labour’s new advert, released the week before. It instead features a soft-spoken monologue from Martin Freeman and a dramatic voiceover from David Tennant: two popular actors who I personally think are brilliant.

This made me uneasy. Personally, I think it’s quite sneaky to use celebrities in an attempt to improve your campaign, but of course it’s an undeniably successful tactic in this day and age, and the real criticism should lie with any fools who choose to vote purely on this basis. But if the politicians can’t communicate their promises themselves, surely we should be questioning their ability to govern at all?

Looking more closely at the Labour YouTube channel, I realised it’s a powerful mix of anti-Conservative videos and pro-Labour messages. Perhaps reflecting their focus on the younger vote, they have a stronger representation online, and these videos are highly persuasive in tone:

They are not on your side

Love it or loathe it, social media campaigning is here to stay, and at the end of the day you’ll probably hear the messages you want to hear. But for me, it’s all too scripted, too plastic. After watching one interview with Buzzfeed for Cameron, then another with Absolute Radio for Miliband, I feel like I’m only hearing one voice: I’m a human being, vote for me.


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