Thursday, 13 May 2010

Musings on the Election

So it’s all over. Cameron and Clegg have done the deal, they will be sharing offices, and it’s all over - until the next time. Some musings from the past few weeks.

I heard a lot of election coverage on the radio, mainly R4 and 5Live, over the full four weeks of the campaign. Far too much non-news was reported as news; too much speculation, often by people who just weren’t specialists. The rolling tv coverage on BBC and Sky suffered from plenty of the same problems.

There was an interesting talk at the Guardian, in front of an audience, which was recorded as one of their Election Podcasts. The panel was Polly Toynbee, John Harris, and Andrew Rawnsley. You can hear it here.

A fascinating session, well attended, with some insights into the differences between the three main parties and their campaigns.

A further thought: sitting in the Kings Place auditorium underneath the Guardian offices, I could almost have been sitting in the Radio Theatre at BBC Broadcasting House; the Guardian panel could have been a Radio 4 panel. How close some of the new-media online events are becoming to the old-media broadcast world. Is the BBC really alert to the growing ambition, talent, and output of this new competition?

A complete absence from tv and radio of the big-hitters, from all three parties. Very surprised that Labour made so little use of Alastair Darling, Alan Johnson, the Millibands. The Tories seemed to ignore what I though would be the voter appeal of Ken Clarke, or the views of the reconstructed Duncan Smith.

Just about zero presence of parties, posters, candidates and canvassers on my streets. Lack of funds, or an assumption that the sitting mp, on a 10,000 majority last time would be an automatic win? Contrast with the 2001 campaign when I spent 10 days helping in a safe Labour seat, with lots of leafleting, balloons, walkabouts and high visibility from the candidate.

Had it not been for Clegg after the first tv debate, and Mrs Duffy in Rochdale, this might have passed as a pretty boring campaign. It appears we always need at least one ‘Prescott punch’ moment!

I wonder if the post-mortems will highlight the foolishness of so many leader campaigns stops. Setting: a school/hospital/supermarket/market. Action: meet a few ‘real people’ (ie: selected party workers). Script: a two minute speech, photos, and then back into the bus/limo/train. We viewers quickly came to realise that Brown would walk confidently into a crowd, shake hands, ask one of three questions, not wait for nor engage with the answer, and keep walking, shaking more hands. Talking without listening does not equal communication.

TV coverage of these mini-events never showed a wide shot, revealing how few people attended. It’s as if the broadcasters are complicit in these deceits.

Coverage of the Leader’s wives……aargh!

Lots of new campaign organisations, which seem to pack quite a punch, getting plenty of air and web time. They can set up easily and cheaply, with a strong web presence and low overhead costs. Many of them exist to campaign for change to the political system. Here are a few I came across:

38 degrees (People. Power. Change)

Take Back Parliament:

Vote for a Change:

Unlock Democracy:

The community organisers Citizens UK managed to get all three main party leaders together on the same platform, just four days before polling - something the broadcasters couldn’t achieve – and it appeared to be a very sucessful event, with 2,500 people attending, representing 160 organisations.

TV debates: on the whole a great success for the voter, but not for Cameron who by agreeing, opened the door for Clegg to introduce himself to the wider public. I also thought that Jeremy Paxman’s three interviews with the leaders were interesting, well handled, and well scheduled on BBC 1 at peak time.

It’s really good that the number of people voting increased, largely attributed to Cleggmania, although the weather on polling day must have helped.

Shocking that people were locked-out of the polling stations. Some undoubtedly will have left it late to stroll along from the pub, but others will just have finished work or family duties and been rightly very angry. Good to hear reports of increased voter registration in the days following the first tv debate, reportedly mainly young people.

No warning here that even if you queue for 2 hours you may not be allowed to vote

Of the very many ‘talking heads’, specialists in their own fields wheeled out on tv to explain to viewers just what is going on, my vote for the very best goes to Peter Hennessy. Historian, eminent specialist in the constitution, he presents complex issues in a most simple and appealing way; a pleasure to listen to.

To the pressures of 24/7 broadcasting, the incessant demands of rolling news, must be added the burden of five days of additional coverage required when the polling result was inconclusive. Being generous, I can only assume these are the reasons for the tensions and outbursts witnessed on Sky News. These three separate incidents are now all over the web:

Sky tv verbal punch up: Adam Boulton and Alastair Campbell:

Calls to Sack Kay Burley for this interview

And Boulton again, this time with Ben Bradshaw

Michael Portillo wrote a witty column about his famous 1997 “Were you up for Portillo” moment under the heading “Don’t worry: life’s better on the outside”

In advance of the election there was much written about this being the first internet election. Politicos were heard to say the dread phrases ‘social networking, twitter, facebook’ often without sounding as if they knew what these things were. Journos seemed to play up the effect of the web on Obama’s campaign, with the assumption it would have the same effect over here. In my view the web brought new ways of delivering news and opinions (Michael White’s daily and sometimes twice-daily blog delivered to your inbox). There were some great feeds on Twitter but you had to quickly learn to sort out those which were just ‘interesting’ from those which genuinely broke news, and/or brought a different opinion into view.

I went along to the ‘Fair Votes’ rally two days after polling, when the LibDems were deep in their negotiation with the Tories.

Billy Bragg

Rupert Murdoch's influence is everywhere

It started in Trafalgar Square ( wound down Whitehall, passing the entrance to Downing St, paused in Parliament Sq (I didn't know you could still do this: I thought it was an arrestable offence) and on to Smith Square, where the LibDems were meeting.

I love this generic placard - you can use it at any event!

Passing Downing St. I thought New Labour had imposed a ban on demonstrations within 1 mile of Parliament

The cheering and jeering demonstrators passed Sky's open-air broadcast platform, as Kay Burley was live on air. The BBC wisely built an enclosed studio, a wise move given what happened to Sky (see above).

It was sweet to see new fresh faces on Newsnight, new MP’s being quite earnest, nervous, in their new suits, sitting forward eager to get their answers right. It won’t be long before they become familiar faces, trotting out their ‘on message’ lines.

I assume this will be the front cover photo on Private Eye next week. What will the caption be?

Labour party membership at the start of this year stood at about 166,000. The party website crashed hours after Cameron walked up Downing St, with the weight of new applications. They reported 2,292 new joiners on Tuesday 11th and a further 620 on the morning of the 12th.

UPDATE: on Thursday 13th UKLabour reports 4211 people joined the party yesterday.

Finally, a date for your diaries: the next election is due on Thursday 7th May 2015 – unless of course the coalition fails to coalesce.

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