As I write this the latest salvo in the great British TV election debate saga is a thorough telling off from Nick Clegg.
Clegg’s accused the PM of “faffing”. He said “Honestly my head is spinning with all the proposals and counter proposals, and the insults and the counter insults.” Poor Mr Clegg. His comments that this political soap opera has proved too much for him might not be the best qualification for running the country but let’s brush over that point. As far as most of us are concerned of course the bickering over the debates feels like a lot of nonsense doesn’t it?
This is now joined as a story by “Kitchengate”: Milliband accused of lacking authenticity because he was photographed in his second kitchen and not his main, luxurious, rich person’s kitchen.
The main parties are currently neck and neck in the polls. Yet there is no sign that any of the main candidates can really strike the right chord with the public.
I think that there’s a continuing reason for this and it is an anachronistic approach to connecting with voters. Political parties largely still talk down to them and everything they say is layered with spin.
This is part of a continuing denial by politicians and their advisors to acknowledge the change in the media since the last century, or even indeed since the last election.
In 2007 commentator and journalist Andrew Neil spoke at our client conference on the change in media from well behaved and controllable outlets in the last century, with specific deadlines (the News at Ten just went out at 10pm, and the newspapers had deadlines for the front page) to 24 hour rolling news and commentary. He said that in his experience back then everyone was struggling to adjust, to move away from the attitude of “You’ve never had it so good” that epitomised the last century ; in transactional analysis terms one of adult to child.
In my first book “Tell the truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool” I examined how the internet and social revolution compels brands to open themselves up to the consumer and to move away from spin towards authenticity, to the brand truth. The brands that have found it more difficult to do this are those where the brand spin doesn’t enhance the brand truth but instead distorts it or covers it up. Those brands cannot bear to cede some control to the consumer.
The current exchange over the TV debates or the flurry of Kitchengate feels like this to me. Not a question of policy or politics but a desire to remain in control. In all honesty, it doesn’t feel very much like modern Britain.