Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Now all eyes are on Big Brother

Celebrity Big Brother finds itself at the centre of an international political storm as treatment of the Bollywood superstar Shilpa Shetty is condemned as racist. It is perhaps unsurprising that there is conflict within the house, the spoilt squabbling with the spoilt is perhaps not an unfair comment on the whole event; what is more interesting is that suddenly this has to be taken seriously as it becomes central to the UK's, and Gordon Brown's, image in India.
Last year's voyeur-fest saw elected politician George Galloway condemned for undermining Westminster, democracy, his RESPECT party and trust in representation. Unaware of the furore outside he was cavorting with Pete Burns and Rula Lenska in a bright red cat suit - at least the colour was right perhaps.
Prof. Stephen Coleman has argued for some form of merger in style between the houses of Big Brother and Westminster. That people only participate when they understand the workings of the institution, can identify with those whose destinies they control, and whose lives they can get inside. While plausible to some extent perhaps the behaviour of Galloway, or indeed Jade Goody, and the experiences of Shetty, suggest that such insights into the world of Westminster may well have a negative impact on our views of politicians.
What is it we see on Big Brother. People being manipulated yes, this is not something that happens in the same way, or to any close extent, within our parliament. But we do see people at their worst, perhaps them just being themselves. Exposing elected representatives to scrutiny, even via the tabloids, does not offer much to encourage democratic participation; imagine if we see them warts and all bickering, eating, apportioning tasks, the vision is ghastly. Perhaps Westminster needs to only show us the bits they want us to see. If not we may find our representatives have the same grace, subtlety and are as political correct as the doyen of reality TV herself: Miss Goody.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Twas the season!

I tried several times over the holiday period to post, however some problem with the interface between my home pc and prevented this. Hence I offer a very belated merry christmas and a slightly less belated happy new year to anyone who reads this!

Christmas is a time for the political leaders to disappear off on holiday, according to one BBC reporter Blair spent his in a pop star's gin palace. Hence there is little political communication going on. Well there is, the civil servants and political advisers are running around doing their thing, yet it may not be quite as newsworthy as when the celebrity politicians are there. Equally few scandals emerge during the season of goodwill to all men, well not since Back to Basics anyway!

But there is one annual event that can sometimes be big news, or can slip under the radar, the designing of the party leader's Christmas cards. Arguably we all send Christmas cards that say a little about ourselves; hence I go for humour more often than not. But I am sure we all either think, or hear others say, "I'm not buying that, it looks cheap, what will people think of me". Of course, in the age of party and leader branding, the humble Christmas card now says so much more than is considered by the average man or woman in the street. So what do our leader's cards say?

The Blairs have gone traditional, having previously in 2003 been accused of exploiting the family image, it is the simply the happy couple, on the stairs of Downing Street, with his predecessors looking out from their photographs at him. The trappings of power, the images synonymous with the UK prime minister are all there. Slightly understated, but there. The only perhaps unusual aspect is that the picture is straight on. Normally leaders will be looking slightly down from their image, this though is not the Blair way. He likes to be the straight talker, the regular guy; hence he is not looking downwards but straight forwards at the proud recipient. This, his last Christmas card, says honest statesman regardless of public opinion.

The rivals for his post, at the next election anyway, however have gone for the less statesman like, but are also surprisingly similar. Did they get advice from the same card designer, or image consultant, or are all image consultants alike? Gordon Brown's appears as one of those Christmas cards we can all get, usually in one of those wonderful variety packs, that you wonder who to send it to. Personally I find it most appropriate for teacher friends - just to remind them of what they face after the holiday. The image of the tree, surrounded by representations of children of the world is perhaps reinforcing the notion of him as a caring family man, not the dour Scot the media labelled him way back in 1997. Also perhaps this links to his agenda on world poverty, but the message is far less clear here and far more open to interpretation.

Whether there was an image consultant in the background or not, Cameron's card was designed by a 7 year old Scarlett Sadler, a pupil at Woodstock Primary School within his constituency. The image is simple, the traditional child's view of Christmas. But behind this it says a lot about the sender. Firstly the local printing and production saves money, the green agenda writ large. But alongside this it conveys his image as the family man, the lover of tradition, children, community. It defies any analyst to describe it as cynical branding, perhaps a very smart move in this era of mistrust driven by spin.
Are these cards important, possibly is the answer! They usher in a new era of British politics. These are the men who will contest the next election, these are the images they are beginning to establish within the voter's consciousness; the cards are part of that regardless of what else is said. What then of the political brands when the next election is called. Can we expect a more caring, touchy-feely politics, a more responsive style of government? Probably not! The contest will remain the same, as will the imperatives of government; Cameron is stealing the clothes of Blair as he was in 1997, young, honest, not this opponent! Brown is responding.
The next election will be like any other, however image is going to be all important for both contenders, these cards suggest they may well be trying to enter the same territory. But can Brown cut it as anything but a serious guy, the manager of economic stability? Should he try? Will anyone buy it? We wait to find out when Blair finally leaves Downing Street, when the image consultants get to work on the new PM, when the election is called, and when we see the results of polls and voting who had the image that people responded most to.