Friday, November 30, 2007

Should Youtube be regulated?

I am largely against regulation of the web, not only is it impractical but it is perhaps the one place where anyone can say what they like and for the audience to judge it on face value. However there are also questions about whether free speech should be completely free and if there should be rights and constraints relating to his as there is to other media outlets. See this posted video for example.

Not easy to spot that it is a satire, but by framing it as a Party Political Broadcast, by using the logo and by publishing it without any context, i.e. it being embedded within a comedy programme or website, does this cross a boundary? Is it defamatory or just satirical? And, if there is no regulation, does this then allow highly negative and defamatory messages to be posted, viewed and circulated, by parties to denigrate their opponents, without any necessity to identify the source.
Advertising is regulated at least to the extent where the sponsor has to identify themselves; if Youtube is eroding this safeguard what could be the effect? It is claimed that negative rumours, although dismissed or ignored on first viewing, sleep in our subconscious activated if the rumour may be true of more negativity is attached to the individual under attack. In other words thousands of videos highlighting dodgy deals involving Gordon Brown could well be believed in the current climate, independent of their veracity, and contribute to a further loss of popularity. So regulation or total freedom, I am undecided!

Velcro Gordon

Bruce Newman argued some years ago that it seemed that some presidents had either Teflon or Velcro personalities; Reagan was Teflon, none of the mistakes attached to his eight years diminished his standing. In the UK it seems that many leaders begin being fairly non-stick but then circumstances and length of tenure increase the extent to which bad perceptions, attitudes and associations stick to them.

Like pocket lint, everything has stuck to Gordon Brown. As soon as he landed from the 'Brown bounce' he has rolled slowly downhill (I should be a poet with metaphors like that: sorry I digress). The reason that Brown's bounce was so short-lived is that the public probably wanted an instant change that was always going to be unrealistic. As soon as expectations were not met, and negative comments about him appeared in the media (which did not take long), not only were the negative associations linked to his time of office sticking to his public image but so were all the negative associations linked to the Blair years. His inability to distance himself, and the unrealistic idea that he could disassociate himself, meant that he is a perhaps less charismatic version of Blair.

The fact he is now dogged with what will be perceived as his own funding scandal, a department he was directly responsible for (at least nominally) lost data, and he is flailing in the polls means he is a sitting duck. The media and political opponents are circling to pick over his carcass - what can he do to recover? He has until 5th May 2010 but can he hang on?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Showing creativity

Iain Duncan Smith, while Conservative leader, once appeared on the Johnny Vaughan chat show (now cancelled), and was asked if he would every perform rap to get in touch with youth voters; his answer was an enthusiastic yes: he intimated he would try anything! Perhaps luckily we in the UK have not been given the treat of watching politicians trying to rap; John Redwood miming badly to the Welsh National Anthem was damaging enough to his public image.

In Singapore no such problems seem to exist. The Media Development Agency, a conglomerate of the Singapore Broadcasting Authority, the Films and Publications Department, and the Singapore Film Commission (so kind of like a merger of the BBC and BAFTA) have decided they need to promote their creativity to a global audience using a rap song and video. What do you think?

My favourite bit is CEO Yeo Chun Cheng in a superman outfit, but they all look like they are having a good time; but like Boris Yeltsin when he played the spoons alongside a rock band there is something a little incongruous about it. On their website they state that "The raison d'etre of the MDA (so thus the video) is to develop Singapore into a vibrant global city so as to foster a creative economy and connected society". Critics would call it dumbing down and trivialisation; others would call it engaging, creative and memorable; hinting at its success. But who is right?
All together now Yes Yes Y'all We don't stop... and who else could get 'My tasks include internal systems integration HRFIS, PMP to iTRAX' into a rap song - so is this available on iTunes?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lost competence

Politics is a funny game, a party can ride high in the polls, seemingly can do no wrong and the opposition cant get a look in; then slowly there is a shift in thinking and the whole situation reverses. In the early days of the Blair government the questions of sleeze surrounding the Bernie Hamilton loan, Mandelson receiving money firstly from Geoffrey Robinson Postmaster General, then being received back into government, then being implicated in a cash for papers for the Hindustanis scandal were all serious. Through all of this Teflon Tony kept smiling and appearing as a 'regular kind of guy'. Off course his image became tarnished but his successor never stood a chance.

Brown seems to have had the shortest honeymoon possible, he first considered and reconsidered an election, dealt with a financial crisis badly, at least in terms of communication, then one of his departments loses precious data and now another scandal about party funding on the back of cash for honours. Competence was Brown's one and maybe only key selling point and it seems to be unravelling. Perhaps, fundamentally, his key problem is that he is not the right man for the job?

I say that not because he is talentless, unintelligent or any other negatives that mark someone out for not being a leader; quite the contrary he has many of the qualities. The problem is that Brown struggles to convey them; for example he can appear uncomfortable on camera answering difficult questions, this gives the impression of him hiding something even when he isn't. Also he is not a charismatic figure who laughs off problems that gives the impression he is getting on with the job and doing it well, or that he is able to face down crises. In the midst of a storm of problems he appears all at sea.

The problem with this is that the impression of competence and ability to cope is probably more important than actually coping. There are many people around government to physically deal with crises but it is the leader that is seen as the cue for public perception. While it is unclear whether voters prefer David Cameron as a person or a leader, and may step back from electing him whenever the contest is called, Brown seems on a downhill slope and if he cannot convey credibility - charisma, authority, understanding - the damage to his image could be irreparable.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Who reads the papers?

Is this still true, very funny but also an excellent bit of social comment on the 1980s; but do the same people read the papers now as did then?

Too important for discussion?

Nuclear defence is historically an emotive issue with the fear being that if a nuclear capability exists then more states will aspire to become nuclear powers and the more nuclear powers there are the more likelihood there is of actual usage of the weapons. However it often seems that the reason for having nuclear capability is more like a badge denoting power than something that can actually be used: as per this quote from Yes Prime Minister.

The debate has arisen again with the government having approved the use of Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire for the 'Son of Star Wars' programme. Ministers gave approval without parliamentary consultation and the anti-nuclear lobby are furious about that fact. The real problem though is the communication problem at the inter-state level. Britain claims that the defence is against rogue states: Iran or North Korea being used as examples. Russia on the other hand see it as a renewal of the arms race.

The problem is that it is fairly obvious that neither Iran or North Korea could actually hit the UK and doubtful their missiles (if they exist) could hit any target that the defence system covers at the current time. So is it an attempt to make the British feel protected? In an era of terrorism probably not! So it remains nothing more than a way of ensuring a seat at the top table in world politics; but given that many nations seem to do very well without a nuclear weapons, an aggressive foreign policy or a position of being a global power, why is such a role so important for Britain?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

How the Australians may be coping with election night!

As in most elections in most countries, there will no doubt be wall-to-wall coverage on all the Australian TV networks. So for Australians it is time to choose your station, invite mates over, and once you're settled in for the evening's entertainment you can start the game of Australia Drink-Decides 2007!
The rules are simpler than a Senate voting ticket. Here they are:
  1. Any time your own electorate is mentioned, you must drink.
  2. Any time a number of one billion or more is mentioned, you must drink.
  3. Any time Pauline Hanson's name is mentioned, or a reference to One Nation is made, you must drink.
  4. If Pauline Hanson actually appears on TV, you must completely finish the drink you are holding. If you are not holding a drink, you must immediately fetch your next drink and consume it in its entirety.
  5. Any time a supporter wearing a "Kevin07" T-shirt is shown on TV, you must drink.
  6. Any time a cute/attractive politician appears on TV, you must drink. (Note: this rule is not expected to come into play, with the possible exception of the Greens' Larissa Waters.)
  7. Any time the phrase "working families" is uttered, by politician or TV commentator, you must drink: once for yourself, and once for each of your children.
  8. Any time the phrase "balance of power" is uttered, you must drink AND eat.
  9. Any time a politician claims victory on TV, you must drink.
  10. Any time a politician concedes defeat, you must drink twice. (Once for their sorrow, once for our joy)
  11. If in doubt as to the meaning or application of any of the above rules, or any time you are thirsty, just have a bloody drink.
  12. If John Howard wins, you must drink until your feeling of disappointment goes away.
Who says politics is boring!!!! Kevin Rudd is the favourite, by the way, he is tipped to be on his way to a historic landslide bring Labour back to power for the first time in twelve years and be the first new prime minister in the same period; but that is not what the game is about!
Thanks to Prof. Phil Harris for sharing this: if there is an election next year I expect Britons to do their duty and... make up their own version!

Friday, November 23, 2007

New indicators of support?

It seems that there is little substantive data to indicate who is the favourite to win the Liberal Democrat leadership contest as voting begins. Here is an indication, on Facebook Chris Huhne has 613 friends while his rival Nick Clegg has 774. It is hard to see any peak or trough in membership following the recent problems surrounding the campaign and members range from parliamentary colleagues to the normal, young members that are the average Facebook user. Some friends are shared also, such as myself to see how they are using their profile pages.

Clegg's profile has more of a campaigning feel to it. He has videos, a long 'about me' section, causes and poppies. Huhne's is quite basic, has causes and a US politics box, but offers less campaigning. The key feature of both is the amount of messages of support posted to their walls. Clegg is more responsive, perhaps his team are involved or perhaps he personally uses it as a campaigning tool; Huhne took a week to reply but perhaps that indicates a more personal usage. We should not assume!

Does it mean anything? Who knows! It is impossible (well it is very time consuming and less than simple) to tell how many of the 'friends' can vote. But it may well be a general indication of support within a certain voter segment. It is a small amount compared to the 163,882 friends Barack Obama has gathered but it is a different context, but given that Hilary Clinton does not have a profile an d the most popular groups are opposing her, does this give Obama the edge. The bottom line is, does Facebook have any political impact or can it even be used as an indicator of anything?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What is the role of a government?

It seems that increasingly governance is about managerialism, and the perceived competent management of the bureaucracy of state, than driving forward an ideological vision; perhaps it was ever thus and those who deny the fact are idealists kidding themselves. However the recent criticism of Alastair Darling highlights some of these issues.

Darling's competence is called into question because a junior civil servant did not follow sensible procedure when handling sensitive information. I presume the junior was sacked, his boss resigned, but should the minister join them? Do we expect the Minister to accept responsibility for everything that occurs within departments for which he is nominally responsible or is he the person that reports to parliament. In other words can and should a Minister abrogate responsibility on departmental minions or accept responsibility for the fact that there are insufficient checks on procedure?

And this is not solely a New Labour problem, though it is an easy way to attack a government that seems to be losing public support for existing (the boredom with this lot factor). It was this same question that Michael Howard faced as Home Secretary when prisoners wandered out of Dartmoor with their own set of keys. His role, and whether he had personally intervened in guiding the governor, was famously the subject of the famous Paxman interview where the question was asked a ridiculous amount of times.

Hence the question can be depoliticised as being about what any Minister should do. Should we set a standard for competence that can be deemed the responsibility of either the department or the Minister? Failure of policy seems logical, though of course proof of failure is difficult; but if a Minister sets out guidance which is then not followed, should they be responsible. What would happen within a company? What is something a Director of CEO would resign for? Would they face political point scoring, as every minister has throughout the last 30-40 yrs, or media pressure to be accountable?

The bottom line, is Darling responsible? Should he go? If so, on what grounds?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Contributing to public life

Two comments/statements that made me wonder about the thinking processes within British politics.

The first from Downing Street commenting on the never denied suggestion that GMTV's Fiona Phillips was invited to play a key role in government: "In previous statements by the prime minister, he said he would welcome all men and women of talent who want to contribute to public life"

The second on a Liberal Democrat MPs website says: "If you are under 25 and a young person living in XXXX, I want to know what you think and what you believe about the issues facing you today.Just filling in this survey will enable me to understand your views better and act on them locally and in Parliament. Whether you are worried about the war in Iraq, or just the lack of decent pubs in your area - I want to know" Clicking through to the survey and you are presented with the line: "Once you have answered all the questions, simply add up all the 'yes' answers and all the 'no' answers and follow the instructions overleaf to find out who you should vote for". Yes, it is a series of loaded statements that lead to the answer 'vote Liberal Democrat'

Why does it seems that politicians never really want to talk to the ordinary people about what they think about the big issues and how the country should be managed? Is it just too difficult or does everything in politics come down to vote winning?

Monday, November 19, 2007

One way of ensuring your message gets out

Five words – “Why don’t you shut up!” - have catapulted King Juan Carlos, the Spanish monarch, to internet stardom! King Juan Carlos of Spain became so enfuriated with comments made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez he told him to 'shut up' on camera. This request is now a popular ringtone among Venezuelan students who are using it as a form of protest: "It's something that a lot of people would like to tell the president". It has even become a slogan on T-shorts, mugs and all sorts of memorabilia and is a popular hit on Youtube. Through losing his temper Juan Carlos has managed to capture public attention and become a pseudo hero for the anti-Chavez movement. Perhaps many activists could learn a lesson from this!

Dirty Politics - the covert way

I have no idea if these blogs are sponsored by Clegg himself, his team, are by outsiders, activists or just members of the public: this is the joy of the blogosphere! However there are two blogs that have been created to simply attack Chris Huhne. The Anti-Chris! reports on the fact that Huhne was instrumental in the break up of his current wife's previous marriage, dubbing him the home wrecker! There is even a section that implicates Huhne in leading one of his step-daughters into a depression expressed through poetry, the blog states this was due to the fact that "at the most vulnerable age when she lost her father because of Huhne’s “charm” offensive".
There is then Chris Almighty, a rebuttal of Sunday's attack by Huhne by undermining him and his argument. It is interesting, but the bottom line that the poster wishes to publicise is that "He really is a horrible man who covers his unpleasant character with a thin veneer".

None of this perhaps should be a surprise. The blogosphere is the perfect place to spread rumour anonymously in order to undermine the campaign of an opponent. Such things can work, I imagine some of this will reach the mainstream media and may enter the public consciousness. It will not convert Huhne supporters,, equally it may not win Clegg friends if he sponsored it or not. The problem here is that overt negativity, such as the 'Calamity Clegg' dossier and the 'Anti Chris' style rumour-mongering simply gives a negative impression of both the attacker (actual or perceived) and the victim. If Clegg can distance himself from such activities while Huhne is unlikely to shrug off that dossier (despite it being normal fare for a campaign), maybe Clegg will emerge the nicer guy. What if he cannot???

Sorry is the hardest word

There is nothing better than a carefully worded apology, one that does not accept any respnsibility but never the less magnanimously takes a share of the blame, says sorry for the minor crime but in doing so allows it to be repeated. This is my analysis of Chris Huhne's apology to Nick Clegg via his website.

"On behalf of Chris Huhne's campaign, I sincerely apologise that a background briefing document of quotations from Nick Clegg on public services reform and proportional representation was sent out with a wholly inappropriate title. There is no excuse for this. The document title had not been approved before the document was sent out and neither Chris nor I were aware of it. In no way does the title of the document as sent to the Politics Show represent Chris Huhne's opinion and he completely dissociates himself from it."
Firstly it is on behalf of a campaign not the individual. Secondly it is the title of 'Calamnity Clegg' that is the wrong doing not the attacks on his opponents ability; almost good content but bad title. Combined it does bring the sincerity of the apology into question, or am I just too cynical? Does it read as sincere? It suggests that the negative campaigning will continue and divisions could entrench further.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Celebrity Politics - or will Lord Forsythe please not say 'nice to see you' to the North Koreans

It is perhaps true that politicians need to be able to translate complex ideas and policies to allow them to be understood by the masses. Currently this role is largely fulfilled by journalists who mediate ideas in a way that appeals to their audiences; despite the range if communication experts who colonise politics and the number of MPs with public relations backgrounds there still seems to be a communication gap. Gordon Brown had an alternative way of getting the public to engage with politics, give a high profile role to someone they already liked and listened to; not a great expert but GMTV host and long-time foil for Eamon Hughes jokes Fiona Phillips.

It is claimed by the News of the World that a Downing Street aide argued that "People say she is just a ditzy blonde, but Fiona Phillips manages to communicate complex issues which are of massive public importance to millions of people every morning." This was the justification for offering her a Baronetcy and the public health brief currently head by Dawn Primarolo within Brown's 'government of all talents'. Phillips is a long-standing supporter of Labour, conducted some highly cringe-worthy interviews with the Blairs and has an interest in politics and is quoted as saying "I'd like to change people's perception of politics... I'd love to do a big PR bit for the Government" but did not want to take the £400,000 per annum pay cut. Hence we are to be spared Baroness Phillips of obesity, binge drinking and safe sex.

But is Gordon out of line with the idea? Politicians are the least trusted profession while it is true that Fiona Phillips has a clear connection with her audience. While her expertise can be questioned, so can that of many cabinet ministers, and her ditzy persona may be her public face as opposed to her real personality. There is the perception of credibility issue, but is it the case that her role as a journalist and her perceived authenticity may well make her seem as on the side of the public as opposed to the negative perception of the politician out for themselves? Gordon Brown has hit on an important truism, that politicians fail to get the public engaged in their ideas; celebrities have that ability, but should they play an active role in politics is a big question. Could Fiona Phillips be Britain's Arnie? Do we need one?

Pyrrhic Victories

The candidates for leading the Liberal Democrats seem to have emerged from a phase of being too friendly to one another and started hostilities in earnest. It was revealed today on BBC's Politics Show that Huhne's team had produced a catalogue of Clegg's weaknesses entitled Calamity Clegg. No surprise there, if the candidates did not have some SWOT analysis data it would be more surprising. They are equally trying to brand the other as uncertain, a flip-flop in modern political parlance, and it seems after today's performance it would be difficult for them to work closely together in the near future.

It is here where the problem lies! The party has 62 elected members, while talent is not restricted to a few within that number the party cannot withstand factionalism. If the contest stays nasty, the supporters behind each candidate will observe strict battle lines and these could remain long after the leadership is decided. Divisions, splits and public attacks are damaging to the image of a party and public perceptions can be driven by media emphasis on such issues. Equally attack on the character and ability of a candidate make it very hard for rehabilitation. If Huhne wins and the image of flip-flop, or calamnity stick to Clegg, how can Huhne, if he should wish, then give him a front bench role? A problem!

For a third party, who are often seen as being unable to win, it can be difficult to gain credibility at the best of times. The challenge for the leadership candidates is that they win the contest without losing the bigger war; the war for political influence.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Securing the orange vote

Australia's Liberal Prime Minister is widely believed to have a matter of days left in office as he is predicted to lose to Labour's Kevin Rudd. His campaign has been fraught with problems, with many viewing it as the campaign of a team that know they are beaten. In particular Youtube users have remorselessly attacked him using a range of mash-ups; the incredible farting PM certainly undermining his credibility.

His last foray on Youtube is clearly attempting to position Howard as a nice guy, caring about disabled children, the environment and who listens. But the reaction is perhaps not the one he wanted.

Comments on Youtube suggest his video may have won over the orangutans (the orange vote), or that it promotes Daniel Clark more than Howard. Daniel is the young disabled boy who wrote to Howard to ask him to intervene on behalf of the apes. Watch it, it makes many political video advertisements seem quite engaging.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is this an obsession I see before me

I am starting to expect to read a headline about 'Immigrants launch gas attack' only to read on and find some poor Polish worker farted. It is an obsession, and it is global! If you type immigration into Google news there are over 40,000 returns, over 500 since 9am this morning. The over-riding theme, there are too many immigrants, the language is about being 'swamped', they are a tide, and they question notions of state and nationhood. Even reports on the maiden trip of Eurostar talk about the importance of restricting it use by illegal immigrants.

I find it all a little disturbing that this is being turned into such a major issue yet there is little discussion about the causes of this 'tide' that is 'swamping' nations. Equally it creates a sense of them and us, we who have lived here for some time, maybe were born here, and them the recent intruders. The problem that goes unrecognised is that we probably would not have toilets cleaned, buildings built, buses driven, food to enjoy, our health cared for, without immigrants. While we are buys stirring up a panic consider firstly how many people who were born elsewhere in the world have played a key positive role in your lives so far. The consider how far back any of us can trace our lineage, and see at which point we stop being 'us' and turn into 'them'.

What disturbs me is that the populist sections of the media turn immigration into a scare story without any real discussion of all the facts, just the ones that support their story. This leads the public to think about immigration, and perhaps view all immigration as bad and immigrants as dangerous etc etc. Then the politicians are allowed to also adopt a nationalist line without fear of criticism, where does that leave us? Being nationalist and proud of a nation is not racist; but treating all outsiders as a threat is. There seems to me to be a fine line that is in danger of being crossed by the public mood, and that is crossed daily by elements of the media.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Comparing the Parties

The Queen's Speech is the first burst of permanent campaigning that emerges from the new parliamentary year, if offers each of the parties the opportunity to set out their own stalls and of course push over the stalls of their opponents if possible. So what are they talking about.

Labour's is the touchy-feely caring style Gordon Brown is offering. The focus on education, equality and the NHS invokes traditional party values and allows him to position himself as a leader in touch with concerns and caring about the people.

The Conservatives adopt a slightly critical tone, though use the opportunity to present their front bench team and highlight their alternative approach to politics.

The Liberal Democrats lack a charismatic front man, but they also set out their stall while suggesting there are too many similarities between Cameron and Brown and their parties. It is a little cheap but makes their point.

As is typical, the governing party take a wholly positive note and Brown is self-promotional, opposing parties refer negatively to the government, the Liberal Democrats also referencing the Conservatives. But it is at least refreshing to note that they set out their stall as opposed to simply rubbishing opponents. I make this point given that I am sure I recall that a couple of years ago Labour offered as their queen's speech broadcast an appearance by Dave the Chameleon, a wholly personal attack on Cameron. The problem is which is more memorable, these three selections of talking head shots which my students described as dull, or the negative approach that was funny and memorable; should we despair?

Impossible to sell

Whether you call it a presentation obsession, spin, political marketing or just old fashioned propaganda; the idea that anything that cannot be effectively sold is suppressed is rife within politics. It is not just an issue that faces a government but in an atmosphere where image, perception and impression are deemed to be more important than effective management, real politics and substance, all parties have to think of the effect of any announcement on the profit and loss account of public perception.

It is this issue that lies at the heart of the problem that arises today for Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. Illegal immigrants, those demons that present a clear and present danger to our society, according to section of both society and the media, have been employed in security roles as a matter of expediency it would appear. But it had to be done quietly, covertly and without the media and political opponents finding out.

When the decision was made no to announce this, memos reveal the thinking within government. Smith's private secretary reveals that Smith "did not think that the lines to take that we currently have are good enough for press office or ministers to use to explain the situation" and that the information "would not be presented by the media as a positive story". Well no it wouldn't, one can only imagine the headline the Daily Mail would have produced.

But is this a purely political party problem? Yes, they are the ones who focus on presentation and the treatment and thus effect of announcements. But the media must also claim culpability for the problem also. The media, as Blair famously said, want stories that have a dramatic impact. They are populist. Large sections like to scare their readers about dangers within society. Immigrants are an easy target, and despite the media showing a profound dislike for the actions and pronouncements of far-right groups like the British National Party they often appear to agree with aspects of their stance.

The bottom line is that it is impossible to have parties that do not spin when we have a media who do spin as it produces a 'circle of spin' or vicious circle as pictured above, each trying to out do and reverse the effects of the other's spin. The danger is the effect on public trust and engagement. I predict little change if the government were to change. A Conservative or Liberal Democrat led government would have to consider how the media may treat a story and find that they are unable to directly inform the public of the reasons for pursuing any particular political response. Hence they will spin. But the public will just continue to be cynical of politics, sceptical of the representativeness of this system, and view politics as a spectator sport of cat and mouse (possibly with the media as the dog that chases both), but they will not participate within a relationship that is about obfuscation and not illumination.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

You sound like a really useful guy.... any good with leaks?

Parkinson is the chat show for political party leaders, I think Harold Wilson was the first to guest but I may be wrong. The latest was David Cameron though. He told the story of being introduced to Kate Moss at a charity dinner and being unsure what to say. He recounted the conversation going thus:

"I remembered she actually has a house in my constituency and we'd had these terrible floods in West Oxfordshire and so I said, 'Very nice to meet you, very sorry about the flooding in your house... I know your local pub has been flooded, I've been to see the publican and I know you like to go to the pub and so I know it's going to reopen in six months... So I went on like this, twittering on, and she turned around and said, 'God, you sound like a really useful guy, can I have your phone number?... "I went back to my table and said 'The good news is, I met Kate Moss and she wanted my telephone number, the bad news is I think she thinks I'm something to do with drainage."

It turns out she assumed he was a plumber; apparently!

I would be interested to here Kate Moss's side of the story, if she has any recollection that is. It does strike me as unlikely that she believed she was meeting a plumber at a flashy charity do. Though it is believable that she had little idea who David Cameron was, and that is no slur on him but her social awareness generally. But why tell this story?

It has a wonderful self-deprecating style, Cameron positions himself as being a little tongue-tied in the face of such a famous celebrity, much like the average guy in the street; he also plays down his own importance quite jokingly. Since the criticism that Blair received when talking about his religious convictions surrounding the war on Iraq, this perhaps is the correct tone for the chat show and Cameron's performance seemed focused on being likeable, normal and average. The permanent campaign is on!!

Poacher turned Gamekeeper

A certain sense of incredulity is surrounding the appointment of Jonathan Aitken to lead a study group on prison reform. The appointment by Conservative Party think-tank the Centre for Social Justice headed by former leader Iain Duncan Smith, it seen as a rehabilitation too far for the former Conservative Minister who was jailed for perjury after claiming not to have received favours from a Saudi businessman in return for his support but it transpired later that he had.
The appointment may be unusual, however as a former inmate he may well have a unique perspective as well as experiences and contacts that the more traditional appointee may not have. The media clearly want to make a story out of this, linking the disgraced Thatcherite and one-time supporter of UKIP to the current Conservative leadership, leading to rebuttals and the distinction between the Centre and the Party being stressed. However this could actually be a non-story. The CSJ will offer advice which the party can read, adapt and convert into policy if they wish; the fact that part of the report will be informed by a former inmate is perhaps unsurprising. The only reason it is seen as interesting is because the inmate is also a former colleague. But if he was once recognised as having the qualities required for the cabinet, should those qualities not be used regardless? Is this desperation for a story I ask myself!!

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Research on reduced turnout and voter cynicism highlight the disengagement and disconnection of society from elected politicians and politicians are not ignoring this fact. There is a lot of rhetorical lip service paid to the notion of being connected as well as real initiatives for achieving this. Barack Obama is someone that has played the connectedness card throughout the campaign, he is one of the people not the elite and it is they, not the lobbyists and corporate donors that fund his campaign!

To reinforce this idea he has a new initiative as the primary race hots up. It is a survey that asks his supporters to: "Strengthen your connection to our campaign and help us connect you with organizers in your local community. Take a few minutes to complete this short survey". the idea seems to be that he wants to gain an aggregation of the issues that concern his supporters most in order to build a more relevant set of messages.

The theory is that the greater the relevance the greater the attention paid and thus an increased amount of perceived connectedness between him and his supporters. A plan that may have some success! A key tenet of marketing is knowing what your consumers want, this is applying such notions to politics, at the very least at the point of deciding what messages to communicate, and perhaps even to design the messages as well. However it sets up high expectations of the nature of Obama as a President; ones that could create false hope surrounding the nature of change in style that may occur if he is elected.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The wrong focus? Whose bias is it anyway?

Lord Drayton, who has actually been overseeing procurement within the Ministry of Defence, is taking a sabbatical to race in the famous 24 hours Le Mans race. Curiously he has come under fire from the BBC based on a quote from the mother of 19yr old Fusilier Gentle, killed in 2004. It seems that in the course of reporting on his inquest some enterprising journalist asked Mrs Gentle what she thought of his 'leave of absence' and she commented it was insensitive, untimely and, in basic terms, unprofessional. Drayton would have no role in the Gentle case, and it does feel as if conflating the issues is intruding on grief to make a story. It also misses the point that Drayton probably got the job because he donated the most to Labour, that he has not excelled in his job and probably wanted a title rather than responsibility, and that this is a neat way of exiting with a clean record. These points are under-explored and come much later in the piece; what does this tell us about the quality of BBC journalism comes to my mind. Any thoughts why this is the big story and not possible errors in appointment (amid Cash for Honours)?

Is Honesty best, or unwise?

This mash-up, or at least the last 20 seconds, is from an interview during the 2005 Election Campaign where Paxman repeatedly asked Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, the question "So, you have no idea how many illegal immigrants there are in the country". Blair repeatedly dodged giving the simple and obvious answer that he didn't know. While fun to watch any politician squirm, in a sense it is obvious he would not know, if they are illegally entering the country there is no-one in a position to count them in. But admitting he did not know would give the wrong impression; hence he fudged and squirmed!

This is the old way, we have a new Prime Minister advocating an open style of cabinet and parliamentary government. On the subject of revising the time limit for detaining a terror subject, and whether a specific period was decided on, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she did not know and it was not yet decided, when speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme. This led to a very damaging set of points to be raised on BBC News 24 of why she may avoid this question when the extension from 28 to 56 days had been mentioned already. The cabinet had not decided what to put before parliament is one interpretation, but the fact that a Minister said they did not know became big news.

So what kind of politicians do we want. Ones who are honest and admit not knowing everything, or ones that fudge and obfuscate? Should the media decide that there must always be an answer and then interpret the answer to suit an anti-politician agenda. Is the media spin? Or is it political spin to give the impression of openness? The public are left to wonder, but also encouraged to trust 'I don't know' as much as the less informative squirming around the issue.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pageantry and Rhetoric

The Queen's Speech is one of those archaic events that owes far more to history and tradition than to real politics. The notion is that the Queen as Head of State notionally endorses the programme of her government for the coming year, but doing so from the House of Lords to denote her position as a non-commoner or law-maker. Anti-Terror legislation, as is the modern idiom (how can you be anti-terror? terrorism yes, but terror? lets ban horror films, or is that anti-horror? sorry went off on one then), gained the top billing, but as usual there was the long list of bills that demonstrate doing the job of managing the nation.

Will this event have any resonance with the voting public, probably not. It happens, it happens every year, it is a little bit of a spectacle, it is popular with royal-watchers, but fundamentally the meaning is symbolic. And in terms of symbolism it performs its task well, the soundbite that all the media seem to have extracted from the speech to report is that: "My government will take forward policies to respond to the rising aspirations of the people of the United Kingdom; to ensure security for all; and to entrust more power to Parliament and the people."

In that phrase it offers the perception of the new style of politics that Brown has been keen to enforce since day one of his premiership. His government is in touch with the people, keen to meet their wants and needs (the language of a political market-orientation); it promotes security at a time of risk, meeting the media agenda of terrorism and street crime; and it talks of giving power to the people and their representatives, Brown is not a Blair-esque one man show. That statement is really what the speech is about, in my opinion anyway, the rest is for the media to dissect and drip feed to the nation as the bills are introduced.

The reason, until these items go on the statute book, or their real significance emerges, few are interested in their meaning or ramifications. The public, the mass public that is, do not wish to pick over the bones of future legislation; they want to be given an impression, a perception, of what the government intends to do (a lot), why (in their interests), and perhaps in what style (consultative, meeting aspirations). Or am I wrong?

Monday, November 05, 2007

A network of your own?

The BBC announce today that singer Kylie Minogue has launched her own social networking website for her fans to communicate with each other. The KylieKonnect website enables fans to create personal profiles and upload images, as well as "keep up to date with all the very latest on Kylie".

My friend and colleague Nigel Jackson wonders if this is a model that political parties should pursue? Firstly they have ownership of the network, so can set their own parameters for behaviour. Secondly they are able to build up an interest group that can discuss issues and interact with party members, leaders and each other. Thirdly they have a database of supporters or interested parties that can, maybe, be drawn towards other forms of activism. In theory it could have potential as an idea.

As Nigel points out the problem is that it would probably end up deliberately consisting of a lot of top down communication, rather than the horizontal communication that social networking and Web 2.0 offers due to politicians wanting to retain control over postings. However the Stand Up Speak Out model offers some glimpses into a less vertical and more horizontal model of interaction. Would anyone dare offer this? Would anyone visit? Would it be better than random appearances on MySpace or Facebook?

Voters easily confused: claim Labour MPs

Not sure really what the thinking is behind the off the cuff remark offered by Frank Field amid a wide ranging interview on the future of the party. But he commented that:

"Many of our side think that if [Lib Dem leadership candidate] Nick Clegg wins
then that will actually take votes off Cameron because he looks like Cameron".

Now maybe Clegg rivals Cameron in youth, and he also has a PR background, so perhaps there are a number of similarities at that level. There are also great similarities in their political stance, rhetorically it seems impossible at times to slip a Rizla between liberal conservatives and conservative liberals. But do Labour think voters will see him on the PEBs and think "is that Cameron or Clegg" or "he had a nice face, must be a Liberal". Then again perhaps they do think that! Worrying that we may end up with three party leaders with identical backgrounds, ideas, focus on the middle ground, and who say the same things: the equivalent of electing a speak your weight machine perhaps.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Do we want a leader prepared to be banged up?

John Pienaar reports that: "Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne both promise to lead a campaign of civil disobedience against ID cards, and refuse to register when and if the cards become compulsory... So whoever wins, the Lib Dems will end up with a leader who is quite prepared to get banged-up." He thus asks "Is that a sensible way for a law-maker, and a party leader, to behave?"

Is there not a problem that we have too few politicians who appear to have any defining principles that steer their actions, and that they will do and say anything that may win them votes (or prevent them from not losing power)? Could the Liberal Democrats earn votes by being the anti-marketing party, the ones who do not chase after the safe, moderate, and largely acquiescent, middle ground.

There is though a danger! If either Clegg or Huhne get the opportunity to stand by their principles, and fail to do so because it is inexpedient because of their role as party leader, they will be viewed as just another politician that breaks their promises. So principles fine, provided feel you can stand by them.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A powerful message?

If you want people to accept you message it is important to push against an open door. It appears that Brown's image has been tarnished by the perceived volte face over holding an autumn election. The Conservatives are wise to press home this advantage. This communication begins with a premise many receivers may well agree with, that Brown should have called an election, then takes the reader on a journey arguing that a change is needed to reform a number of policies 'taxing pollution, not families' for example. The strapline that 'services are delayed until the election of a Conservative government is a clever one.
The question is whether readers will accept the final conclusion as readily as they will the opening premise. There may well be a point of exit for many readers who are yet to be convinced that the Conservatives are a viable alternative government, the fact that debate centred on Brown gaining his own mandate may suggest that Brown was not expected to lose and may not have done so despite the 'tax reform bounce' the Conservatives gained. This may be a short lived advantage, furthermore if this becomes a core message that is repeated too much then it may be rejected as no longer relevant.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Killer App?

The Liberal Democrats are definitely cornering the market on Facebook, nearly all of their MPs are members, they are the most active posters and now they have their own application allowing the party to place their most recent campaign slogans and videos within the profiles of supporters. Sadly the app still has a video of Leader Ming Campbell (ahem) visiting the flooded towns during the summer (whoops); but could this be a new way to build relationships with Facebook's young, politically disengaged users?

The criticism of much political communication using Web 2.0 tools is that largely they use these interactive media to post static communication, so the kind of brochure-like material we associate with Web 1.0 websites. This adaptation to the Facebook environment is certainly gimmicky but allows a greater degree of connection between the party and its supporters and may encourage more interest in politics and the party. it is not inevitable, but there is potential.

And now the fashion range!

"Now's the time to show your support for Barack and let everyone know you're
ready for change in Washington"

A gimmick? Shameless self promotion? A novel way of raising funds? A way to increase visibility and brand recognition? It ticks all the boxes but it is what political campaigning is about, increasingly the answer seems to be yes! So will we get the David/Gordon for PM in 2008/9?