Monday, October 24, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: I'll have what she's having

Bentley et al, (Alex Bentley, Mark Earls and Michael O’Brien (2011) I’ll Have What She’s Having: Mapping social behaviour, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 146, $22.95/£15.95) in this short and accessible text, explore the phenomena surrounding social interaction and influence. Their question is how do we understand copying. More specifically, how do individuals learn from one another, influence one another and to what extent is man a rational independent actor or simply a follower. The discussion begins in the Pleistocene era, when man had to learn how to survive. Here not only do we observe social learning but understand how it was written into the human genes. The authors argue that the same mechanisms within human cognition exist; they have simply evolved from learning how to survive to how to survive within modern society. Therefore the rules of copying no longer simply follow a ‘copy if better’ norm, although this may help us to understand how technological innovations spread [think of the touch screen], but now relate to the creation of social norms. Social norms are often created through marketing communication, promoting a product as the ‘must have’ item, as well as political communication. The so-called ‘movement for change’ around Obama was a form of group think inculcated through the power of the campaign messages.

The power of a social cascade is thus highlighted as the way in which individuals believe they are acting independently but are actually being influenced. Influence in the 21st Century is likely to be from many sources simultaneously, those who are our friends or whom we follow on social media, the media we read but also the people we spend time with during our day to day lives. Our lives can be described as a rich collage of influences, each being processed and weighed in our minds prior to acceptance or rejection. What is less clear is how cascades start and, in particular, how unintended cascades occur across a society. Why, for example, might parents choose to give their child a name that ends up shared with a third of other children born at the same time? Surely this is not intentional, and may well be innovative in each particular case, or copying someone famous without realising that others would do the same, but why do people independently choose the same innovation? The authors explain four cognitive conditions. When there are few options and few sources of influence a process or rational choice occurs, possibly because the choice is actually a no-brainer. Where there are many options but few sources of influence, so everyone is behaving differently, the decision amounts to nothing but a random guess. If there are few options but many sources of influence this results in directed copying, individuals looking to those who they respect and copying their choice. It is when there are many options and many sources of influence, but yet copying is evidenced and a behaviour appears as the choice of the majority, that we have undirected copying. The challenge is identifying the reasons for the copying, something the authors cannot fully explain.

Political choice is often described as a rational choice, and perhaps following Bentley et al’s schematic there is a reason. Choices tend to be limited, in particular realistic choices for who would be president or party of government, and sources of influence tend to be polarised. However, does this always result in a rational and deliberative choice outcome? Those who are reliant on media with particular partisan biases, or adopt one during a contest, may well fall into directed copying. The choir of voices supporting one party, the UK Sun newspaper’s reporters’ backing of the Conservatives perhaps, can lead to a predisposition to adopt the ideas as your own. There may also be a range of random guesses taking place. While there may not be many similar options, the options may seem very similar and even overwhelming to those who have little political knowledge. Unless there is a clear direction from the media, peers or other respected sources of information, voter choices may amount to little but a random guess once in the ballot box. It is more difficult to consider how undirected copying takes place within a political environment. There may often be many sources of influence, given that most campaigns are dominated by marketing communication. Equally there may be the perception that there are many similar options, or at least an overwhelming choice may exist. Can a combination of influences, from peers, the media, opinion polls, lead to undirected copying? Can we explain the bandwagons that brought Tony Blair or Barack Obama to power in this way? The challenge here is would anyone admit to copying and if not how could we detect such behaviour?

The book is aimed at the expert, though accessible due to its brevity it would be a challenge to newcomers to the topic and offers few signposts to further reading. However, the role of the book is to raise some important and interesting questions about individuality and its limitations. No human would want to think of themselves as having similar thought processes to those associated with sheep or lemmings. Few would ever admit to blind following. Yet we can see in the cases of suicide bombers, rioters on the streets of London, or participants in protests that escalate from peaceful marches to public insurrection, that blind following happens. If Bentley et al explain a significant percentage of human behaviour within their schematic then they demonstrate the amount of power that is held by social influentials. These influentials may be benign figures, or the creators of marketing communication or political propaganda; if it is the latter who predominate in our society we may not like what we find when we map social behaviour.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

No cracks in the consensus ...yet

The recent party conferences by the Conservative, Liberal-Democrats and Labour parties underscore what unites rather than divides the major political parties. All have now subscribed to the austerity agenda in response to the global financial and economic crisis, although there is some disagreement on the pace of cuts. All the parties have also completely abandoned any aspiration towards a return to the free higher education most of our MPs once enjoyed. Ed Miliband effectively (and probably prematurely) conceded the principle of the debate over tuition fees to the coalition government by arguing in his conference speech that Labour would lower the cap of tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000.

Perhaps more significantly there still appears to be no serious public discussion of the reduction in corporation tax proposed by George Osborne last year from 28% to 24% over four years, although Miliband did suggest he would claw this back from the banks and private equity firms which were the whipping boys for much of the speech. By 2014 corporation tax in the UK will have more than halved since its highpoint in the post-war era of 50% in 1949 when Britain really was in an economic crisis. The 24% corporation tax will put us well below the US (at 39%) or Germany (at 33%) and closer to the tax rates of Saudi Arabia and Russia (20%). This reduction is of course being paid for by students and others at the sharp end of the various austerity measures, yet the opposition has failed to campaign on this slashing of corporation tax and so the mainstream media have maintained a polite silence on the topic.

From across the Atlantic however, comes a potential source of trouble for the major parties. The Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to 25 cities in the US and has had an unusual degree of support and understanding from a broad coalition of disgruntled voters and even sympathy from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and mainstream political figures like Nancy Pelosi. Should the success of the movement continue, building on an awareness of record rates of inequality, there is a chance it could spread to Britain. The possibility of copy-cat demonstrations gaining mass support in London as winter approaches seems remote, but much depends on the public mood of those sections of the population most affected by the cuts, including the 100,000 public sector employees expected to lose their jobs by early in the new year.

The mass protests in Greece and riots in England over the summer are further reminders that civil unrest is a real possibility. Demonstrations of the type seen in the US or Athens may not take place, but if the planned occupation of the London Stock Exchange for the 15th October or similar future protests gained significant support it could put all three parties on the back foot. Each has been accused of ‘collusion’ in enacting a corporate-sponsored political agenda (be it Labour’s promotion of costly PFI projects including hospitals); deregulation of banks and financial services (Labour and Conservative); rolling back planning restrictions in the interests of property developers (LibDem/Conservative) and so on.

The extent to which the three major parties are seen to be ‘in the pocket’ of big business and pushing a discredited neo-liberal agenda may in the end do real damage to British democracy and could lead to even higher levels of voter disengagement.

Reconnecting with voters might be regarded by political observers as essential for all three parties. However, the perception that powerful lobbyists, private and corporate donors and multinational threats to relocate production (and accompanying beggar-thy-neighbour tax policies) are the real drivers of party policy may yet produce a coalition of citizens who are disillusioned with this politics as usual. Should this coalition find a sustained collective voice (either on the streets of Wall Street, Athens or London) and if a coherent set of demands emerges there may be the first cracks in the current political consensus. When 20,000 veterans of the First World War marched on Washington in the spring and summer of 1932 and set up a tent city opposite the Capitol - President Herbert Hoover (whose austerity measures were so unpopular) sent in four troops of cavalry and four companies of infantry to clear the encampment, which was torched. The failure of Hoover’s austerity measures led to the massive election victory of Roosevelt in November 1932 on the promise of a programme of employment through the New Deal. The lessons of history seem blindingly clear as the satirical magazine the Onion recently noted.

Should a similar movement of civil disobedience provoke public sympathy either here or in the US there is a chance for the kind of movement that could make real demands on a system that has appeared deaf to alternative strategies for dealing with the current economic crisis. At that point real political differences between the parties could make a comeback and our democracy would be all the healthier for that.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The classic US political advertisement

Why is this advertisement a classic? Because of the well-trodden path in terms of the style, structure and the way in which it tries to evoke a whole series of emotional reactions among the audience.

It starts with the here and now. Obama is president, he is speaking, making promises. This cuts then to news reports which are selected carefully to demonstrate all that Obama offered has not been delivered. The music would be appropriate for a thriller, just when the hero is in danger. The hero here is America - of course. But then the saviour arrives. the music becomes upbeat, faster, the images faster, positive. Rick Perry promises a new form of leadership, the one that America deserves, all is suddenly right with the world.

The narrative is simple and all too common. The situation is bad, this is the blame of the incumbent. But there is an alternative. The imagery, music and words all associate Obama with negatives - the use of the word Zero especially. Is Perry building a 'from Hero to Zero' narrative for Obama? Perry is associated with all that is positive, sunlight, warmth, bravery and Americana of course. The classic comparative ad as if it had been lifted from a shelf and the images changed. As American as apple pie but also as universal as the debt crisis, this is the narrative that underpins so many election campaigns.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

A map of party support in the French blogosphere

The original and further detail, in French, can be found here. What this is essentially saying is that the socialists have the greatest number of conversations within the tightest knit community. It does not necessarily indicate influence, but can be read as reach perhaps. The pattern is largely static since 2007, Segolene Royal's Segosphere was fairly dominant, maybe contributed to her coming a close second, but is no indication of real political support or even of getting into the second round. What it does indicate though is that, online, each party (except the extreme left/gauche) has an active strongly networked hub of supportive webloggers pushing messages out.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The fact that politicians chose to come back is an irrelevance

This rather damning quote from Sir Hugh Orde, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, is one of a number of refutations to statements made by Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May among others. In the aftermath of the 'riots' in London, Birmingham, Salford and Manchester (and elsewhere), the media are now focusing on the question of responsibility. Was the situation handled well, or at least in the best way possible in the circumstances, or badly and inappropriately given the scale of the problem. The fact that most politicians were on holiday was presented as a void, the return of the prime minister, recall of parliament and appearance of Mayor of London Boris Johnson on the ground was argued to fill the void. The strident language of senior politicians presented as a way of characterising the nation's response to the events. Cameron has ever attempted to speak for the people, to synthesise public emotions and attitudes and give them rhetorical voice. The frequently repeated lines from government talk of criminality, thuggery etc, not revolt or riot, thus the core criticism of the police is that their response was based on dealing with public disturbance and not crime. Cameron's statement, however, puts him at odds with the police who in effect are leading operations.

The argument is being presented in a way that suggests Cameron's return gave the necessary leadership that ended the disorder. The police only acted appropriately after his return, this gives him significant political capital. However, the refutations undermine that capital. It can be perceived as a political manoeuvre. The word 'irrelevance' is key to this. Whether the argument will run and run is a question, certainly with the context of cuts to police funding there is a chance that the police themselves will use the events of the last few days as an argument for retaining current funding if not more. If the police are able to demonstrate it was their leadership and not that of Cameron, and that he is trying to take the plaudits on their behalf, it could damage his reputation. It is after all a matter of trust. Whose version of events to we accept? Who has the credibility? One could suggest that Cameron would be well advised not to mess with the police and be seen as backing them not questioning them within the current climate.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Should the government dictate the academic research agenda

The notion of governments controlling the work of academics brings to mind the regimes of Stalin or much academic work in Communist China, where still the works of Mao Tse Tung, Deng Xiaoping et al are core to the curriculum for degree programmes. However there are equally benign interpretations, channelling funding into research into medicine, or even the ways in which to maximise the effectiveness of health campaigns. The prioritisation of the Big Society agenda has sparked fury according to an article published on the Guardian website yesterday. The key problem is because the agenda is largely in slogan form, it is far easier to design the questions when considering how to approach seeking cures for cancer than to consider what to ask about a largely nebulous concept. However, for academics this strikes of government interfering in the act of knowledge generation. The reaction is to ask how a government is allowing an "ill-thought-out, half-formed Tory election idea to divert precious funding away from genuine research".

Perhaps however, academia is missing the point. Around ten years ago there were a number of projects focusing on the Third Way, not to mention a number of colleagues engaged in PhDs asking about the future of socialism, ideology, party politics etc. Largely this was also a slogan that lacked substance, in hindsight now it simply is another label for centrist, managerial politics; perhaps the same verdict will be reached when studies of the Big Society emerge in five years or so. And that is the main point, we need to research to explain this, government cannot just be scrutinised by the media but also needs to be rigorously challenged by the academic community. That challenge needs to focus not just on day to day policy, usually via the media, but long term focusing on the relations between political institutions, the economy and society (big or not).

Unlike Stalinist USSR, China or other less free nations, the government can direct the agenda but not the outcomes. Research should look carefully at the Big Society. Research should question the extent to which society is broken, where the fault-lines are, and how they can be repaired. The various initiatives need to be examined, analysed and placed side by side with economic policy to examine how substance matches rhetoric. We also need to understand the extent to which government can push an agenda, how the media impacts upon acceptance and so how the citizen feels they are a part of a Big Society, do they want to be, and in what way. Without this research the danger is that government will produce its own research, this will be questioned, dubbed inauthentic and unreliable and we return to the policy initiative simply being rhetorical. Independent research is a powerful tool which needs to be linked into governance and society, I think we should embrace the Big Society agenda and raise important questions about the future of Britain. not because the government says we should but because it is important for all who are part of our society.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Alpha Dogs: How Political Spin became a Global Business – BOOK REVIEW

In Alpha Dogs James Harding, Times Editor and former Washington correspondent for the Financial Times, charts the birth and evolution of the political consultant business in the US. Focusing on the partnership between cinema verite film-maker David Sawyer and Ad man Scott Miller, the brains behind the ‘Have a Coke and a smile’ campaign, Harding explains how these two idealists moved into becoming political consultants, started their own agency SMG and exported their model across emergent democracies. The model at the heart of their consultancy was very simple, and one that any modern day consultant would recognise, get inside the heads of the consumer, craft the message, go negative, pre-empt events, tell your story and sell it out. It was this toolkit that was tried and tested getting Kevin White re-elected as mayor of Boston in 1979 and then adapted through numerous unsuccessful (yet very lucrative) forays into South America to be refined in order that they could stage manage the overthrow of the Marcos regime in the Philippines supporting the 1986 campaign of Cory Aquino and two years later unseating General Pinochet in Chile. While the SMG team of consultants could at this stage be arguably on the side of God (or Good) and not Mammon, this was to change over the next decade. Their public failures in Peru and the increasing profit that could be earned from Junk bond sellers, tobacco companies saw SMG shift to a more corporate client portfolio. Miller left, Sawyer was ousted and the consultants spread far and wide across the political spectrum of America and beyond. SMG evolved to become Weber Shandwick, a major force in the public relations industry with a solely corporate focus.

While Harding appears sympathetic to the main characters of Sawyer and Miller, as well as many of the other characters that emerge as key or bit-part players in the SMG story this contrasts to his evaluation of the SMG legacy. While they may have talked of ‘electronic democracy’ of television making key players of the people and putting politics into peoples’ front rooms and not hidden in smoke filled board rooms, Harding contrasts this with the techniques used in order to oil this new democracy. Quoting the words of many consultants a story is built of the evolution in political communication ushered in by SMG. Joe McGinnis is quoted talking of ‘style becoming substance’ and that “The medium is the massage and the masseur gets the votes” (p. 80); for SMG selling a candidate was really about manufacturing an illusion and voters bought these illusions. Overall Harding’s assessment is “a decline in the national conversation, a less meaningful politics, a politics of soundbites and slurs, personalities not policies, image and a lack of imagination” (p. 224). Perhaps this assessment is one that Harding would extend to much of the public relations industry, given the critical tone taken when charting the shift to caring for Mammon and extending the SMG model into the corporate world.

As with many accounts of journalists, this is highly readable and accessible while also being extensively researched combining data from 200 interviews with many of the participants with academic works, SMG strategy documents and contemporary media accounts. It is therefore very important for understanding how the evolution of the political communication industry, how it became professionalised and what consultants would define as being professional. Ultimately, tools aside, winning appears to be everything. Whether it is regimes with dubious records for human rights or not, the well-meaning but inexperienced leader or the politico, the consultant can create the compelling narrative of either the self-less moral candidate or the hard-working professional politician and sell them as a brand. The belief is that the consumer democracy is sovereign, so the tools do not matter, consumers can make up their own minds. Yet when one considers the use of data in order to shape campaigns, the cognitive psychology which underpins message creation and the use of negative attacks one does wonder the extent to which consumers really are sovereign or are just manipulated and confused. Harding brings this contrast out well and hence this represents an important account of the industry and its impact upon the conduct of electioneering and political campaigning globally. He questions this impact, hope is hinted at residing in digital democracy but it is also noted that this is now the terrain of the consultant. The masseurs are now found building territory in social spaces online, Harding perhaps will find that the modern day SMGs will adapt that original toolkit and continue to find ways of manipulating electorates while still covering their techniques with a democratic veneer. They have created a political marketplace, for both personalities and their skills, but is this actually a democratic marketplace? Harding suggests it is not and it is hard to disagree.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Why a social media strategy has huge resource implications

It seems many organisations believe it to be important to have some form of social media strategy. The lure of reaching new audiences in new ways using Facebook or Twitter is certainly an attractive proposition. It is easy to view these tools as resource neutral. Unlike a website they are free, there is no need for outlay on the design of building of your online architecture, it is there and ready to use. However, the implications of appearing on a site such as Facebook is that you are joining a community and every community has rules. There may well be a degree of expectation that you will interact: answering questions and dealing with customer service enquiries publicly within the architecture of that site. Equally there is an etiquette that needs observing. If you are linked to should you thank that person, should you respond to a follow Friday recommendation on Twitter, the list goes on. How do you respond?

The issue is one of resources and a report by University of St Gallen is well worth a read to fully understand fully how to consider what the appropriate social media strategy should be given the resources at hand. This month's Communication Director, provides a snapshot of the resource implications (see the table below).
Even if strategy amounts to monitoring, which should be almost de rigueur for any serious brand, this is time consuming. Thus we find that on every scale, social media increases the workload rather than simplifying the work of someone working within communications.

Research found this to be the case with MPs and recently we have been analysing Internet usage within the European Parliament from a number of perspectives (data analysis ongoing so don't ask just yet), with a follow-up questionnaire to capture these kind of issues as well as strategic differentiators. With MPs and the UK Parliament, resources (time and support) were key determining factors; so it is not simply the case of should we go 'interactive' but can we and what do we do if people interact. How is the new communication environment to be managed and how can the ecosystem be both worked with and monitored to make sense seems one of the greatest challenges for those working in 21st Century strategic communication.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Book Review: Politicking Online

The subtitle to this collection of essays, edited by Costas Panagopoulos, is 'The Transformation of Election Campaign Communications'. The book seeks to map out the ways in which the tools facilitated by online technologies are changing political communication and how campaigners are adapting to the online and digital environment. The analysis is purely focused upon U.S. politics, apart from two chapters, one covering Germany and the other Spain; which do not really offer a real comparative element but place developments in the U.S. in the context of global developments. We find offline inequalities prevail between presidential, gubernatorial and house races, with the lower in the political order a candidate is standing the less likely they are to be campaigning online. We also find that campaigning online can matter, though this is mediated by a range of variables and what comes across clearly is that online and offline must work contiguously in order to generate awareness, support and GOTV. In terms of learning how campaigning work, we learn how tools must be used in combination with one another and how the very latest tools can be used both to measure impact as well as gaining support.

The last of the essays provides some evidence of a Facebook effect, though the discussion does temper the findings putting them into a wider context. The fact that the essays look at social networking sites and new and untested shows how fast paced innovations are. Not in terms of innovations in campaigning but in the social uses of online tools which in turn drive campaigning. Despite being published in 2009 the book seems a little dated purely because of Obama, it raises the question whether academia can fully keep up with real world developments their uses within society, business or politics and their impacts. But, as with all good academic works, Panagopoulos leaves us with five lessons that both those engaged in political campaigning as practitioners or researchers should learn. Adaptation is key, he argues, within practice one has to adapt to new social communication styles and use the same tools as those with whom we wish to converse. Equally academia needs to adapt to new theories that help explain these new practices and their impacts. In practice it is key to know the limits, and this equally follows within academic study where we have to understand that new techniques cannot always replace but complement those which are tried and tested. While it seems odd for a study of U.S. campaigning to say look abroad but there are always lessons to be learned and practices to adapt to independent of how superior the developments in the U.S. are due to the resources used within campaigns. Academics also need to map across nations, not simply focusing on single nations; comparative studies offer means to truly understand the nature of evolution and revolution in terms of campaigning practices. The final two lessons suggest we should all stay alert and keep up. Minor developments can be easily overlooked, but turn into key innovations and so both practitioners and academics should look at each other's work more closely in order to understand and reflect upon what can and should be guiding the search for the communicational edge.

This book provides the grounding for these lessons and offers much thought-provoking data. While it may date quickly, as many studies of campaigning do, each essay provides a basis of understanding within one area of campaigning which we can use as basis for comparative work of both a temporal and spatial variety. Hence, this book should really be on the shelf of anyone interested in political campaigning and the impact of new technologies.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Head in the Cloud? How can we harness the wisdom of the crowd?

Is there any value to the idea of 'the cloud'? Problem-solving by posting a question 'out there' and seeing if a response comes? It could be the scariest experience to anyone who feels they need to gain advise from 'real' experts, or doubt there is any sense in what is sometimes known as the wisdom of the crowd. But don't we often do this anyway? If you rely on ratings on review sites when buying books, CDs, DVDs, choosing hotels, restaurants, bars (even wedding venues), then you are relying on collective intelligence. Reviews of cars, computers, B2B services, are said to be frequently used when seeking advise; how do we know any review is any more credible than another; furthermore can we really trust the 'expert' (paid reviewer) any more than the unpaid reviewer or is the latter inherently either more trustworthy or less of an expert? More interesting, how can the idea cloud be used. Are there bright ideas out there being untapped? Can they help organisations do things better? Or are we just inviting chaos into every aspect of life? Governments talk of organising groups that they can consult on issues, somewhere in the Big Society is an idea of collective action and wisdom - are there better ideas out there or would this just invite partisan commentary and negativity? Are focus groups ways of harnessing random ideas or only for testing existing ideas - having run them you often find that you cannot just ask what they think of 'X' but they insist on saying 'Y' would work better. Should more be done or less? Really interested in any thoughts on this!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

If nothing else, social media can tell you if you got the message out

Due to the immediacy of public input an commentary, it is now simpler to assess the extent to which any set piece event is able to capture attention and also whether you got the message across. The US President State of the Union (hashtag #SOTU) is one such event and key to this is firstly capturing attention and secondly getting the message across.

Mashable produced some great analysis of what the social web was talking about when discussing the the SOTU. It certainly captured an active audience, 400,000 tweets is a significant number, and of those the majority talked about issues relating to education and the economy, they also note clear spikes in issue attention suggesting Obama is leading the online commentary. This, however, is an engaged audience who not only listen to SOTU but wish to add commentary and debate the issues. Sadly there is no sentiment rating to assess the extent of whether they were largely supportive or not.

A more representative sample was used to test out whether Obama's messages got through to the audience. An article in New York magazine shows two word clouds, one for Obama's speech and one from recall among 4,000 of the audience. Obama's cloud is dense and full of the sort of language one would expect. There are a lot of issues raised but also those buzzwords 'new', 'people' and references to nation and national identity with America/American/Americans. The 4,000 viewers picked out a less dense package of words. Aside from education, the key terms were descriptive as opposed to the terms Obama may have liked to have had resonate. Words such as 'Inspiring', 'hopeful', 'optimistic' describe a mood as opposed to issues - this tells us something about what audiences pick out however. But then there is the major key word they heard 'Salmon' - not a major policy area!
What do we learn from this, well we can get instance responses from an audience. Usually this would be the most engaged group however. This may look pretty positive but this may lead to a false sense of security about how you led an agenda and how politically aware the majority of people are. Asking a mass audience shows that what you think people heard may not always be what they actually left with in their minds.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Review: Britain Votes 2010

It is now traditional for Parliamentary Affairs to produce simultaneously a special edition of the journal and a book covering various aspects of each UK election. Britain Votes 2010, edited by Andrew Geddes and Jonathan Tonge covers all the main issues relating to the election one would expect and want to find in such a resource. The results and subsequent negotiations prior to the formation of a coalition are covered in excellent depth, with specific chapters on the campaigns in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland providing rich detail on campaigning and voting patterns and their impact on the election result. There are also chapters covering the campaigns of the main parties, and one on finance which shows the disparity experienced between the 'rich' Conservatives and their opponents. Despite inequalities in campaigning ability and funding, the result was not a disaster for Labour which suggests that there is more to voting behaviour than a flash campaign. The one clear 'effect' is the swing against Labour among Sun readers shown in the chapter on The Media by Dominic Wring and Stephen Ward. While Cleggmania may have been instigated by the first Leaders' Debate and Duffygate by then PM Gordon Brown being caught off-guard by television, but neither these nor innovations online translated into votes; maybe there is still a detectable Sun effect after all. Chapters on gender imbalances, in both media portrayals and despite selection procedures, economic and foreign policy and attitudes towards European integration and immigration round off the book. Perhaps more could be said of the minor parties, though they seemed to have little overall impact beyond the election of Caroline Lucas as Britain's first Green Party MP. Overall, therefore, this book represents an excellent resource that reminds us of the detail as well as providing in-depth analysis of a range of issues and some interesting thoughts for the future of British democracy.

The one issue I would raise about reporting on the election is the often repeated line that 'On 6th May 2010 the British electorate spoke, but it was not entirely clear what they said', a line originating with commentators on May 7th when interpreting what a hung parliament meant. It seems that actually it is clear that the voters as individuals were able to make their own decision on how to vote but collectively there was no winner. Basically it seems the clear outcome was not that any voter tried to engineer a hung parliament but that there was a failure by any party to win over a majority. Despite his flaws, Gordon Brown remained a better PM (perhaps safer pair of hands) than Cameron. Cameron failed to make a case for his social re-organisation and replacing Big Government with Big Society (as Martin J. Smith points out in the book). Voters may have warmed to Nick Clegg but still not seen the Liberal Democrats as a viable government. Hence, despite all the usual campaigning activity, and the added dimension of leader's debates which received record viewer figures for any British political programme, there seemed to be little impact on public opinion from the campaign. Of course we cannot say this with any degree of safety, as it is unclear how many individuals changed their minds due to any specific event during the course of the campaign, but it is striking how pre-campaign polling results seemed to be reflected in the results, notwithstanding minor underestimations of the Labour vote holding up.

These issues are all raised in the book, an analysed in depth where possible. While it is perhaps one of many texts that will emerge on the election its coverage and quality will place it as a key resource for understanding how the British voted in 2010, the potential impacts and how this election should be understood within the context of patterns of campaigning, party performance and voting behaviour for years to come.