It’s like being back at school. Maybe we never ever get away.
It’s all to do with expectations. Alastair Campbell says it well here. The Lib Dem surge – post-Great Debate – is not something that exactly pleases me. But not for reasons of my own political partisanship. That ninety minutes of point-scoring and coached body language should change the playing-field so dramatically, at a moment in history where crowdsourcing (that is to say, the wisdom of the crowd) is beginning to see through the sleights-of-hand of the traditional opinion formers, is not something that makes me excessively happy.
Are we really still that superficial? Or does public endeavour necessarily have to be a combination of style and substance? There is, of course, no guarantee that an effective style leads to useful substance. Which is the problem with such an equation. It’s clearly not mathematical.
This does make me happy though. This is definitely an example of how crowdsourcing can make for a more accurate public life:
Three of the anecdotes around which David Cameron built his case in the debate became the subject of questioning and raised eyebrows, as reporters, bloggers and Twitter users launched their own factchecking operations.
This is a clear example of how the grassroots, given the communication tools to connect with each other remotely, can begin to come together and fashion alternative methods of exchanging and disseminating information. I can only imagine that the PLCs of this world will be watching from afar and shuddering – for when their secrets come out into the open, the planetary network of eager crowdsourcers will be absolutely merciless in their judgements. Digital Economy Bill notwithstanding.
As far as the British general election campaign is concerned, we should not lose sight of this absolutely fascinating reality: the right-wing component of the electorate seems to lie substantially below the forty percent threshold that Cameron surely needs to progress. And I say Cameron, because it’s Cameron’s future we’re talking about here – not the Tories as a whole.
The Lib Dems, with Clegg at their head, is far more of a threat to the Tories, who find themselves flailing as they are between a barely suppressed extremism and a suddenly cracking façade of cuddliness. David Cameron’s only real virtue was – perhaps – that his marketing was able to give the impression of him being a decent Lib Dem sort with a realistic shot at power. Factor this subtext out of the mix and what’s left? A rebranded image which is nothing but powderpuff suddenly having to deal with the real thing breathing right up his environmentally incorrect exhaust pipe.
The Lib Dems have an image – they are the Pick & Mix party. They pick and choose policies as they see fit. They see ideology in terms of anti-ideology (an oxymoron, of course – we are all ideological, whether we like it or not). And they aim to satisfy the needs of that sometimes quite frightening guiding principle that is “common sense”. How many abominations have been committed through that unhappy appeal to reasonableness that is the precursor to an incomplete crowdsourcing of those who have access to the levers of power?
The Pick & Mix party, eh? Does that not remind us of our recent political history? Do we not think again of Blair and New Labour?
Yes. Blair+ is here. But it’s the Lib Dems Mandelson should be looking to join, rather than Labour he should be looking to distort. Here’s a prediction, if you’re looking for one: the trauma of renewal, the pain of being attacked, the personal insults and the empty uncosted promises of the opposition will unsure that a threshold of faithful Labour voters and ex-voters will stay with Labour, whatever happens over the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Cameron’s carefully constructed façade – constructed on the basis of the results of focus groups which probably said people still want the “common sense” of New Labour without its wilder edges – will begin to crack up quite completely as those who can find it in themselves to trust and vote for those Lib Dems willing to sell the donkey that ideology doesn’t have to have a place in politics start to look for the Real Thing.
No. Cameron didn’t base his image on New Labour. The values were impossibly different. His was actually (whether he knew it or not) an analysis and superficial reconstruction of what the Lib Dems might stand for if they actually got within sniffing distance of real power.
Like unhappily slapping a touchscreen interface on the front end of an existing operating system which is only just up to the mark, if you get what I’m getting at. Touchy-feely is all well and good when it operates organically – but you attempt to simply give your body politic a lick of imagical paint, and – sooner or later – it begins to lose its shine.
Unless, of course, your opposition is determined to fight the battleground on substance and policies rather than style and imagicalness.
In which, the battlefield is never joined, battle is never truly engaged and each party to the conflict can throw stones of an astonishingly different ilk.
Meanwhile, despite all the media hostility, Labour has remade itself a place in many people’s hearts as, in reality, it marches firmly away from Blair+. Surviving a terrible financial crisis whilst at the same time protecting people from its consequences is the best advert for enabling Big Government you could possibly want to engineer.
And people know this.
So to summarise, where are we? Nick Clegg is the real heir to Blair, Blair+ for the 21st century if you like – which doesn’t mean he’s to everyone’s taste but does mean he’ll get somewhere. The Tories, in the process of being undone by their reliance on positioning the emotions and visceral responses of an electorate eager for real change but unconvinced the Ashcroft Tories are anything new, may find all of a sudden that a glass ceiling has come firmly down on their ambitions. They can shoot for the sky, of course – but I suspect they now need to aim to fight another day.
And Labour? As Eddie Izzard says: not perfect but with its heart in the right place.
Not a terribly bad reason to vote for a political party these days. Or, indeed, anybody.