Sunday 23 October 2016

An election that was mired in the banality of sameness

Published 09/05/2015 | 02:30

British reality TV “sensation” Joey Essex appeared with almost all parties in some teeth-clenchingly embarrassing photo-opportunity with party leaders
British reality TV “sensation” Joey Essex appeared with almost all parties in some teeth-clenchingly embarrassing photo-opportunity with party leaders

This UK general election was described by many political observers as the dullest campaign to date. Frozen in a sedulous fear of social media and opinion polls which indicated minimal margins of difference, the media strategists of virtually all political parties revelled in the security of sameness.

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The tactic has paid off for the Conservatives who are set to govern Britain for the next five years, with an unexpectedly high mandate and a majority to lead the next Government. The Labour Party, which pursued the same strategy, delivered very different results.

Backroom staff and aspiring spin doctors in Leinster House will have watched this contest with interest. Irish voters will be offered the same premise in the next general election by Government parties which will tell us: "We are not broken, don't fix us." In all likelihood, we will also be forced to watch a re-run of the British election. Get ready to stab yourself in the eye with a sharp pencil out of sheer boredom.

Like everything in politics nowadays, spontaneity and original thought are viewed as anathema to securing votes. There was nothing raw and turbulent about the British election campaign. Quite frankly, it left many political anoraks feeling a little cheated.

Backroom politics is big business, but in terms of delivering feedback from the ground, the canvass and party networks are increasingly replaced with focus groups and pie charts. This perhaps may explain why the spin machine was never in a position to refute the now obviously inaccurate poll indications, and why the campaign was so dull.

Essentially, political parties and pollsters are depending almost exclusively on the same resource for information and, more worryingly for political parties, their decisions are based almost exclusively on a formulaic approach. As a result of this over dependence, what appears on your TV screens in the form of a politician is becoming more like an actor and with every election debate, less like a visionary.

Throughout the campaign, polls indicated that the election was on a knife edge. This notion was demolished as soon as the first exit poll flashed up on our screens. Media companies and vested interests will not continue to invest millions in a system that is simply defunct. Pollsters should take note that methodologies applied in the modern era are proving to be wildly inaccurate when real people get the opportunity to voice their political preferences at the ballot box. It is ironic that the only shock factor in the campaign was actually the result itself.

As the parties took to the road in the final feverish weeks on the campaign trail, we were treated to a number of stale, pale, male frontmen, shielded from the public and stage-managed to within an inch of their political lives. What resulted was a catalogue of highly-controlled and contrived photo-opportunities in sterile, orchestrated environments.

There was much finger-pointing and shaking of hands, as carefully selected stereotypes and key demographics were ushered in for a quick "grip and grin". Photo-opportunities became as sanitised as the factory floors they visited.

Not content with their own domestic spin-doctors, two of the biggest names in international politics were secured to mastermind the crucial campaigns for the Cameron and Miliband. For the conservative party, David Cameron enlisted the services of the Australian election guru Lynton Crosby. He was quickly dubbed "the Wizard from Oz" and this morning he will click his heels and go home with a smile and a big, fat pay cheque.

Not to be out done on the super-hero spin-doctor side of things, Miliband enlisted the assistance of David Alexrod, Barack Obama's most influential adviser during two presidential victories. Despite investing the minds of two of the greatest practitioners of the dark arts, fear, control and boredom were the three main pillars of this campaign. Fear that Labour would wreck the economy again; control of the media; and boring the punters into submission.

Actually, there was one further common denominator, it also happened to be the lowest one. British reality TV "sensation" Joey Essex appeared with almost all parties in some teeth-clenchingly embarrassing photo-opportunity with party leaders. When a man who is essentially famous for being stupid is now an essential part of an election campaign, it really is time to stop taking this thing seriously. I need to find another hobby.

The other celebrity to enter the fray was Russell Brand, perhaps the only man to appear more insane when he is off class A narcotics than when he is on them.

Even boring campaigns are not without the dreaded election stunt that goes wrong. This campaign was so boring that a headstone became the most divisive symbol in the campaign. Miliband quite literally carved his pledges in stone. In doing so, he signed his political fate.

Irish Independent

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