Lessons from the British elections
1. There will be a reassessment of the power of television and social networking. Clegg was the big winner in the television debates, yet the Lib Dems have lost seats! One of the telling factors was a recent poll which showed that 40 per cent of voters had not yet made up their minds. Somebody last night described it as a ‘hovering pen’ election, where people made the criticial decision at the last minute. And I think that, notwithstanding all the hype and hoopla, people asked themselves the big question. Who do I trust most to run the country for the next five years? They just didn’t see the Lib Dems as a Government or part of a Government. The choice became an old-fashioned one between the old-fashioned parties for old-fashioned reasons.
The American pollster and propogandist Frank Luntz came to Ireland before the 2007 election with a new-fangled device that he said could accurately record the sentiment of audiences towards parties and leaders. It was a kind of feelometer. If you liked what you saw and heard from a leader’s speech or comments you turned a dial on a a hand-held device to the right. If you didn’t like it, you turned it to the left.
It looked great and gave a graph line across the screen that went up and down according to the audiences’ reaction at that particular moment in time to what the leader was saying. The whole thing had a quasi-scientific air to it. Except that it’s a gimmick with no evidential value whatsoever. Zero. Zilch. It is to science and accuracy what Ray Burke and George Redmond are to upholding the finest tenets of democracy.
I noticed that the Beeb was using the same device during the leaders debate. And what did it tell us. It gave an instantaneous reading of a select group of people’s emotions at a particular moment. Did it have any nexus to their eventual voting intention. None. Pseudo science. No more than that.
2. Other factors. Clegg peaked too early. His stances on immigration and the euro were brave but probably cost him votes. He was also very weak on the economy in the third debate. Brown put in a very strong late surge that probably clawed him back some of the territory. From April, it was Cameron’s election to lose and he half-lost it. The Tories were coming from a low base, as were the Lib Dems. The 2005 election wasn’t that close, so they weren’t in the position that New Labour were in 1997. A little bit like Fine Gael in 2002. Without a messianic leader like Blair, they had too much ground to make up in 2007.
3. Brown has done relatively well, given his unpopularity. Is there hope for Cowen? The Taoiseach’s dourness and downbeatness makes Brown look and seem like Graham Norton doing pantomime. But there’s a bit of hope for him in that if he can position himself as the serious man who can recover the economy, he might make up lost ground. Labour may well find itself being squeezed by the bit two again. Beware opinion polls! They give a good indication. But sometimes they don’t tally with what people sense deep down.