• -
  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 7, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

    Lessons from the British elections

    Harry McGee

    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.

    • ballsdotie says:

      Lenihan could conceivably play the ‘serious man’ card but Cowen is dead on his feet.

    • Olive Barnes says:

      Lived in England for too long to be really au fait with the minutiae of Irish politics. But looking at the GB election, it seems to me that an awful lot of people voted for individuals rather than parties, hence the irrationality of the swings from one seat to another.

      Overall though, I think an awful lot of people, probably by now a majority in GB, realise that the FPTP system is immoral and completely indefensible and would support a change. This is one reason why the Tories lost votes. The voters are not as afraid of a coalition government as the politicians say we should be.

      Also they (the politicians) spent too much time talking down to us and would not spell out the really tough cuts which are ahead of us. Borrowing in the UK is only 2 percentage points below Greece yet they kept promising spending rather than cutting.

    • dealga says:

      Yet there is still no escaping the fact that Lab+LD = 15,205,906 votes so far, making 311 seats while the Tories = 10,561,428 votes so far, making 301 seats. That is a broken system.

    • The other problem of opinion polls is that if the result is radically different to them and the voting system is not transparent it can lead to be problems. Imagine if they had electronic voting in the UK, or we had had it here in 2007, would people have trusted the result?

    • XXfactor says:

      Bloody Hell! you go out to get the messages and arrive home to find the *THE LIBERALS ARE REVOLTING* literally, in Central London outside the Con Lib Negotiations as I type…’Hello is Nick there’?

    • Wasn’t Luntz credited with (blamed for?) Cameron becoming leader of the Conservatives? One of his TV shows in the UK apparently led to more focus on Cameron.

      The UK televised debates introduced a new layer of triviality to British politics, with the run-up to election day dominated by mind-numbing analysis of each facet of each leader’s delivery. It almost made you forget that it was a parliamentary, and not presidential election.

      Luntz’s appearance on Irish tv, along with the worm device (which features quite a bit on the West Wing) threatened to introduce that type of triviality to Irish politics – focus groups grilled on how they felt about the way someone said something, not what policies they agree with/are convinced by, etc.

    • dfmeagher says:

      Any other Irish here enjoying observing the dawning of a new political show in the UK?
      Will Fianna Fail see the export opportunities and offer tallyman training in the UK?
      Obviously, I exclude Mary Coughlan from any such expectation!

    • Michael says:

      Daniel – does anybody trust electronic voting ?. I think not. What ever about electronic voting on FPTP, on a proportional representation system – no way. It would just be another IT project which would go belly up at a great financial cost. It is better to pay a few vote counters for a few days work than pay a waster IT company a blank cheque for a dubious or no system. Even with a paper feed system for cross checking – what’s the point ?

    • XXfactor says:

      It’s all going a bit ‘Pete Tong’…Whatever happens I think it will be a hung out to dry Election for GorBlimey Brown…How does it go again…? ‘Be careful what you wish for’…

    • minnie says:

      Of course, the big lesson to be learned from the recent (fascinating) uk election scenario — especially the lead-up — is that an aspiring leader must be extremely careful and BEWARE OF MRS DUFFY…………..so to speak. She could pop up anywhere.

    • Michael, I doubt if anyone is now prepared to trust any form of electronic voting here for a generation or more and rightly so given the system adopted and the flaws in the process of its selection. What I was driving at is that there is now a movement in some parts of the UK press to go for e-voting to sort the delays in people being able to vote. And they should learn from our experience and be very wary of doing so.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      The main argument against PR here in the UK in future must be that if it means it takes a few days to reach a deal we will be subjected to the same amount of drivel from the media – my God the amount of rubbish on the airwaves to fill space on the 24/7 news cycle would make your eyes bleed. Enough already.

      A four year term has about 1500 days so the sky won’t fall in if it takes 5 or 6 days to reach a deal.

      The main issue is the sea change in attitudes required by the media, the establishment and the political parties to learn how to make a coalition work – the Conservatives have a larger sense of entitlement to rule than even Fianna Fáil, so the chances of that change taking place are slim and that will chip away at the cohesion of the coalition. Plus the Liberals have no idea of the heap of poo that is about to fall on them the moment they sit down at cabinet as from that point on they are to blame for everything that goes wrong – I hope Nick Clegg gave John Gormley a call for some advice and I’m sure Gormless would have told Nick to run for the hills.

    • XXfactor says:

      Wasn’t it a great night for West Belfast…and the future inaugural President of a United Ireland?
      I watched the SF manifesto launch on the Parliament Channel and was most impressed by Mr Adams, who it has to be said looked most dapper…stylish in fact…You might say Sinn Fashion (sic) have traded the Armalite for the Armani…
      He also has a very relaxed and easy manner with the Press…perhaps that’s why there was a TV embargo until hitherto…In fact the Leader is now considered so personable that even the ‘other side’ are voting for him in West Belfast…where it is perceived that SF do more for certain sections of the community than their traditional representatives..’A journey of a thousand miles and all that’…Good man Gearoid…

    • XXfactor says:

      Have these blogs been abandoned…or are we in some dictatorship of the mind…? Surely Des shouldn’t have to wait 5 days for a response to his post…!!!

Search Politics