Friday 9 November 2007

How to lose votes and influence no-one

When I was in the sixth form my school was visited by each of the major political parties and the Liberal party. I can't remember much of what was said but I do remember that they didn't exactly cover themselves in glory.

As befits a Liberal party spokesperson I can barely recollect what they said. I do vaguely remember a comment about proportional representation but that's rather par for the course. Given that I like our parliamentary representatives to be true representatives of, and directly accountable to their constituencies, the Liberal party was always going to have a hard time winning me over.
The Conservative party spokeswoman rather embarrassingly replied to a question on unemployment by saying that it was "the price of freedom". Oh dear! I seem to have air-brushed the rest of her presentation from my memory, which is probably just as well.

The Labour party spokesman was young, good looking and very cool. Brad, as I shall call him, could relate to the kids. We knew this because he wore jeans. He started out quite well but inevitably tripped himself up over the question of Mrs Thatcher (even now I have a hard time calling her Margaret). Maggie was such a bĂȘte noire for the political left that it was impossible to debate any subject without socialists of the time (and even today) bearing their fangs. Brad's mistake, when asked why his party hadn't produced any female leaders, was to make a number of originally light hearted sexist comments doubting the femininity of the prime minister; even questioning whether she was a woman at all. Unfortunately he didn't stop there, though I confess I did ratherCall to action - Vote! enjoy the uncomfortable look on the face of each teacher present. Even the teachers wearing corduroy jeans (a dead giveaway) looked shocked. It's just as well I don't resort to such stereotypes…

I was reminded of this visit recently whilst listening to a political commentator on the radio. The basic gist was that the makeup of the electorate was roughly the following; 30% would always vote Labour, 30% Conservative, 10% Liberal and the remainder would be undecided. As a result, he argued, political parties had become savvier in targeting those precious floating voters.

So I wondered; had there been an outstanding spokesperson all those years ago would it have made a difference? I'd like to think so. Though the representations were uniformly bad, they were from people who at least gave you a flavour of what their party represented. Back then there was a little less nous which made it a lot more honest. Nowadays there is more shrewdness, voters are more cleverly targeted but with the unfortunate consequence of a homogenised offering from parties that have all turned a lighter shade of beige.


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