As the general election campaigns lumber on, more and more analysis is concentrated on the political party leaders- who, if you didn’t know by now, are Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown.
You’d be forgiven for assuming that we’re just voting for one man, with no sniff of a political party behind him. General elections come around every four years, and the intensive scrutiny attributed to the party leaders verge on the absurd. Lets put their policies to one side, and focus on the party leaders’ shameless attempts to be adored by the electorate.
They’re everywhere! You can’t turn on your TV, browse iPlayer or even glance at the newspapers in Morrisons without being greeted by the enlarged grinning- or gurning- face of Clegg, Cameron or Brown.
Their political caricatures are either idolised or despised. Just take a look at the countless facebook groups derived from the recent bout of Cleggmania, as well as the vehement anti Tory groups. The televised debates, whilst reaching more of the electorate than ever before, also, unfortunately, have the potential to become a bit of a pantomime.
We want our party leaders to be genuine. Straight after the debates, Clegg, Brown and Cameron’s body language, communication skills and use of rhetoric are picked apart by psychologists and advertising executives. Cameron looked straight into the camera? Bad. Clegg remembered someone’s name? How personable of him!
They’re bending over backwards to please us, and it’s pretty hilarious to watch. During the first election debate we witnessed cringe worthy lines – ‘You can’t airbrush your policies like you airbrush your posters’. They sounded so rehearsed; you had to wonder if these men were putting on a carefully composed act. Which begs the question- are politicians real people?
It can’t be denied that the televised debates have allowed for an even closer scrutiny. Now their body language, the way the look at the camera, the fact that they can recall names, facts and figures, their facial features, the likeability of their face, their appearance, their wives, their pasts, their teenage years, their choice of clothing, the political persuasions of their families- all of these are picked apart, analysed and laid bare for the public to make an ‘informed’ decision.
It’s hard to know just what to believe anymore. What thick skin these men must have- at first glance it seems that they are vulnerable, ready to be crucified by the sharp, stabbing words of the press. What do we even want from our politicians? Time and time again they are accused of being untrustworthy multi faceted crooks, out of touch with the people they are supposed to be representing. So they indulge themselves in reality TV shows like Channel Four’s Big Brother and Tower Block of Commons, in attempts to reach their voters.
What do we even want from these men? Logic suggests that Cameron, Clegg and Brown must know that they’re under scrutiny to the point of caricature. The whole point of democracy is placing power momentarily in the hands of the state’s people. That concept becomes a bit undermined if we decide against voting for so and so simply because he’s got an annoying face.
It’s no surprise that political parties choose their leaders carefully. The stereotype of a typical politician- grey man in a grey suit with grey hair- has turned the youth vote off in the past. We want our politicians to be relatable, friendly, and just like us- which is probably why such a furore has been made of David Cameron’s upper class, Etonian education. They strive to by liked by the electorate- which is why every televised debate, interview, and party political broadcast is peppered with anecdotes about the time they met someone just like you. They’ll try to prove that they’re not that different at all.
I suppose the big question is do personalities actually matter in politics? The obvious answer is yes- but to what extent? Of course, no one wants a horrible person running their country. But politicians are not television presenters. It’s been said that people don’t believe in ideas- rather, they believe in people who believe in ideas. It’s true that a concept has the potential to become a lot more likeable (or distasteful) once a policy can be anchored to a face. Otherwise, these ideas have a tendency to take on a life of their own.