The General Election and The TV Debates

Brown Clegg Cameron

The re-emergence of TV as a national medium

Yes. I know. I got it wrong. I apologise.

I thought digital media had been so important in getting Barak Obama elected that it would be very helpful here, too.

Obama raised three times as much in donations from private individuals as he did from Corporate America, and both digital marketing and personal phone calls were vital in achieving this. Have a look at The Great Schlep to see for yourselves.

But the TV debates have relegated Labour to third place.

It’s possible that the Liberal Democrats might be in first place after the third debate. The Conservatives are now unlikely to win with a convincing majority.

What has caused this?

It has to be the TV debates.

It’s an old idea, and it uses an old medium – television.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Morecambe and Wise’s Christmas Show easily attracted audiences of 17 million, including The Queen and The Queen Mother. I thought TV’s ability to generate audiences like these were long gone.

But TV’s immense ability to grab the nation by the throat remains undiminished. What it has lacked is compelling and dramatic content, which the TV debates have in large buckets.

On Monday this week, 19 April, I attended the wonderful Citrus Club. This is run by Grey’s London office. Grey is part of the WPP Group and is run by Chris Hirst. The Club is an informal one, and meets once a month to hear a prominent speaker. Last month, the speaker was an apocalyptic Jon Moulton, previously of Alchemy and now running Better Capital. This month the speaker was James Humphreys.

James spent something like eight years in 10 Downing Street as Head of Corporate Communications, so it was likely that he would have a good insight into the current situation. Amongst other things he told us was that he had never seen anything in either In The Thick Of It or In The Loop which surprised him. It all was credible.

Anyway, towards the end of his talk, he started to go through the possible outcomes to the forthcoming election, and went through them convincingly.

Then he paused and said, “Of course, the other possible outcome is that Nick Clegg might find himself Prime Minister in a couple of weeks. Why? Well, there’s a difference between the number of seats and the majority of the popular vote. If Clegg does end up with the majority of the popular vote, and if Gordon Brown hasn’t got enough seats, Her Majesty might send for Nick Clegg, which would mean Vince Cable as Chancellor and Paddy Ashdown as Defence Minister. The first TV debate has made this a credible outcome.”

I listened to this with some scepticism.

But then I watched the second debate last night. Clegg is very credible. And he is right to refer to Labour and Conservative Parties as Old Parties.

And if he makes a good fist of it next week, it’s just possible that he might be visiting the Palace fairly soon.

What got him to this point?

Not digital, but television.