“Who are you calling c–t, c–t?”
There is one thing that all three participants in tonight’s election Debate have in common: none has ever been elected to the highest political office in the land. One of them however, has exercised squatters rights at No 10 Downing Street for quite a while but only because no-one had the courage to evict him. Those who did try have joined the “where are they now?” pile of political detritus which languishes in that forgotten twilight world, somewhere between politics and commerce. The Memoir Zone.
One of tonight’s participants may be joining them very soon.
There has been much speculation and anticipation about the “Presidential Style” debate which the media age demands. After all, we know that there is a certain inevitability of the United Kingdom eventually importing everything that is bad from American culture. We’ve already gratefully accepted obesity, gun crime, bad television and incorrect spelling so we might as well go the whole hog and allow our leaders to sacrifice their dignity in the name of entertainment.
British Prime Ministers have only recently enjoyed direct personal contact with the electorate because after all, they are only elected as ordinary MPs. Since the Thatcher era, the British General Election has become little more than a presidential contest because the majority of voters will deliver their verdict based only on their feelings towards a party leader. Nowadays, the function of most ordinary prospective Members of Parliament is no more than that of political “ballast”. Remember Blair’s Babes?
The Blair era demonstrated and established the presidential voting principle and there was a time when New Labour could adopt a cardboard cutout as candidate in the sure knowledge that it would be elected. It was the time when make-up, make-over and charisma smothered the old-fashioned politicians’ instinct to serve.
It is no coincidence that both Conservatives and Liberals have two comparatively young “pretty boys” as leaders. Gordon Brown’s persona and image are definitely from the pre-Blair era and as such, puts what was formerly “New” Labour at a great disadvantage. “New Labour” was a misnomer because in reality, it was Blair’s Labour.
Voter-perception and superficiality from the House of Celebrity are the new gods.
There will be no surprises tonight because all three leaders will play safe. They will all have scripted and well-rehearsed ad-libs up their sleeves as they are all aware that the most important thing for them to produce today is a memorable soundbite of no more than one sentence.
Neither Cameron nor Clegg will dare to go too far “off piste” because all that they have to do is not to make themselves look like clowns. Brown will definitely not attempt to go off piste , primarily because he won’t be able to find it – unless it is somewhere in his notes.
Predictably, both Brown and Cameron have gone Stateside for help.
Brown is being coached by Michael Sheehan who coached Barack Obama for his own pre-election debates – notably his TV duels with John McCain. Sheehan is a speech coach.
Cameron has engaged American agency Squier Knapp Dunn Communications. A partner in the company is Anita Dunn who until very recently was Obama’s White House Communications Director. Cameron also has a lot of input from Octavius Black who is not-only a PR man but also an old friend of his.
Clegg is coached by Johny Oates who was with PR company Bell Pottinger which is part of the Chime Group.
Brown’s primary task will be to try and shake-off his dour, old-fashioned grumpy image. Unfortunately, that means that there will be smiling.
Cameron’s image has recently entered the rather dangerous “Mr Slimy Know-all” territory and he will be working very hard to appear as our mate Dave. All that Nick Clegg has to do is to remember to face the front and lower his voice half-an-octave and to throw in a few “Cable-isms” which will have already been given to him by Uncle Vince. Clegg will be the one with the most colourful metaphors.
Brown and Cameron may decide to savage each other but Clegg will be treated well by both of them, only because either may wish to open post-election negotiations with him. In reality, all that Clegg has to do is to turn up and not knock-over any furniture..
Cameron’s strategy may be to help Brown to lose his temper and really blow it. Cameron will try and expose Brown as an old fuddy-duddy control freak. Brown in turn, will try and tell us that Cameron is inexperienced, shallow and not a man of the people. Clegg will highlight the constant points-scoring between the two main parties.
Look out for “palms-towards-the-audience” hand gestures from American-coached Brown and Cameron. It’s the “Hey look at me I’m unarmed with nothing to hide. Trust me” family of gestures favoured by politicians with lots to hide. The best exponent used to be Richard M Nixon. Nick Clegg will be very British and restrained and will keep himself very “narrow”.
The other thing to look out for is a simple mismatch between head movements and what is said . For example if a husband says to his wife in a loving tone “Of course I love you” and he is simultaneously shaking his head from side to side, instead of nodding – he is lying. Keep a sharp lookout – especially in Cameron’s case.
How do I know all these things? I did a lot of training for Bell Pottinger (Clegg’s advisor) and I have also delivered a lot of presentation skills training for Conservatice Central Office. Labour would not allow me anywhere near them – with good reason.
Prediction: They will all do well – but only if you believe everything that you read in the press.