John Clark writes…
First published: June 2014
The media has a collective obsession with the image of Party Leaders. Political Parties fall into the trap that has been laid for them. Ed Milliband is the latest victim of this game. In his case, holding a copy of the Sun. All the London based mainstream parties had their leaders performing the same trick. A little bit of thought should have reminded the Labour leadership of Wapping, Hillsborough and the phone hacking saga. This was followed by ‘an apology’. Murdoch was left smiling because he knows that as long as politicians believe in image he will make money. Not only will the media make money they will be able to manipulate the democratic outcome by the use of image.
The false power of image has gone on for a long time. In the early 1980’s the press, radio and television built up the ‘Gang of Four’ and the ‘Alliance’ (SDP and Liberals). Their poll ratings were over 50%. The message was that they would form a government. Their image was destroyed by the Tory press, Mrs Thatcher continued in No.10.
The major parties have not learned. Focus groups and opinion polls dictate their policies. As a result politicians stand for policies they believe are popular. They may not even believe in their own policies. This lack of commitment means that policies are easily dropped or changed.
This measurement by image and opinion poll is shown by the present attack on Ed Milliband (the media consider it Millibrand).Recent YouGov polling shows that “few voters think that he fits the bill”. Voters regard him as “weak, not strong in relation to the economy”. It is frightening that the direction of our country should be decided by personality opinion polling.
The Liberal Democrats are even worse. They put forward policies in the 2010 election to the left of Labour and Tories. Abolition of Tuition Fees is a good example. Since the election they have abandoned these policies and kept the most right- wing government for over 50 years in power. For those of you who doubt the statement consider the following: Would Mrs. T. have dared to cut benefits, sold off the Royal Mail at a bargain basement price, or let privatization run rip through the NHS?
In media terms this is not viewed as important as who should lead the LibDems. Who is plotting to overthrow Clegg and who will replace him? This is irrelevant to the future of Britain. The LibDems should be judged on their actions not who is their leader and certainly not his image. Maybe the recent election results are a sign that the electorate judge actions and not image.
Cameron and Osborne both have their public school image. This is not their fault. What is important is their lack of understanding of the common situation – “Two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk”. This is a problem for the Tories but not as big as a potential Boris Johnson leadership, i.e. the image would be right but the policies still wrong.