That Was The Week That Was
Are the Lib Dems really ruling out Coalition? Is this General Election a step-change in political communications?
This week was book ended by two media appearances that sit on the opposite ends of the spectrum. One traditional and one less familiar to the Westminster village.
Last night we saw the leaders of all the main political parties take part in a TV appearance on the BBC political mainstay, Question Time. Each leader individually answered questions from the audience, and as always the way with Question Time, they did not pull their punches. It was not a complete disaster for any of the party leaders. It gave them an opportunity to set out key messages and red lines. The latter started to focus the mind on what the next Government may look like, with a few inklings on what might dominate potential coalition talks. Miliband yet again ruled out a formal coalition with the SNP, while Clegg issued that education would be the Liberal Democrats red line. But to offer a disclaimer – policy pledges are still very fluid. The main parties are able to make promises knowing full well that working with smaller parties gives them a get out of jail free card. This was epitomised by Cameron’s economically and politically asinine pledge to freeze income tax, VAT and National Insurance across the next Parliament.
Read our more detailed analysis of the Question Time performances
Earlier in the week, Miliband was interviewed by high profile street preacher of political disillusionment, Russell Brand. Miliband should be commended for taking the decision to defend politics and offering a counter to Brand’s populist evangelisation of political apathy. If politicians cannot defend the political system then we really are in trouble. From a political communications point of view it also provided a welcome change to normal ebb and flow.
The video has had more than 500,000 views. To put this into context, Labour’s last ten Youtube videos collectively have had under 44,000 views and Miliband was the most searched party leader on Google yesterday. This didn’t stop the political commentators calling it a “gimmick” or a “gamble” but political campaigning is about taking a risk. If this is a way to engage with young voters, then why should it be discouraged? The only reasoning being that you have a vested interest in the youth vote not turning up – I wonder who that could be? Political commentators’ criticism of the Brand interview felt fusty and out of sync, with Bob Dylan saying it best with “don't criticize what you can't understand”.
Read our Digital Strategist’s blog on why this interview should be the future.
Since the start of the General Election Campaign our Speakers’ Corner blog has paid little attention to the Liberal Democrats. This reflects their difficulty to either set the agenda or make headlines. However, this week they managed to do so for contrasting reasons.
Firstly, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander revealed how the Liberal Democrats managed to stop the Conservatives’ from cutting Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits. The Lib Dems have probably been sitting on this tangible evidence of their calming influence on Conservative austerity for quite some time. They will have all fingers and toes crossed this proves to be an Ace up their sleeve. There is no doubt that this presented a tricky proposition for the Conservatives’ with the details of their proposed £12 billion cuts in benefits remaining an enigma wrapped in a mystery.
Playing dirty with their most likely coalition partner raises an important question – how do you place nice with a party that you have just been fighting with? Some say all is fair in love and war. Personally, I think it has more to do with where the leak is coming from. The polls are not looking good for Danny Alexander. The prospect of losing his seat and not taking part in coalition talks means he can be the Lib Dem attack dog.
However on the same day, The Times front page quoted sources within the party that no matter the outcome, another coalition with the Tories will not happen. The internal party system means that its activists and MPs get to have a say on what will happen. The school of thought is that the more lefty MPs within the party will survive and will hold the internal balance of power. The Liberal Democrats are now presented with two options – does it reject coalition and attempt to rebuild or does it try save itself through Governing? The answer to this question depends on who is still standing on May 8th.