Archive for April, 2015

Russell Brand: The PM misquoted and that’s not all he got wrong!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 29, 2015 by Tom Leatherbarrow

russell brand

When something is attacked it is a sure sign that the attacker is worried, I mean why attack if you’re not bothered? The news that Ed Miliband has been interviewed by Russell Brand for the comedian’s YouTube channel has been met with derision from the Tories and many media commentators.

With his sleeves rolled up and tie off (how very Blairite) the PM ridiculed Ed Miliband’s decision to be interviewed by declaring it a ‘joke’ and referencing Brand’s previous stance of non-voting. In fact, the PM was misquoting the title of one of my favourite books by right wing (yes right wing!) US political satirist PJ O’Rourke first published in 2010 called, “Don’t vote: it just encourages the bastards”. They don’t write titles like that anymore.

There is a wider point here. Like him or not, Brand is followed, liked and watched by a lot of the young electorate. At the last count there was 10 million Twitter followers and his YouTube interviews or rants, call them what you will, are regularly watched by hundreds of thousands. That is cut-through and engagement well beyond traditional media channels.

Much as I enjoyed Andrew Neil de-constructing David Gauke, Financial Secretary to the Treasury on the Daily Politics on Monday about the ‘letter’ from 5000 small businesses backing the Tories (if you haven’t seen it click here, sit back and enjoy) only 4000 people have viewed it so far on YouTube. Whenever this interview between Brand and Miliband surfaces, best guess is sometime in the next 48 hours, the numbers will blow this out of the water – that is a guarantee.

The PM’s stance is a mistake. When you ridicule one of the leaders of the YouTube generation you ridicule his fans, followers and even his occasional viewers. What’s more, fair play to Ed Miliband for doing it, presumably without prior sight of the questions. He was willing to go toe to toe with a very bright and witty comedian. It could easily blow up in his face but I suspect it will achieve levels of engagement that dozens of interviews on Andrew Marr’s sofa will never achieve.

Milifans – the chasm between mainstream and social media grows ever wider!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 24, 2015 by Tom Leatherbarrow

 Milifans

What is going on? Ed Miliband has a fan club on Twitter. He has teenage girls, only just getting over Zayn Malik leaving One Direction, all flustered.

Apparently, ‘Milifans’ as they are now known, have been describing him as ‘cool’ and changing the photos on their Twitter feeds.

And it’s not only teenage girls. After Michael Fallon’s intervention ten days ago describing Ed as a backstabber for knifing his brother, closely followed by Daily Mail revelations about his ‘tangled’ love life, their mothers are joining in too. I noticed one of them on Twitter describing him as sounding ‘rather dashing’ like some sort of latter day Mr Darcy.

Will the madness never end? I know we all love an underdog, but this is ridiculous! Haven’t these people seen the weird hand movements?

There is another point here, namely an ever-widening gap between mainstream and social media that is being magnified by this election. The more the mainstream attacks, the more sceptical the public gets. The old levers no longer work.

Ed Miliband is described as a backstabber and bed-hopper and his ratings go up.

Nicola Sturgeon is described as “The most dangerous woman in Britain” and her ratings go up.

Leanne Wood is described as naïve and ‘leftie’ and her ratings go up.

The truth of the matter is that the mainstream media is throwing everything but the kitchen sink at this, but the electorate is not responding – at least not in the way that is wanted. The response the mainstream media is getting is, at best, being ignored or, at worst, treated with contempt and/or ridicule.

Has the public cottoned onto media ownership/bias in the UK? Has Leveson had an effect? Or is it just that the attacks are so ridiculous, and there are so many other avenues for collecting and disseminating information, we are freer to make up our own minds?

I don’t know, just like I don’t know who is going to win this election, but one thing is becoming clearer. Unlike in 1992 we won’t be saying, “It’s the Sun wot won it.”

The British electorate is not ‘engaged’!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 17, 2015 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Girl with head on desk

Did anybody else see the photo of the little girl sitting next to David Cameron with her head on the desk and think, “I know how you feel.”

Like the little girl, I suspect most of the electorate are sick of being talked at. You see there is a huge difference between talking at people and talking to them.

Since the start of the election campaign the leaders of all parties have talked at people via a series of soundbites or bribes depending on your level of cynicism.

The first week of the campaign will be remembered for a soundbite, namely “long term economic plan”. Now, I’m all for applying key messages, but there is a difference between focused messaging and repeating the exact same statement over and over again. One offers definition and clarity, the other is just irritating.

This was followed by a series of promises. “Guaranteed one-to-one care from a midwife”; the “Right to buy housing association properties at discounted prices”; “Guaranteed thirty hours of free nursery care for families”. To me these just sounded like bribes flung out to grab a headline, not thought-through policies designed to be questioned or substantiated.

And that is what is wrong with this campaign so far, there is no questioning as the electorate is not engaged, because it is being talked at, not encouraged to take part.

It should go like this:

Politician: “We will guarantee thirty hours of free nursery care for working families.”

Voter: “Really? How will that work exactly? Will it be for all families or will it be means-tested?”

Which, of course, is the crux of the matter, because despite what The Sun ran on its front page yesterday, I personally don’t believe for a moment that all working families are going to get thirty hours of free childcare. The problem is that this election has become so sanitised that we aren’t able to ask the clarifying questions.

Communication is two-way, but our politicians seem to have forgotten this. We spend a lot of time at WPR telling clients not to just issue releases, post Tweets, put content on Facebook or LinkedIn, without trying to engage your audience. Because if you do just chuck out content, there is every chance that nobody will be listening, which is where I suspect most of the British electorate is currently at.

Only another three weeks to go though!

What this election needs is a good old-fashioned husting!

Posted in Politics with tags , on April 14, 2015 by Tom Leatherbarrow

IMG_0581

Yesterday, the Prime Minister met a voter, a proper voter not one with a press badge.

He went for a walkabout (my god the daring!) in Alnwick. Now, admittedly, it was 3pm on a Monday afternoon in a small Northumbrian market town, hardly Oxford Street on a Saturday morning, but it’s a start.

Will it catch on? I doubt it. The biggest problem with what is turning out to be one of the most boring campaigns in modern history is that our politicians and their advisers are so fearful of a Gillian Duffy or Sharon Storer moment that all life has been sucked out of the campaign.

Instead we get a succession of set-piece speeches and hi-vis photoshoots with no engagement from the public. When a politician does go onto a building site, workers and tradesmen (the great unwashed) are kept at arms-length. How I long for an electrician to interrupt all this nonsense and say, loud enough for the microphones to pick up, “Excuse me Prime Minister, could you just move a little to your left I need to put some cable trunking there.”

Quelle surprise, there is no movement in the polls. But why would there be when everything we see on our TVs is so insipid.

However, there is hope. Despairing of any political engagement in my own safe Tory constituency (the election effort so far stands at one small poster on the A38 and a leaflet) I went to the marginal Worcester seat (2010 result: Conservative majority 3,000) for a terrific evening of political debate in the Cap ‘n’ Gown pub.

Enterprising landlord Ted has invited all the candidates every Monday of the campaign to a good old-fashioned political husting, each time on a specific subject. Last night was the NHS.

Ably moderated by Ted himself (at one point I wanted to vote for Ted so detailed was his grasp of German GDP to health spending ratios) we hit all the big issues, both national and local, from euthanasia through to extortionate PFI contracts, the closure of a local walk-in medical centre and overcrowded A&E departments.

The night had it all, heckling from the public; a flash of anger from a nurse; despair from an overworked young doctor, with the debate ebbing back and forth as the candidates slugged it out and voters helped themselves to the Hook Norton beer.

This is politics as it was meant to be, real democracy in action for over two hours and pub was packed! The candidates in particular deserve great respect for taking part, putting themselves out there without the safety net of an invited audience or advance sight of the questions.

There is a lesson here. I suspect voters were swayed last night. Minds were changed or made up. It mattered, which is more than another insipid speech to a hand-picked audience will ever do.