The second of the debates confirmed they are here to stay and that they have changed forever old-style political campaigning. Although all three are stomping the country, wives in hand (Brown and Cameron), speaking in this photogenic ward, or school or factory, the impact of these staged news events is diminished.
Newspapers are finding it hard to cope with this marginalising of their role. Their forte has been the ‘forensic’ dissection of the prepared speeches, reporting, and embellishing, to the whim of their editors/publishers. Assessments of debates that we have all seen, and judged already, can make them look stupid. Take these two headlines on Friday morning.
It is not just political bias that is the issue. It is the nature of these live debates and the way we the viewers are responding to them. The papers are devoting acres of newsprint to tell us their views on how the candidates did. Who said precisely what on this, that or the other policy. Who said it right. Who said it wrong.
The trouble is we have already decided who won and we are not deciding on who said what and on the content in isolation.
If we were responding to the words on their own Cameron could well be winning. And on radio Brown, who has a reassuring warm tone, could be ahead. (As was Nixon against Kennedy). Unfortunately for both it is Clegg who “by force of his televisual appeal is making political realignment a genuine possibility.”(Times)
However hard they try Cameron and Brown cannot as Clegg does “look directly into the camera and connect viscerally to people’s desires.” (MOS)
Instead, what they both do is talk at rather than talk to the voters. Not so appealing!