Saturday, May 08, 2010

From X Factor to Deal or No Deal?: The General Election and TV

There's been a lot of chat about the impact of television on the outcome of the UK general election. In the event, the four-week campaign seems to have had little impact on each party's share of the vote.

The initial leadership debate appeared to have turned the tide in Nick Clegg's favour, like a Susan Boyle audition. Sadly for him and his party, there was no immediate text vote, and his opponents consulted their media advisers to outflank him in subsequent debates.

Then there was the election coverage itself, with various pundits leaping around in front of green screens, conjuring graphics to illustrate swings, both real and imagined. I felt sorry for Jeremy Vine, who by the end of the marathon coverage, was clearly suffering from ascending and descending the virtual staircase of number 10.

Now we have the TV appeals from the party leaders. Timed to avoid clashes, and delivered to potential partners in power, as well as to the country as a whole, they are fascinating vignettes of tactical byplay. It's interesting to note that the phrase "in the best interests of the country" is used often, though a cynic might note that the phrase really means "in my party's best interests".

Some argue that future elections may be fought online. That may be so. There is bound to be more emphasis on using a medium as ubiquitous as the web. In my opinion, video, whether viewed online or on HDTV (the distinction is disappearing rapidly) will remain an important way of delivering a message. There's a popular mythology that Barack Obama won the US presidency by making heavy use of social media. To my way of thinking, it was a small but important element of his overall campaign, which relied more heavily on TV appearances and text messaging.

For a 75-year-old medium, TV still plays a huge role in politics, and I suspect it will continue to do so for a long time to come.

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