Just when you thought you had heard enough about parliamentary democracy, like buses, here comes another election.
The dust has not yet settled on Brexit, the SNP are still whining for IndyRef part 2 and Northern Ireland has just missed electing Sinn Fein as the majority party of the government. But suddenly, like a late Easter Bunny with manifesto myxomatosis, Theresa May smashes open her parliamentary piñata. We are having a General Election on June 8th.
This just proves that even in the world of the 140 character “leak” there is still such a thing as a secret in politics. From your Pestons to your Kuenssbergs and from the FT to the AP, no-one seems to have had an inkling that the Prime Minister was going to jump aboard the election express and fire the starting gun on the June 8th poll.
This is an election like no other in recent history – it is sudden, it is unexpected and it falls under the shadow of Brexit where, by and large, the older electorate are deemed to have stolen the future from the younger who either did not vote or, more importantly, did not register to vote. This is the generation that organise everything from pizza to sex via their smartphone. They do not understand the concept of having to utilise that tiny pencil on a piece of string to put a cross on an actual bit of paper. It’s like asking a fish to ride a bicycle. And yet this is the demographic that will be key to helping to decide whether we have a Brexit type 2 election or a coronation for Prime Minister Theresa, the allegedly risk averse vicar’s daughter.
Key to speaking to that constituency will be Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Linked-in and various other social platforms. This constituency won’t respond to paper pushed through letter boxes and they are not interested in election information unless it is filtered via social media. This is a new era of fake news, where it is not about what is true but all about what you “want” to be true.
The major parties understand the power of the medium but still struggle to harness it effectively. The Corbyn supporters were ruthless in their application of digital platforms to build support for their Messiah, Jezza during his internal election campaigns, however they have not managed to influence those outside of a defined group by endless posts, robust tweets and relentless championing of their hero. It has not, for instance, translated to support outside of a narrow group of party backers. According to the latest polls, by and large Mr C is still regarded as the political equivalent of thrush for the majority of the UK voting public, who see him as about as credible a leader for the UK as Kim Jong Un is a liberally minded fashion icon for the youth of South Korea.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have a young and growing membership base but find themselves under resourced and understaffed. The vast majority of their new members came about as a result of Brexit so are engaged and they have a campaign team that has been forged from organisations like the campaigning group “Which”. They know the power of digital media and its impact if it goes wrong.
Then there’s the Tories who have everything but time. The truncated six week election period will test the resources of central office who are still uber-traditional and don’t like to be rushed. Like the majority of Conservative membership they are a very grey, middle-class group. The average age of party members is nearly 60, and more than 80% are from white-collar ABC1 social grades. Politically engaged, they lean very heavily towards broadsheet papers for their news – a majority name the Times or the Telegraph as their newspapers of choice, while only a fifth read the Daily Mail and hardly any report reading the Sun regularly. They will not be learning anything new from Twitter or Facebook.
Of course UKIP is to politics what Alan Partridge is to serious broadcasting. The only seat they hold is the permanent seat granted to them by the BBC on Question Time. They are essentially a joke hunting for a punchline.
This will be the election that will offer parties either the United Airlines vision of communications…..accident prone, delusional, error riddled and out of touch, or the professional approach practiced by the Scottish Nationals…who have a simple message, well communicated and irritatingly effective with their home constituency. You do not have to like or trust them but you cannot deny they are effective.