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Cleggmania and the media backlash

Updated Friday, 23rd April 2010

Cleggmania sweeps the nation - how does the media react?

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With Cleggmania sweeping the nation, the Twitterati reacting to media attacks on Clegg with its #nickcleggsfault hashtag, and a 'We got Rage Against the Machine to #1, we can get the Lib Dems into office!' Facebook group already attracting 150,000 members, the leaders' debates have added a very interesting twist to this year's election.

The Open University's Reader in Government, Richard Heffernan, has been watching this all with interest. "What's fascinating about all this is that it means 18 to 24 year olds are interested in the election, when usually they're quite ambivalent. This won't benefit Labour as people won't be flocking to vote for the current government because they want change. So I think it's quite possible we'll see a melting of the Labour vote."

Nick Clegg Creative commons image Icon Nick Clegg under CC-BY licence. under Creative-Commons license

Another interesting aspect is that the Facebook group and Twitter hastag have also come about as part of a backlash against traditional media after a spate of anti-Clegg front pages. As The Independent's adverts are screaming: "Rupert Murdoch won't decide this election, you will." Could it be more a case of the 'It Was the Sun Wot Lost it?'

"If Clegg's surge in popularity continues," Heffernan says, "it will be more a case of 'It Was Sky Wot Influenced It' actually. Sky was the channel that pushed for a leadership debate after all – which is rather interesting considering it's owned by Murdoch, who also owns The Sun."

When asked if he thinks the Clegg bandwagon will continue rolling, Heffernan warned it's still early days. "What this has done is given Clegg an equal platform, and the Lib Dems have capitalised on that. Clegg certainly wasn't stopped or stalled in the second Leaders' Debate last night but he wasn't allowed to accelerate away either."

He added: "The economic debate next week will be important. If you think back to 1992, the Tories eventually won because people prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't know in difficult times."

Watch Richard Heffernan explain what a hung parliament is below...




Dr Richard Heffernan on The Election 2010

Title: What impact are the live TV  Leaders’ Debates having on potential voters?

Dr Richard Heffernan

Well, one week since the first Leaders’ Debate, we can see that that debate has had a significant impact on the way the race is going.  The Liberal Democrats have got an enormous boost in popularity as a result of Nick Clegg’s favourable performance and the fact that people rated him the outright winner in the debate between Cameron, Brown and him.  We need to see in the next two debates, in the way the Election continues for the next two weeks, whether that is a temporary or a permanent change, but it means at present that the debate that took place last week has changed the race and it means that we now have a three horse race, in which it seems likely we’re going to have a Hung Parliament.

We’re likely to have a minority government or a coalition government.  It seems unlikely now, given the poll rating, is that the Conservatives will win an outright majority.  It’s impossible for Labour as the poll stands to do so.  So the whole dynamic of the race has changed significantly now as a result of the Leaders’ Debate.  And these three debates I think stretch the party leader beyond their respective parties and encourage us to take a view that the personality who leads the Government and who leads the parties in the Election are almost as important as the policies on which the parties seek election.

Title: Personalities versus policies – what do people vote for in a General Election?

Increasingly, we’ve seen a presidentialisation of British election campaigns.  None of us, unless we live in the constituencies of Witney, Sheffield Hallam or Kirkcaldy in Cowdenbeath will get to cast a vote for Gordon Brown, for David Cameron or for Nick Clegg.  What we tend to do is we vote for the party candidate in our constituency that we wish to see returned to Parliament and express our support for a party.  Increasingly, however, because politics is so personalised these days - the debates demonstrate that - what we’re encouraged to do is to ally ourselves with a party because of its leader as much as because of its programme or its policy.  So image, presentation and style have become incredibly important, and the bounce in the Liberal Democrat vote over this past week largely owes much to the fact that Nick Clegg conducted himself extremely well in the first debate and was roundly judged the winner.  The thing about the debates is that the media will judge them on the performances of the leader, and they will tell us who won and who lost the debate.  In doing that they reinforce the agenda about the winner and the loser, and we citizens at home determined to cast our vote are now much more likely to vote for a party individual rather than just a vote for a party.  Some of us will still vote on policy but increasingly the judgement we make about the leader, for good or ill, whether we think it’s a good event or a bad event, whether we think it’s something we should encourage or something we oppose, that now largely determines for many people the way in which they approach the Election and the way in which they choose to cast their vote.

Title: What is a hung Parliament?

Well at every Election in Britain since 1945, bar one, February 1974, one party, either Labour or Conservative, has received 50% plus one of the seats in the House of Commons.  This means that irrespective of their vote percentage, which has never exceeded 50%, one party has formed a single party Government.  This is the rule; this is the way in which modern British politics has worked.  At this Election, according to the polls at this time, two weeks out from the Election on May 6th, it seems likely we will have a hung parliament.

A hung parliament is one where no one party has a majority over all other parties combined in the House of Commons.  This means that there has to be either a minority government - if this happens a minority government is one where the largest party will govern.  This happened in February 1974 when Labour stayed in office until it called an Election.  In October ’74, when it won a majority, it formed a single party majority government.  Or else will tell you there’ll be a coalition government between the major party, the party with the largest number of seats, and the second largest or the third largest party.  So the Liberal Democrats if we have a hung parliament are likely to be the key makers if there is a coalition government.

This is very unusual terrain for British politics.  We’re used to a party majority.  We’re used to single party government.  At this Election, it is likely now, if the polls remain the same and there’s no change, we will have a hung parliament where no party has a majority and where we may have a coalition government.  This is new territory.  We’re operating at present in a terrain without maps.



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