Mass marketing – where’s the real engagement?

I read with interest the headline on The Times today – “The Screen Test” – referring to this evening’s televised debate between the three main party leaders.  This “head to head” between Cameron, Brown and Clegg apparently involves rehearsal upon rehearsal, and will allegedly be key to the country’s choice of future government.

But is this really the way? It seems every successive administrationof whatever party, feels they have the answer to electoral engagement.  It seems the Liberal Democrats are pushing forward Vince Cable, not Nick Clegg, as the acceptable face of the Lib Dem party.  Gordon Brown is, as one newspaper quoted recently, glossed over on the doorsteps by many of his own candidates.  So how would a debate between the three party leaders give a true indication as to the type of Government each party would provide?

I well recall the latest in a long line of ‘modernising’ MPs who, some years ago, recruited a band of young people who would knock ten doors on each side of a street, and once twenty households were stood to attention, he would ‘close’ them (his words, not mine) from a microphone and speakers mounted on a Range Rover in the centre of the road.  In this way, he argued, you could canvass a whole constituency in just a fraction of the time.

The Liberal Democrats’ fervently demand proportional representation.  But how does this work in European elections? We all vote for a party political ‘brand’, but the party itself chooses who their preferred candidates are.  The more votes the party achieves, the further down their league table of candidates the winners will be.

Last evening I was lobbied by a technologist who suggested that I purchase a new gizmo – just £135 apparently – which when placed strategically in a window would ‘fire’ a text to every Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone which went past.

Just how depersonalised is our democracy becoming? I recognise that we have to find new ways to communicate with an ever more technological younger generation, but surely they’re only disenfranchised with politicians because generally, we never even tried to talk to them.  Or more importantly, to listen to them.  Simply reverting to ‘mass marketing’ options like televised leaders’ debates, text channels, Twitter, YouTube and even blogs, won’t of themselves persuade voters to turn out, unless we actually have something to say to them.

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