Our Dearly Beloved Leader, Godfather of the nation and all-round stand up guy Gordon Brown has been caught out in the first major gaffe of this election. Following a confrontation with a voter in Rochdale in which she angrily confronted him about immigration, why her pension was taxed and how her grandchildren would have to pay student fees and so on he sidled back into his car and made his escape.
As he was driven away, he did what almost any of us would do and grumbled about the encounter – calling the incident ‘a disaster’ and angrily asking why his aides had allowed him to put in that situation.
He might have got away with that, but he then went on to refer to the woman as “an old bigot”. Critically, his comments were picked up by his microphone, which was still live and transmitting to a hoarde of pressmen who couldn’t believe their luck. Within minutes, the story was trending on Twitter (with it’s own satirical Twitter account), covered on YouTube and another hurdle was thrown in front of Brown’s attempts to win re-election.
More than ever the party leaders are only being allowed to appear in safe, sterile environments in front of hand-picked audiences of benign personalities (taken to its logical conclusion in the fatuous Leaders’ Debates). While this is understandable in an era when an unguarded comment can be transmitted around the world in seconds, it is a depressing sign of the disconnect between politicians and the public.
There was much comment a while back that this might be the first ‘internet election’ (I certainly thought it might be) but to date there has been precious little evidence of the kind of grassroot politicking on the internet that has characterised the last couple of US elections.
You can find any number of blogs from almost any part of the political spectrum that are prepared to discuss matters like the national debt, immigration and public service funding in erudite and well-written detail, but the political classes prefer to retreat to the safety of the soft TV interview and carefully choreographed media appearance. The engagement with bloggers and social media is, as far as I can see, nil.
The stupidity of this is that there are huge numbers of people who are disengaged from this election precisely because they can’t interact with the system. I’d love to read any of the leaders honest thoughts on the issues of the day. 10 minutes with WordPress and some £16 a year hosting and they could be up and running – and with the support of his party fact checkers they could probably marshall some credible arguments and really engage with people.
Instead Cameron, Brown and (Messiah complex aside) Clegg prefer to operate in the old media world and avoid the general public like the plague. It’s no good any more for them to stand in front of the electorate and say “trust me over the over guy” when palpably they don’t trust – or even like – us.
The parallel stupidity is that these bozos can’t hide any more. Anyone with five minutes and access to Google can get behind the spin and the lies to see what the real truth is about some of the issues of the day.
Meanwhile, out here in the real world (and party politics aside)