With my usual indebtedness to the Labour Party media monitoring unit, may I commend for your attention a story on page 2 of the Financial Times, headlined ‘Cameron to relax poise for TV’ .
Now whenever you see an anonymous quote in a newspaper, you are entitled to assume there is a fair chance it is entirely made up. Note, for example, how many anonymous sources speak in the language of the paper’s editorial style.
I make the point because the FT is one of a very small number of newspapers whose reporters I would trust not to make up anonymous quotes, and not to report such a quote unless it came from someone whose view was worth reporting.
So when political reporter Jean Eaglesham writes that Mr Cameron will change his ‘body language rather than his rhetoric’ for the second TV debate on Thursday, I believe she has been given an accurate insight into the Tories’ debate debacle post mortem. When she reports a Cameron aide as saying ‘The problem was not with what David was saying, it was the way the presentation came across. You might see a different David who’s much more relaxed,’ I have no doubt it was said. And I then shake my head in wonder and ask: ‘Are these people really as inept as they seem?’
They – i.e he – are utterly obsessed with presentation. Can they not see that was one of the reasons he came across so badly? The constant posing. The over-rehearsed hand movements. The attempts to look statesmanlike rather than be statesmanlike. It was screaming ‘phoney’. And he was concentrating so much on all that stuff that he overlooked the rather more important question of having something to say that was worth hearing.
So yes, he should try to be more relaxed, and second time around maybe the nerves – a worrying sign in itself for someone who might soon be dealing with war, terrorism, nucelar proliferation and the like – will have abated somewhat. But what matters is what he says, not just how he says it.
There is no point either of the main parties complaining that Nick Clegg got a boost because he is the new kid on the X-Factor block and he can say what he likes because nobody assumes he will be Prime Minister on May 7. That is just the way it is. You now have to trust the British people not just to react warmly to an anti-politics message, as they did, or get caught up in a media frenzy, as some are, but also then to have the good sense to take a closer look at their policies. That is happening.
From the research I have seen, once people know that the Lib Dems want to scrap Trident whilst not wanting to do much about Iran’s nukes, all but Lib Dem diehards tend to move away. And whilst Boris Johnson may support the Lib Dem idea of an amnesty for illegal immigrants, a lot of floating voters in Tory-Lib, Lib-Lab and three-way marginals do not. Nor are their road-pricing policies meeting with much favour. Ditto the anti-DNA database for the cops policy they share with the Tories, and their plans to cut child tax credits and the child trust fund.
I had rather hoped the media would return to more policy-focused coverage post TV debate. It is not happening, as now they have moved from TV debate tactics to post election hung Parliament process and speculation, hyping Cleggmania as much as they can as they go.
Interestingly, it is now the Lib Dems who seem most intent on playing along with that, keeping their heads down on policy, whereas Labour want to keep pounding on the economy, and the Tories seem genuinely at a loss to know how to react. But if they really believe it is about body language, they deserve the panic sweeping through their ranks.
— One final point on Thursday’s debate. I understand from Adam Boulton that Sky are making it available to all other broadcasters to show simultaneously. If, as the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 keep saying, the first debate genuinely excited the British public and energised the campaign, why are they not changing their schedules to show this live? If it was a big football match, they would almost certainly do so if offered it by Sky. And even I, about as football-obsessed as it is possible to be, humbly suggest that the choice of government is more important even than a Burnley relegation battle. So let’s hear it for public service broadcasting across the public serviuce broadcasting channels.
— And one final point from my reading of the morning media brief. observation from my reading of the media monitoring report. If the Daily Telegraph had splashed on a story headlined ‘Labour peerages for leaders of business attack on Tories’, do you think the broadcasters might have picked up on it and made it a big story? Yes, so do I. So what happens when The Guardian leads with ‘Tory peerages for leaders of business attack on Labour’ ? Precisely. Cameron remains a very lucky man to have such a tame media landscape.
** Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash for Labour http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.