cause, bizarrely, in most democracies the broadcasters continue to let the press set their agenda for them. But a candidate who tries to stand against the tide of new media will be making a big mistake, and missing big opportunities. If it has changed so much in the last five years, how much more will it change in the next five years? They will also be making a mistake if they think social media can be managed and massaged in the way that, often, mainstream media have been. The key – on this I agree totally with Seguela – is authenticity.
And that should be good news for authentic political leaders and an authenticity hungry public alike. The public tend to get to the point of an election. Seguela has an interesting account of the last I-JK election and in particular the first ever televised Leaders’ Debates. Though I had worked on three campaigns for Tony Blair, I am sufficiently tribally Labour to have answered a call from his successor, Gordon Brown, to go back to help him for his first election campaign as leader in 2011. One of the roles I ended up playing was that of David Cameron in Brown’s preparatory sessions for the TV debates.
These debates mattered, that much was sure. Election planning for Blair, I ad always been doubtful about the benefit of such debates in a Parliamentary democracy where our leaders meet each other week in week out in the crucible of the House of Commons. I was worried the media would make them all about themselves, and that the policy issues would be drowned out. So it proved. Yet in a way the public did get to the point they wanted to. They did not particularly want Labour back after 13 years in power. They did not particularly yearn for David Cameron and a Conservative Party unsure about its direction.
So the third party leader emerged through the middle. Nick Clegg was Judged the clear winner by the nstant reactions of public and media alike. For a few days he seemed impregnable. Yet come the vote, he did not make a huge breakthrough. It was only because neither Labour nor the Tories could get over the line that Clegg ended up as deputy Prime Minister in a coalition government. The country had not been able to make its mind up, delivered a muddled result and asked the leaders to sort it out. The leader who came first and the leader who came third did a deal to do so.
I think Seguela is too kind to Cameron. Any rational assessment of the political landscape before the last I-JK election would have suggested a Tory victory. Labour in ower a long time; the economic crash; a Parliament dominated by a scandal involving MPs’ expenses; Iraq back in the news because of the official Inquiry; Afghanistan not going well; the press even more strongly in favour of a Tory win than they had been for a Labour win in 1997, and vicious about Brown. Also the Tories had big money to spend on the campaign and Labour did not. Yet Cameron could not secure a majority. Why not?
There is no simple answer. The wonder of democracy lies in millions of people having their own experiences, impressions and Judgements before deciding how to cast their vote. But the strategist in me says the simple or all the changes that technological and mediatic change has forced upon political campaigns, strategy remains the key. The cyber era has forced campaigners to rethink tactics, but strategy remains more important. He and I are clearly in agreement that John McCain’s appointment of Sarah Palin as running mate, for example, was a tactical masterstroke, but a strategic catastrophe.
Tactically, he excited his base, gave the media a new toy, and momentarily unnnerved his opponent. Strategically he blew a hole through the two central planks of his campaign – experience, and being different from George Bush. In putting tactics efore strategy, he broke one of the golden rules of campaigning. Strategists like rules. We like points of principle to act as anchors. I like the rules in Seguela’s Chapter 5. On vote pour une idee. Pas pour une ideologie. On vote pour sol. Pas pour son candidat. On vote pour un homme. Pas pour un part’.
On vote pour le professionalisme. Pas pour l’amateurisme. On vote pour un projet pas pour le reJet. On vote pour le coeur. Pas pour le rancoeur. On vote pour le futur. Pas pour le passe. On vote pour le bcbg. Pas pour le bling bling. It is charmingly French that he illuminates the rule about voting for le couer pas pour e rancour to a tale of love and sex. ‘Si votre femme vous trompe, ce n’est pas en couvrant d’insulte son amant que vous le reconquerez. Mais en lui redonnant envie de vous. La mecanique electorale est le meme, se faire elire c’est se faire preferer. That may seem glib. But politics is a human business. It is about feelings as well as policies, emotion as well as reason. People often talk about their political leaders as though in a relationship with them. ‘He’s not listening Why on earth did he do that? IVe gone off him Oh, I still like him deep down. ‘ Political leaders sometimes talk of the people in the same way. How many times did I sit in the back of a car with Tony Blair, or fly over Britain in a ‘plane and he would look down and say ‘God, I wish I knew what they were thinking Do they still like us?
Back at the time of our first landslide, talk of the country falling in love’ with Blair was widespread. Today, the biggest accusations of betrayal against Blair will often come from those who fell in love’ most deeply at the outset of his leadership. Perhaps this trend towards relationship Cameron, Sarkozy, Merkel – these are people who came to power much younger than their counterparts down the centuries. Seguela, a man of a certain age, remains fascinated by youth and its impact. The brand manager in him can barely disguise his glee that Coca Cola, the drink of the young trendy, is 130 years old.
You can sense the excitement he felt on meeting the young Americans – not born when Seguela was advising Mitterrand – who had developed Obama’s digital strategy and so helped deliver a mailing list of 13m people. The focus on youth also dominates his analysis of the political consequences of the economic crash whose impact runs through these pages, and offers some fascinating factoids – half of all Europeans are over 50, whilst three quarters of Algerians are under 25. There are as many people under 30 in China as in Russia, the US and Australia combined, and in India twice as many as in China.
That too is a powerful force of global change, and will have its impact on Western politics of the future. As to what it all means for the next French elections, I don’t know. But this book provides part of the backdrop, economic and political. It should make interesting reading for anyone involved in that campaign. Whilst clearly still of the view Sarkozy was and is the right choice for France, (though the polls at the time of writing indicate e is in a minority) he throws out ideas and challenges for right and left alike.
As traditional lines are drawn, careful reading might provoke candidates and parties to see that they should always be looking to the next new ideas, not merely repackaging the last new, let alone the old. I was in Paris recently as a guest of the left think tank, Terra Nova, and met politicians, advisors, militants, experts, Journalists and bloggers. I came away with some strong impressions. Firstly, virtually everyone told me that President Sarkozy was hugely unpopular, and his ratings as low as it was possible to go.
Yet many of the ame people told me he could still win. They know he relishes a campaign. They suspect he may have learned from some mistakes. Incumbency is a powerful weapon. A comeback is a powerful narrative. And they worried that with the President so unpopular, the economy sluggish, social issues raw, and the left in power in many parts of France, the PS should have been doing far better in the polls (to which, incidentally, French politicians and media pay far too much attention. ) Of course this was pre selection ofa PS candidate.
Many of the Socialists agreed with my analysis that once they had chosen the candidate, they needed to unite behind hat candidate, resist their historic predilection for factionalism, run a campaign that was fresh, energetic and based upon a programme totally focused on the future and one which addressed people’s concerns. They agreed too that the PS could no longer look down its nose at communication, but had to see it not Just as an essential element of campaigning, but a democratic duty at a time when people have so many pressures on their lives and living standards, and concerns about the world around capacity to deliver upon it.
The fear of another defeat ought to be enough, surely, to deliver on the first and essential part: unity. As someone on the progressive side of the political divide, I continue to think the French left’s over intellectualisation of politics, its focus on never-ending debate instead of agreement around big points and unity behind one accepted leader remains a problem.
I added that I felt the way was wide open for someone to come along and set out, with total honesty and clarity, the challenges ahead, the limitations of what one leader or one country can do, but explain the world and begin to shape direction. In other words, what I sensed behind the seeming confusion and rather disgruntled ature of French opinion was a real desire for leadership of a strategic rather than a tactical nature.
There too, there were concerns, not least because of memories of the negative impact on Lionel Jospin’s campaign when he stated – truthfully – that the State could not do everything. I heard a lot about Marine Le Pen and certainly the polls tell a good story for the leader of the Front National. She has certainly shown she can mount a campaign and get the media to accept a sense of change. When even her enemies refer to as Marine, rather than the more toxic Le Pen, th political-communications-french-style/#sthash. 7DDVzB7f. dpuf