Sunday, 25 April 2010

Election Blog: Wot, no baby kissing?

News that Gordon Brown is to meet more ordinary people on the stump comes in the wake of press reports saying that the Tory campaign is shielding Cameron from the general public. Apparently, he is speaking almost exclusively to hand-picked groups of Tory supporters.

What’s going on? More than likely both campaigns are so scared of a handbagging by the likes of you and me (remember Blair getting ambushed by the woman outside the hospital in 2005 or Joe the Plumber making Obama squirm) that our political leaders are now being wrapped in cotton wool by their PR people.

Of course the downside is that everything feels slightly scripted and lacking in spontaneity. When was the last time you saw a politician kissing a baby?

It might also explain why Cameron is struggling to generate a real rapport with the public (Brown never had one anyway) and Clegg, with his ability to think on his feet and down to earth way of talking, is making a breakthrough.

Is the stump still important in the modern media age? I believe it is if you want to make a real connection. People want to see you, or at least watch you on TV, meeting people in the street.

The following is a description of Lyndon Johnson’s electioneering style in his campaign for Congress in 1937, taken from Robert A Caro’s mammoth four volume biography of the 36th President.

“The rapport was cemented by a physical demonstration of affection. With women, the cement was a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Lyndon’s kissing” became almost a joke during the campaign. One elderly Hill Country rancher, annoyed by his wife’s insistence on attending a Johnson rally, growled, “Oh you just want to be kissed.” The rancher agreed to take her, but she was ill on the day of the rally, and he went alone. Upon his return, he told his wife, in some wonder: “He kissed me!”.

Labour appears to be belatedly coming round to the fact that it needs a less sanitised campaign, but it might already be too late. The real issue is whether Cameron will get out there and meet people and, if necessary, argue it out toe to toe with the electorate. We’ll all admire him a lot more if he does.

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