UK’s party leaders: Unapproachable to the public?
This year, for the first time ever, seven party heads took their place on live television to duel it out on the Leaders’ Debate.
There, laid bare before the curious eyes of Britain, each party’s chief revealed their ideas, personalities and sound bites as the promises and re-worked stats ebbed and flowed like a sea of political catch phrases.
With each passing comment, thrown out from behind the correctly-coloured podium, the leaders vying for the top job in UK politics took the general election closer and closer to what modern celebrity culture seems to demand; a popularity contest. But how effective was this debate in endearing the public to these seven figures who have been repeatedly thrust upon us in the build up to 7th May?
It’s no secret that the top political leaders in this country generally come from public-schooled and privileged backgrounds, something that has, and probably always will, alienated them from the common person.
A barrier like this might be a bigger issue in any other profession, but in politics, does it really matter how approachable and personable a leader is? If the recent Labour/Conservative clashes are anything to go by, it would seem so.
The personal exchanges between the two main party’s leaders, Cameron and Miliband, have been some of the most intense and bitter of any election campaign, with the Tories taking every opportunity to dissect and dismiss the Labour leader’s bid to become prime minister.
While it would be easy to pass this off as typical pre-election rhetoric, it could be down to the fact that, put on the same podium as David Cameron, Miliband does come across as much more approachable and, in the eyes of many, more likeable. With the two parties neck and neck at the moment – some polls suggesting that the Labour leader is actually ahead – it is beginning to seem like the more Ed Miliband gets in front of the public, the more they seem to like him.
This raises an altogether different question: should an election be won on one individual’s approachability and popularity or on the policies and ethics of an entire party?
Nick Clegg, the once great challenger to the big two who has already been written off in this race, has spent the last two years participating in a question and answer phone in on LBC Radio with Nick Ferrari. But while this has seen him earn the title of “approachable voice of mainstream politics” from Gillian Reynolds, it will not likely help him in any real capacity come May.
Even Nigel Farage, who blamed the majority of the NHS’s problems on HIV-suffering immigrants, has raised his popularity in recent years due to his charismatic debating style and all-too-easy “man down the pub” image.
Nicola Sturgeon, who was mobbed by supporters after her successful showing on the Leaders’ Debate, has clearly revealed herself to be a straight-talking and progressive leader which has helped endear her to many south of the Scottish border. As SNP voters flocked to congratulate and ask for selfies with the first minister, it’s hard to imagine the same happening for senior members of the other main parties.
The question of approachability is a difficult one, not least for two reasons: one, does it matter in the grand scheme of politics if you could see yourself going for a beer with the prime minister and two, is it something an individual can help?
Whether it’s David Cameron feeding a lamb, Nigel Farage down the pub (again), Ed Miliband taking selfies with Lily Allen or any other “well-timed” picture moment, no amount of cliche spin can make a person approachable. You either have it, or you don’t.