Has this been the most stage managed election campaign ever? Have all the soundbites and photo opportunities been at the expense of engaging with ‘real people’?

Puppet on strings

The election campaigns have been very slick; the main parties have rehearsed ‘soundbites’ and politicians respond to ANY question with these standard comments. There have been plenty of photo opportunities – and avoiding bacon sandwich disasters! Plenty of short, visual, vocal news items appeared with smiling supporters waving placards. There have been TV debates that have engaged audiences – and been great fun commenting on Twitter with other viewers!

However, I can’t help but feel slightly manipulated by the whole election campaign. Why? Not because there were no major gaffs like the Gordon Brown ‘bigoted woman’ or John Prescott’s punch, but ‘real people’ being kept away from the politicians when cameras are there. For me the most powerful TV debate was when the live audience asked the leaders questions. They all looked terrified and whilst they tried to respond with sound bites, it demonstrated how frustrated the electorate had become with this election.

In my constituency, where Grant Shapps is (currently) the MP, I have received a couple of leaflets through the door, but have had no engagement with any parties. I haven’t been aware of any debates or hustings; I have had no visits from parties wanting my vote (at the door). Obviously this is a safe seat for the Conservatives, and with respect to Shapps, he’s had a few challenges to deal with. But part of the fun is asking tricky questions at your doorstep!

Commentaries on Radio 4 yesterday revealed:

  • Ed Miliband brought his lectern to every public appearance, so he could deliver a speech.
  • TV camera men were asked to stand close to Cameron so that the crowds around him looked bigger. Someone photographed a scene further away and there were about 20 people – the TV image looked as though there was a big crowd!
  • Appearances were not publicised properly and only invited guests – i.e. supporters were allowed in. This gave the impression of a fully supportive crowd.
  • Supporters from neighbouring constituencies were bused in to give the impression of large crowds coming to see a politician to boost the numbers
  • Every effort was made to avoid real people speaking to the politicians
  • Hecklers were threatened and told to move on by security. So much for free speech.

cameron stage managed

The photo above was partly stage managed; it gives the impression there is a big crowd. Images like this (I can’t confirm this happened here) were stage managed with the 20 or so supporters being crammed together and photographers told where to stand to get the image.

Unfortunately the electorate begins to get tired of this form of communication. They want to debate directly with the politicians. I would have loved to have a doorstep debate with one of the candidates for my constituency. That was why the last TV debate in particular was so fiery – the live audience WANTED their concerns addressed, and the rehearsed soundbites didn’t answer their questions. They weren’t accountable to real people.

Whilst I appreciate that the media plays such an important role in communicating with the electorate, and that a gaff is over in a second but is sent out via social media within another second, preventing the electorate to properly engage – two ways – not just listening and watching – makes people frustrated. We believe the politicians are lacking authenticity.

When we organise events, it is important to ensure everyone knows what they are doing; timings; what they should say etc, but not at the expense of their personalities. It is easy to stage manage everything and micro-manage, to maintain control, but at what expense?

Personally I would have preferred a less Stage Managed Election, and let the electorates’ voices be heard as well as the politicians.

What do you think?

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About the author

Susan Heaton Wright is a former opera singer who works with successful individuals and teams to make an impact with their voices and physical presence. Using her experience in using the voice and performing on stage, she works with people to improve their performances in a range of business situations; from meeting skills and on the telephone, to public speaking, presentations and appearing on the media.

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