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#GE2015: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

Would the soaring rhetoric of a Winston Churchill have been suited to the political campaign slugfest of the 21st century? For them, no battle-buses, digital and social media gurus or American campaign strategists. Just a trusted open-top wagon with all the passion and oratorical skills they could muster. Fast-forward to 2015 and the UK general elections is shaping up to be the most-covered elections in modern times, thanks to a plethora of media platforms, social media, streaming apps and do-it-yourself broadcasting tools. But perhaps devoid of the human affection and interaction with which a Churchill would have been more familiar.

Apart from the traditional voter, modern-day politicians also have to appeal to the millennials who inhabit a digital world exclusively. In the mix are also an array of hyperlocal news sites and irreverent forums where locals vent their spleen. Politicians indeed have their work cut out as they try to spread their message and canvass for votes. And yes, there is no hiding place from the media glare and public scrutiny. Photo opportunities that go awry quickly go viral on social media.

Politicians not only have to look convincing in front of the cameras, but they also have to make an impact in the twittersphere and blogosphere where reputations can be dismantled in an instant. No wonder party apparatchiks want to stage-manage events on the campaign trail. The narcissistic selfie seems to have replaced the face-to-face meeting and emotional bond with the voting public. But have 21st century  politicians lost the real bond with the electorate? A parliamentary candidate for the safe Tory seat of Kensington in west London has however vowed to be accessible to all her constituents if elected, Victoria Borwick told the Londonist:”I’m already hoping if I’m elected to have ward forums and surgeries. I want to be available and approachable if elected.”

Gillian Duffy moment

A BBC journalist chronicled her travails on the London campaign trail trying to interview the party leaders as they criss-crossed the capital. At an event in Acton, west London, where labour leader Ed Miliband met with party loyalists, he was asked why politicians were not meeting more members of the public and involved in more candid exchanges. Could it be the fear of another ☛Gillian Duffy moment? Miliband replied: “I’ve been out on the campaign trail, I meet people from all walks of life.”

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In an unrelated episode also in Acton, London Mayor Boris Johnson and a candidate for the safe Tory seat of Uxbridge was embroiled in a scuffle as Rupa Huq, Labour’s parliamentary candidate was manhandled as she confronted him on a walkabout to bolster support for Angie Bray in the marginal seat of Ealing Central and Acton.

Press Association photographer Peter Brady on David Cameron’s campaign trail recounted how he was almost prevented by one of the Tory leader’s minders from snapping an unflattering moment during a Cameron walkabout. The previous week another photographer had documented one of the campaign’s unscripted moments when a schoolgirl dropped her head to the table as Mr Cameron cajoled her to recite lines from a book.

Popularity Contest

SNP says their leader Nicola Sturgeon who has had a wardrobe and beauty makeover for the campaign has seen it pay off with a big selfie count – 20,386 images shared on Twitter. UKIP’s Nigel Farage has met 20,000 constituents and wolfed down about 25 curries while Greens’ leader Natalie Bennet has sucked 680 Lockets to keep her vocal chords well-lubricated. Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has gone through 504 hair-grips and travelled 12,282 miles. Conservative leader David Cameron has journeyed 13,000 miles and he is still on the road while his coalition partner, Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg has clocked 8,367 miles. The Labour Party confirmed it had sold 13,281 tea towels.

(Source: BBC Radio 4, World at One)

Gillian Duffy was the woman who challenged former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown about immigration fears on his walkabout. He later called her a bigot forgetting a microphone was still attached to his coat lapel.

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