Ashes, ratings and votes

In the first of a regular column offering readers of The Leisure Review an arts perspective of the sport, leisure and culture sector, Gail Brown wonders whether the lessons of political campaigning have been learned by politicians.

Gail Brown: wondering which way to vote

Photograph by Emma Wilcox

In the last few weeks we have witnessed some of the most extraordinary events. An unprecedented pluming volcano has happily spewed its equivalent of unfriendly confetti around the world, causing unexpected passenger delays and extended holidays or nightmares. Disruption has been around every corner, as has finger-pointing and a raft of people who have relished blaming the volcano for everything that went wrong. We have seen rallying-round and pulling-together but we have also seen people hell-bent on taking advantage of other people’s misfortunes. Hotels, car hire and food prices seemed to rocket across Europe and a holiday that should have cost £400 ended up costing £5,000. What does this says about people? What does it say about the people of the UK at a time when everyone should be pulling together and deciding the future of the country?

As 6 May draws closer the political PR machines are delivering a rollercoaster ride for voters. At the time of writing we have seen two live prime ministerial debates, between Brown, Cameron and Clegg. On Thursday 22 April ratings showed that an audience of 4 million watched on Sky, less than half of the previous week’s 9.4 million who watched on ITV. Regardless of the decreased viewing numbers, these televised debates have single-handedly changed the face of politics and voting. The question is, if nearly 14 million people have watched – and, yes, some of those numbers are likely to be repeat viewers – will they vote? Has it helped or hindered the ratings game and are people really any closer to knowing who will next lead the country?

Our beloved friend – or foe – the volcano has inadvertently enabled a bizarre poster campaign between Labour and the Tories. Labour has unveiled Cameron as the politically incorrect detective from the BBC television series Ashes to Ashes. It seems as if Cameron is doomed to be known as the sort of politician who not only wears an open neck and loosened tie (gasp), but would also consider adding a pair of snake-skinned boots to complete the look. It has to be said, it’s doubtful that this sort of fashion faux pas would be allowed in the Cameron household. Wheres Labour used the poster campaign slogan “Don’t let him take Britain back to the 1980s”, the Conservatives neatly volleyed it back with “Fire up the Quattro. It's time for Change. Vote for Change. Vote Conservative.” This was accompanied by a single line that read “Idea kindly donated by the Labour Party.” Regardless of who you want to vote for, like or dislike, that sort of lightning speed reaction has got to smart. In the same week Clegg has gone from being likened to Churchill to being derided as a Nazi, at least in the Daily Mail. It is worth noting that there will be more poster campaigns, including an additional 850 posters of Brown’s face across the country before we’re through. The Lib Dems have launched their own, proclaiming that “Labservatism is alive and well in Britain today”, suggesting that to vote Lib Dem is to vote against only one other party – the Labservatists. All the parties are pushing the forefront of communication by tapping into networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and even iTunes. In the last few weeks people have been invited to become part of all sorts of opportunities, such as the Tories’ Big Society, Labour’s Brilliant Britain and the Lib Dems’ Fairer Britain.

The public are literally being bombarded by messages but are these messages what the public want to hear and do people really know who or what they are voting for? These sorts of stories, campaigns and what can only be termed as creative ideas are taking the 2010 general election to rock’n’roll levels. It is safe to say that creativity is alive and well within each of the candidate’s teams. The denizens of the world of art and culture continue to watch the political debates while holding their breath and kneading each other’s tightening shoulders. It is unclear whether politicians recognise that without culture, art and creativity none of their voting campaigns would be taking place in quite the same way. It would be interesting to see if the public were left bereft of political imagery and the general election fell to words alone which party would win. The teams that make the spin doctors’ fancies come true are those trained and skilled in art and design, steeped in creativity and part of the cultural sector. They are those with skills in understanding what makes a strong image, an image that will cause a reaction, will make someone vote, combined with the ability to curate these images across the country as part of a time-limited campaign. These artists present information in a variety of formats, from billboards, newspapers and magazines to the internet and all manner of networking sites. This is yet another reason for the future leader of Britain to maintain funding in the arts and culture, to continue to provide opportunity for growth and greatness and to make sure that whether we are a big society, a brilliant or a fairer Britain, that we are a country that continues to instil art and culture as part of the overall offer that makes Britain great again. 

The 2010 election campaigns are in full swing and we will have to wait until after 6 May to find out who will be having the biggest party of all; the politicians or the people. The best result might be that the door to No10 Downing Street is thrown open and everybody is welcome. No amount of unforeseen ash could dampen the spirits of a once and for all United Britain.


Gail Brown is an arts manager with Kent County Council. She is also a member of Dance Partners South East

The Leisure Review, May 2010

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“ The teams that make the spin doctors’ fancies come true are those trained and skilled in art and design, steeped in creativity and part of the cultural sector. They are those with skills in understanding what makes a strong image, an image that will cause a reaction, will make someone vote”

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