Hug a politician: the new election strategy

March 3, 2010

brown_cameronYou know an election campaign is in full swing the world over when pictures start appearing of politicians kissing babies. But with a general election now just two months away, UK politicians seem to be have found new targets for their displays of affection: each other.

It started with Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. After stories that the Prime Minister and his Chancellor had fallen out with one another over an interview in which Darling accused Brown aides of having “unleashed the forces of hell” at him, the two popped up at the weekly Prime Minister’s questions almost arm in arm.

As Brown and Darling chuckled away together on the front bench, Conservative leader David Cameron snorted: “Any closer and they’ll start kissing.”

The quip was met with approving guffaws for the Tory benches. But their appearance at a Thomson Reuters event on Tuesday shows Cameron and his team are not averse to a bit of metaphoric kissing and cuddling themselves.

Ken Clarke, the genial party elder whom Cameron brought in to give some senior clout to his economic team, said repeatedly how “delighted” he was to be working with Dave and George.

“It is a very united team and a very united party that is eager to get into government,” he gushed.  It was a “relaxed and easy atmosphere,” he continued and working with the pair gave him a “great deal of confidence.”

Getting the message?

Politicians are desparate to show voters — and the rest of their parties — just how unified they are, probably in the belief that united, they are stronger.

But, in much the same way, as the public is no longer very impressed or surprised by the sight of politicians kissing babies, all these public displays of affection are unlikely to resonate much outside Westminster.

As Times commentator, Daniel Finkelstein points out in his column today, voters pay little heed to parliamentary blurb, and when they do start to focuson the election — which doesn’t seem to have happened yet — it is local issues that will dominate.

It is now two months to what is expected to be election day on May 6. So if they want to start shifting opinion, politicians are going to have to stop staring at each other and start looking voters straight in the eye.

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