I wanted to leave this blog until after the manifestos were published. I haven’t had time to read them all in detail but is seems to me there is a genuine left-right difference emerging and I, for one, think that is a good thing.
As Mark Ritson pointed out in his new Marketing Week column entitled “Why democracy is poor man’s marketing” one of the major problems with politics is a recent lack of quality and differentiated thinking. (By the way what’s happening with Mark moving from Marketing to Marketing Week? Feels like Man Utd have just poached a star striker from Chelsea!)
Ritson’s response to this situation, as a free market advocate, is that we follow his suggestion to bow out of engaging in this election and even democracy itself. He justifies this based on the democratic process producing the current stodgy undifferentiated and unexciting cartel of parties.
This opting out response is wrong and dangerous. Democracy is simply too important and different to apply the same market based logic to it. Not everything should be run by free markets and that includes vital public services and our political system.
Politics is complex and much, much more important than persuading someone to buy a flight or a coffee. It requires a deeper level of engagement and effort from both communicator and receiver. Much of the trouble with politics over the past couple of decades has been the commercial marketers moving in imposing a flawed assumption that politics could, and should, be reduced to a single minded insight, benefit and reason to believe. That “we the people” could not be trusted or weren’t even capable of making an informed choice. The political elite became convinced that we were stupid, and guess what….we disengaged. Turnout in the 2001 election reaching a low of 59%.
The challenge of this coming election is whether I, you, and we, dis-engage or re-engage. This is an important election not because this MP or that MP fighting for thier seat tells us so. This is important because the only way we will get a better, more differentiated, more exciting system is by getting involved and demanding change. Our response to scandal and lack of trust must be to understand now more than ever that “they work for us” not the other way round.
That is why the differences that seem to be emerging are exciting. If you believe in a strong central government which will spend more and give the average person more state protection then you’ve got a choice in Labour. If you believe in less central power and smaller government then the choice is Conservative.
At last, and somewhat ironically given that we have retrenched to the traditional left-right big/small government dynamic, the third way, of Blair, Mandelson, Campbell and Gould, a marketing flim-flam if ever there was one, is dying back and we have a seemingly clearer choice.
When the election stays at the surface level, as it surely will for people who opt out, then all you hear is the focus grouped messages of “fairness”. The reality is that there is emerging differentiation. The leaders are showing their colours. We have greater access to information and content than ever before with information rich websites and televised debates. The more we engage, and debate, the greater sense of where the real differences lie. “Stuffing the election”, opting-out and throwing our hands up in the air is the surest way to ensure that nothing changes.
The choices maybe becoming somewhat clearer but they are far from easy and that’s the difference between democracy and Tesco, Ryannair, Starbucks and Facebook. Engage and we have the chance to influence and demand better. Dis-engage and we deserve what we get.
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