The TV debate saga has little to do with politics
A view from Sue Unerman

The TV debate saga has little to do with politics

TV debate row, Kitchengate - British politics continues to fail to treat people like adults.

As I write this, the latest salvo in the great British TV election debate saga is a thorough telling off from Nick Clegg.

Clegg has accused the prime minister of "faffing". He said: "Honestly, my head is spinning with all the proposals and counter-proposals, and the insults and the counter-insults."

Poor Mr Clegg. His comments that this political soap opera has proved too much for him might not be the best qualification for running the country, but let’s brush over that point. As far as most of us are concerned, of course the bickering over the debates feels like a lot of nonsense.

This story is now joined by "Kitchengate": Ed Miliband is accused of lacking authenticity because he was photographed in his second kitchen and not his main, luxurious, rich person’s kitchen.

The big parties are currently neck and neck in the polls. Yet there is no sign that any of the main candidates can really strike the right chord with the public. I think the reason for this is an anachronistic approach to connecting with voters. Political parties largely still talk down to the public and everything they say is layered with spin.

This is part of a continuing denial by politicians and their advisors to acknowledge the change in the media since the past century – or even, indeed, since the last election.

In 2007, the commentator and journalist Andrew Neil spoke at our client conference on the change in media from well-behaved and controllable outlets in the last century with specific deadlines (the News At Ten just went out at 10pm and newspapers had deadlines for the front page) to 24-hour rolling news and commentary.

He said that, in his experience, back then everyone was struggling to adjust, to move away from the attitude of "You’ve never had it so good" that epitomised the last century; in transactional analysis terms, one of adult to child.

In my book Tell The Truth: Honesty Is Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool, I examined how the internet and the social revolution compel brands to open themselves up to the consumer and move away from spin and towards authenticity, to the brand truth.

The companies that have found this more difficult to do are those where the brand spin doesn’t enhance the brand truth but, instead, distorts it or covers it up.

Those brands cannot bear to cede some control to the consumer.

The current exchange over the TV debates or the flurry of Kitchengate feels like this to me. Not a question of policy or politics, but a desire to remain in control. In all honesty, it doesn’t feel very much like modern Britain.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom