The X-Factorisation of Politics
Something happened this week which established beyond doubt the veracity of the observation made in the 1960s by Marshall McLuhan: the relationship between the media and information is symbiotic to the extent that the medium through which a person encounters a particular piece of content has an effect on the individual's understanding of the information received: the medium is the message.
And so now we have Cleggmania – a creation of televisual illusion which transcends all reason. As a result of just one 90-minute televised debate, Nick Clegg has experienced a surge in support which, apparently, makes him nearly as popular as Winston Churchill; sees his party leading for the first time in 104 years; and has seen him leap-frog over both Labour and the Conservatives into first place.
This really is quite unprecedented.
Unless you grasp the 'SuBo' factor.
Nick Clegg’s only disappointment is that he has been given Louis Walsh to mentor him.
David Cameron has got Simon Cowell and Gordon Brown has Cheryl Cole.
And, boy, does he need her.
For as long as he asserts that this election is ‘not about style and personality but about the big issues’, he establishes precisely why he leads the first party of government ever to poll third place during a general election campaign.
While the electorate yearns to see if Britain’s got political talent, he is wittering on interminably about bankers, Belize, securing growth and the dangers of a double-dip recession.
The fact is that politics now is as pre-packaged and comodified as any act which emerges from the X Factor. We have moved away from the politics of policy or the great arguments of philosophy: we are reduced to questions of charisma, fashion, body language and intuition. Politics has adapted for an age which yearns for complementary spiritual aesthetics more than the hollowness of arid policy, for patient persuasion more than assertions of power. Even when the party leaders are being authentic, they look as though they are acting; even when what they say is spontaneous, it sounds as though they are reading from a carefully-prepared script.
Nick Clegg promised heaven and earth last Thursday, and the electorate appears prepared to believe him. They will be profoundly disappointed, of course: a Liberal Democrat purgatory will be as depressing and damaging as another five years of socialist hell. But politics, like theology, has to embrace the vernacular, and the narrative has become that of illogic and unreason. It may not be right or good, or even conducive to the rational and reasonable, but it is real and it is relational. Politicians, like priests, either use it, or they cease to communicate and simply confirm their irrelevance to the discourse of society and the everyday concerns of ordinary people. And it no longer matters what politicians say, for their words are boring. It matters far more how they sound in the cadences and melodies and musical mists of mesmerising mysteries.
Nick Clegg sounds interesting. Sure, he is no Thatcher, no Blair and no Obama. But by playing the anti-politician card and cursing Labour and the Tories with a plague on both their houses, he is reaching the parts that neither David Cameron or Gordon Brown can reach.
And so, for the moment, he is soaring above the dirge of ‘the same old parties’. And he appropriates the sympathetic background of the condition of the people, who are sinking without hope into an economic and social morass of unemployment, inflation, house repossession, wars and rumours of wars.
In just 90 minutes, Nick Clegg has inspired trust, nurtured loyalty and fostered unity. He has not mentally motivated anyone, but he does not need to: he has emotionally moved more than could ever have been imagined.
Just like Susan Boyle.
All he needs to do now is to talk of feeling people’s pain and offer warm words and a compassionate embrace. And if he can cry your tears and feel your fears, his task will be done.
Will the audience fall for it?
Well, they always have.