General Election 2010 and an evolution in political participation

We are now firmly within touching distance of judgement day in what our could-be PM David Cameron calls “the most important general election in a generation”. (And what better reason, I thought, to break my hiatus and re-instate my lurching excuse for a blog…)

So, as 100 business people and entrepreneurs gathered on not-quite-the-top-floor of the Gherkin last night for a  panel debate hosted by Coutt’s Forum for Entrepreneurs, what will happen on May 6 was the driving force behind the discussion.

A panel comprising former Tory Mayoral candidate Steve Norris, Labour peer Baroness Kingsmill, former Apprentice-winner Tim Campbell, serial entrepreneur Doug Richard and Sunday Times Enterprise Editor, Rachel Bridge was chaired by Michael Hayman, co-founder of new PR consultancy, and my gainful employer, Seven Hills.

The Coutt's Business Question Time panel

The debate touched on cutting regulation on business, changes in capital gains tax and the laboured topic of National Insurance rises but it was with mention of the televised leaders debates and one of the hottest topics in this first ‘e-election’, Twitter, that an audible wave of disgruntled seat-shifting took place and hands shot skywards.

Overall consensus was that the leaders debates were dull, over stylised and far too ‘X-factor’ in style. But it needs   to be noted that this was a room comprising highly successful, well-educated and wealthy individuals each holding a keen, long-held interest in politics, not least because of their strong stake in the UK’s economy.

So it strikes me as somewhat narrow-sighted to write off these debates as the next generation of reality show. For many people these TV debates will have been the first, direct engagement they have had with this election, if not with politics in general. Many argued the TV debates were far too focused on style over substance but this to me is nothing new. Surely, historically the smooth delivery of policies has been almost as important as the changes and decisions being communicated?

What holds importance in my mind is the clear evolution in how people are participating with politics. The uses of Twitter, blogging and TV debates are as yet each unrefined and potentially flawed ways of politicians speaking to the general public, but the fact that communication is taking place needs to be celebrated.

I was shocked by one panellists admission that they hated twitter and hoped it would ‘disappear very soon’. Social media has proved to be a highly democratic form of communication and way of holding those in power to account, whether this is by outing the bigoted views of politicians, allowing us to fact-check their statements in real-time or be ahead of the curve with breaking news.

At least by watching our potential leaders on television, or discussing the topics through social media, the general public can feel they are taking part in an election which for some can be prohibitively elitist. Whats more, within this realm people do feel their voice is of value, more so arguably than they will by marking their ballot paper tomorrow.

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