In 24 hours I’m voting for the first time and I can’t wait. No, I’m not expecting a revelatory moment of polling booth ecstasy; feeling the raw political power contained in the pen (or pencil – are we allowed erasers or Tipex for last minute swings of allegiance?) in my hand; marking my ballot paper and bellowing to the community-hall rafters, “IT’S MY TURN TO CHANGE BRITAIN!” Other than our ludicrous first-past-the-post system and the swamp of centrist policies, Wu-Tang Clan long ago elucidated the fundamental flaw in our supposed “democratic process” – Cash Rules Everything Around Me.
I can’t wait to vote because the media purgatory of the last few months will finally be over. Its been 24 weeks of Groundhog days full of advertorials, botched photo-ops and Photoshop hack jobs, insanely expensive pieces of communication which communicate what exactly? And to who? No doubt the post-election purgatory will be equally torturous, as the parties endlessly shuffle their handfuls of votes and we see power being decided without our input but at least the electioneering will be over. Throughout the campaign we have repeatedly seen an inability to communicate effectively to young people. Party communications have often been aesthetic and narrative flops, which if anything have accentuated the bad smell of cynical and, let’s be brazen about it, ageist politics.
I work for untraditional creative agency, one which actually values young people. At huge expense, the Conservatives have drafted in their old guard M and C Saatchi for more self-satisfied verbal and visual puns, and Aussie-import Lynton Crosby as strategist or Designated Bastard (Armando Iannucci’s words, not mine). This match made in hell has produced a stream of negative, exclusionary political narratives aimed a tiny sliver of the population. The year began with a poster depicting a strip of tarmac receding into the hillocked distance, through England’s green and pleasant lands. It was badly stitched together from source vegetation quickly traced back to Germany. The narrative is aimed solely at those so individualistic that they dream of a Conservative Britain completely devoid of inhabitants, the perfect place to retire to.
Saatchi swooped back in on their latest billboards which feature more accomplished retouching and whilst believably placing Ed Miliband in the pocket of a giant Alex Salmond isn’t beyond us at Champion the driving rationale is. A hypothetical doomsday deal between Labour and the SNP has only entered the public consciousness through Cameron’s endless scare mongering and the strangely macho defensiveness of Miliband. The time and money splurged on constructing this cautionary tale could have been spent on communicating a positive vision, if there were one. In spin circles Crosby is a.k.a the Wizard of Oz but theres no magic happening and the true identity of the Conservative campaign machine – scheming, middle aged and male – couldn’t be more visible
Not that Labour are doing much better. Their re-hash of the 1978 “LABOUR ISN’T WORKING” billboard by Saatchi is impressively useless. “THE DOCTOR CAN’T SEE YOU NOW” attempts to attack longer GP waiting times under the Conservatives armed with a feeble, clunky pun and a visual referent created over a decade before I was born. What Labour do have on their side are a smattering of humane policies nestled amongst the ideologically vapid muck and outspoken people who recognise them. Miliband’s like totally matey chat with youth bloke Russell Brand was a momentary, unusually shrewd deviation from the script. The result was a YouTube hit, a new channel and new audience for the man, the brand, Ed Miliband, to awkwardly communicate the Labour party. The minor online sensation Milifandom, a twitter campaign started by a 17 year old girl, has done more for his image than any amount coaching on how to eat a bacon sandwich could. A cute set of memes are apparently so threatening that that other demon from Down-Under, Rupert Murdoch, had The Sun journalists doorstepping the girl’s grandmother.
There was one party political broadcast which did manage to tread the fine line between being entertainingly meme-able and non-patronising, with conceptual content, a balance which so much youth directed communication completely fails on. The Green Party’s “Change the Tune” broadcast puts the current scramble for the centre ground of British politics to music, with all four major party leaders singing from the same sheet. A Clegg, a freakishly life-like David Cameron, an inflated Nigel Farage and a Miliband (the square jawed actor looks much more like one brother than the other) prat their way through a high production value satire, a fully realised boyband ballad, complete with a smoke machine and grand pianos. Whilst the 3rd key change is a little sickening, the video takes a simple concept and packs in huge amounts of content focusing on the corruptions of democracy – the perennial influence of multi-national business, croneyism and lack of positive ideology – at the heart of our current politics. No wonder the Greens are the second most popular party amongst 18-24 year olds. Not only do the Greens have a political vision worth communicating but they’re beginning to show some flair for communication itself.
A poll commissioned by the British Youth Council suggested 60% of young people are certain about voting. Hopefully with a record turnout amongst young people we can finally stop being a demographic politics talks about and become the citizens politics talks to.