It was billed as a new form of politics, the leadership debate that the UK has been calling out for in a somewhat vain attempt to tap into some of the political energy emanating from Capitol Hill and the Obama presidency.
The idea for a UK version of these debates pre-dates the current hoopla surrounding last night’s event. Harold Wilson was among the first to challenge an incumbent Prime Minister, Alec Douglas Home, to a debate, only to see his request rejected by Home on the grounds of turning the General Election into a ‘Top of the Pops’ contest. Latterly, Jim Callaghan broached the topic with a young Margaret Thatcher, only for the Iron Lady to reject his request through fear that a confrontation would eat into her already sizeable advantage in the polls.
Well, last night saw the idea become reality – and the reality proved somewhat disappointing. Nonetheless, it would be fair to conclude that the real winner of the night was the man who many had, to this point at least, written off in the General Election – Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg.
Within five minutes of the debate closing, the now legendary tag line ‘I agree with Nick’ – which came out of the mouths of both Labour leader Gordon Brown, and Conservative top man David Cameron during the debate – began reverberating around the modern-day political talking shop otherwise known as Twitter.
The SERPs became awash with real-time proclamations of support for the young upstart Liberal hopeful. SEO hopefuls began registering every conceivable domain extension in the hope that they might ride this wave of activity. Google Insights for Search registered a sizeable spike in search volume. Yahoo identified the furore as the buzz term of the moment. The SERPs were, and the following morning still are, awash with activity.
Just how big a part will the channels of the internet play in determining the next resident of Number 10 Downing Street? Has the internet redefined the way in which political parties must channel their propaganda? Have the main parties been active enough in their online marketing efforts?
The Conservatives have taken the lead, establishing paid search campaigns in Google and bidding on their competitors’ terms. Labour has failed miserably in its attempts to generalise Dave as a Gene Hunt figure, much to the amusement of its rivals. The Liberal Democrats, to this point at least, have neglected their online marketing strategy, to the point where we can say with some conviction that Vince Cable has forgotten to budget for it.
However, with a new range of ‘I agree with Nick’ t-shirts making their way on to Spreadshirt.net, and with the SERPs literally awash with support for Clegg, this year may see the Liberal Democrats demonstrate, albeit unwittingly, the power of the social media driven political campaign.
The internet agrees with Nick – do you?