I realised recently that political theatre has changed quite substantially in the last decade in the UK. When I think back to 1997, the background to the Blair campaign was all about big crowds waving flags and placards and cheering and clapping. I think it was borrowed from the US with those huge party conventions with booming “The Next President of the United States” introductions and balloons falling from the ceiling.
But today that’s gone. The backdrop for the emerging UK political generation is their own front room. Cameron doesn’t do big speeches — he speaks to a webcam. The only place he can have a cheering backdrop is at Tory party conference and they’ve changed the format of that away from a set piece speech for the leader. Also — historically at least — the party hasn’t really attracted the cheering type.
I guess it might be a practical. It’s hard to find enough supporters to make a convincing crowd in an age where political party membership is low and party funding is too tight to manufacture those kind of opportunities. Peter Hitchens said this morning on Start the Week that he thought the two political parties would disappear — something I wrote about a while back with Tom. It still wouldn’t surprise me to see one of the main parties go into receivership.
But I also wondered whether the shift of image is deliberate. Maybe the Tories have made a calculation that people have less trust for the kind of politician who needs a cheering crowd. It would make some sense of Peter Mandelson’s comments over the weekend that imply Labour should skip a generation. Love him or loathe him, his ability to spot political currents ahead of time is probably unrivaled. He well knows that the style of the next generation of Milibands, Balls, Coopers and Lamys is a much more laid back, low-key politics rather than the fist clenched, booming Brown.