In May, Britain will once again go to the polls to elect its next government in what is likely to be one of the most hotly contested elections in decades.
With such fine margins between the political figures of David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage the public’s perception of these giants of Westminster will be a more crucial battleground than ever.
It has always been a balancing act for electoral teams to essentially package ‘their product’ as the person to lead the country.
But the difficulty the parties have faced is convincing ‘Joe Public’ that their candidate is, in a sense, human.
It sounds so simple, making yourself appear human and having the common touch, and yet Cameron, Miliband (and in the past Gordon Brown) have struggled to appear like one of us – who remembers Bigotgate?
Cameron has had difficulties throughout his tenure as Prime Minister to shake-off the posh-boy Etonian image while telling those on the breadline ‘we’re in this together’. Across the House of Commons divide, one search of ‘Ed Miliband Robot’ into YouTube finds a video of the Labour hopeful repeating time and time again the same pre-rehearsed answer to a number of different questions.
It is no coincidence therefore that figures who have gained popularity in the last two to three years have been able to appear ‘normal’ even displaying human flaws just like the rest of us.
Take for instance Mayor of London Boris Johnson, like Cameron he is a former student of Eton, but somehow his bumbling personality and distinctive blonde hair makes him a likeable political figure. He has fallen foul of political mishaps; stuck on a zip wire, tripping up on stage and has been forced to publically apologise to the cities of Liverpool and Portsmouth over misguided and ill thought-out comments. However for all his faults he has a hardcore following that are calling for him at 10 Downing Street.
Another example is Farage. UKIP has shaken the landscape of British politics and Farage has been at the forefront of this stride. Pictured regularly with a pint in hand, outspoken and seemingly at home with the man-on-the-street, whether you agree with his policies or not his popularity has attracted Tories to defect to his purple-brigade ahead of the election.
Someone who also received favourable press recently is the deputy-prime minister Nick Clegg. His party is predicted to take a hiding in the election and coverage of the Liberal Democrat leader hasn’t been the kindest – to put it mildly. But the best PR Clegg has had for sometime came at Christmas. He and his wife Miriam sent out Christmas cards showing a loving image of the pair in the style of photobooth snaps. He’s a long way off his height of Clegg-mania in 2010 but showing his human side won him a lot of positive press.
Perhaps political groups can take notice of this basic ingredient of popularity. Presenting a candidate as a flawless, polished and untainted person is difficult for the public to engage with and arguably harder to trust. It raises the questions ‘what are they hiding?’ or ‘what are they really like?’, for the simple fact we all have our faults.
Johnson and Farage in particular have won voters by doing nothing spectacular. They are far from perfect and seem at ease to embrace it. Could their ploy of appearing human be an election winning strategy for others to follow?
Author: Adam Thompson, account executive at Connect PR