Too close to call: winners, social media and the business impact of the election

Last week Gorkana hosted an excellent breakfast briefing entitled ‘The election too close to call?’. The session involved a panel of some of the UK’s top business and political journalists making their predictions on how this year’s UK election will play out – debating who will be the winner, the role of social media and the impact of the result on UK business. 

I’ll try to summarise the most interesting points from the session, with a bit of analysis from me on the side:

The basics

Firstly, let’s cover the basics. There was a consensus that in the centre ground the parties are pretty homogenised; no-one has done anything particularly exciting yet, and as Jeremy Warner, (Assistant Editor at The Daily Telegraph) put it, there are three issues that will dominate this election: the deficit, the deficit and the deficit.   

Not exactly a positive enthusiastic feeling amongst the panel! 

The Wall Street Journal’s Iain Martin went as far as saying the Conservatives election campaign could “almost be a text book example of how not to do it”. He suggested that the fact they are not using a traditional ad agency is really showing. Labour has limited resources but uses them well and also has experience of winning elections, which will certainly help them. 

What it means for business

Things heated up as Jeremy Warner and Dan Roberts, (Head of Business for The Guardian) debated the impact of the election on UK business. Jeremy suggested “business craves certainty” both internally and externally. He also felt the markets were more surprisingly fearful of an outright Labour win due to the likelihood of Brown increasing taxes in a high-tax economy, than the threat of potential indecision that would come with a hung parliament. 

However Dan Roberts argued that whilst the issue of public debt is important, there was a real need for careful examination of the private sector, to prevent future crises. “No-one is articulating a different vision of what the private sector should look like” he said.     

The Media

Another hot topic is what role and indeed which types of media will influence the public in this election. 

George Pascoe-Watson from Portland PR (formerly The Sun’s Politics editor) highlighted that social media is actually still relatively immature in this country. He felt that blogs such as Guido Fawkes’ ‘order order’ did have a role to play, but will have less impact than some people have predicted

Jeremy Warner shied away from the suggestion that a newspaper backing a particular party makes a radical difference, despite famous examples like The Sun famous headline “It’s The Sun Wot Won It”

Meanwhile, Dan Roberts pointed to two key pieces of “political theatre” as the most important potential turning points – next weeks budget announcements and the televised debates. 

The validity of making comparisons with Obama’s campaign was also questioned. George Pascoe-Watson pointed out Obama’s social media campaign started primarily as a fundraising more than campaigning tool. It was also highlighted that Barak Obama had a strong single message that naturally works well over social media. 

This powerful single point is sorely missing from any of our parties. It remains to be seen whether any politician or party can rise above the chatter and find a simple message. Iain Martin quoted the old adage “oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose elections”, which certainly rings true. The thought of anyone truly feeling like they can take credit for winning (by more than default) seems like a remote possibility. 

But on the bright side, as Philippe Legrain recently wrote, if you’re going to lose an election, maybe this is a good election to lose anyway.