Fame is a double-edged sword

There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

Poor old Nick Clegg. For years the LibDems have complained that they don’t get enough attention from the mainstream media (although Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown might have cause to disagree). No sooner does the LibDem leader out-perform Cameron and Brown on a TV election special than the spotlight is well and truly on him. And, how, with the papers dredging up all sorts of personal attacks.

He himself said on the news today that he seems to have gone from being “Winston Churchill to a Nazi in the space of a few days”. Bizarre. Or maybe not, for anyone that knows how national newspapers work.

The party is quite right. It hasn’t been taken seriously by the mainstream media.

There’s a wonderful piece by former Sun editor David Yelland in the Guardian on Sunday (read it here) which explains exactly how little attention anyone on either right or left-ish- leaning media paid to the party.

Yelland’s supposition is that the big papers are, well, crapping themselves, as they simply don’t have the contacts or the relationships with a party that could very easily hold the balance of power. And don’t forget, Clegg’s performance last week came on top of Vince Cable’s trouncing of Alistair Darling and George Osborne in the Chancellor’s Debate. Suddenly, the supposedly unelectable is looking rather more interesting.

And it’s not just the mainstream media that has all of a sudden sat up to take notice. All of a sudden the construction industry has come out with its opinions on the party’s policies. Rightly so, because they aren’t exactly what you’d call industry-friendly.

Roger Humber, strategic policy adviser for the House Builder’s Association, said the proposals to add VAT to new housing could effectively close down the private house-building industry overnight. He called the policy “the single most catastrophic policy to be proposed by any of the main political parties”. He said VAT of just 5% would be enough to “entirely wipe out developers’ profit margins in the current market, with no possibility that price increases could be passed on to the consumer”.

Ian Baker, group managing director for housebuilding at Galliford Try said the policy showed a ” lack of understanding of the importance of the housebuilding industry in the UK and of the significant tax and legislative burden that the industry already carries,” while John Slaughter, director of policy at the Home Builders Federation, called it “perplexing that there is not a single positive policy for encouraging private sector new-build housing.”

A week is a long time in politics and the Labour and Conservative parties will have been working their socks off to try and make up for any perceived errors by Cameron and Brown in last week’s televised debate.

It’s worth remembering that in the famous US Kennedy vs. Nixon TV debate it was the latter who won based on what they actually said. But the prettier, camera-friendly guy in the end. So it’ll be interesting to see upon whom the fickle media spotlight is falling after tonight’s episode.

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About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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