Tesco is wishing its customers a happy Christmas, but the political classes can’t take good cheer from the latest political engagement findings.
Advertising people are driven as much by mood and fashion as by any of the other tools in the communications strategist’s box of tricks. The best of the breed develops a feel for what the nation is thinking.
The smart minds at Tesco’s advertising agency, BBH, have put a wet finger of creative genius in the air and created for Tesco the company’s 2022 Christmas TV ad, called The Christmas Party.
Alessandra Bellini, chief customer officer at Tesco, said: “It’s very important that our seasonal campaigns reflect how our customers genuinely feel and what we know they are looking for. We understand that it is a tough time at the moment, with everyone’s finances under pressure, but we also know that people are looking forward to Christmas – in fact, our research shows that there is even more excitement around it than usual.”
Creating The Christmas Party was only possible because in 2022 everyone in the UK was consumed by the pantomime that was Westminster politics.
Such was the comedy and tragedy of the Tory party’s mismanagement of the governance of the nation that hardly a soul was unaware of the seemingly endless unfolding of events madder than any in the nation’s collective memory. This was a change, as most people pay politics only the most cursory attention.
Many actively shun politics, politicians and political reporting
The Tory freak show gave Tesco’s admen reason to create The Christmas Party, with its implied manifesto of fun, laughter, warmth, family and goodwill. Above all, The Christmas Party is about security and predictability. Two characteristics palpably missing from Westminster this year.
It is also Tesco telling its customers that it knows they hold a very low opinion of all politicians, so The Christmas Party is a kick up the bum of political tribes everywhere. The arrival of The Christmas Party is, however, not solely down to the events of 2022 that consumed countless hours of airtime and miles of newsprint.
More than 14 years of political rollercoaster
Politics has been a big and present element in the public life of the UK since the financial crash of 2008. From that moment on, politics topped the news with an urgency, frequency and importance we had not known since the hunger for news witnessed during WW2.
Since 2008, big political stories have relentlessly rolled at us; the 2008 crash and the 2010 general election that produced a hung parliament, followed by the Cameron/Clegg coalition government, the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. The 2015 general election that saw Cameron win, the LibDems massacred and the SNP triumphant, as it took 50% of the Scottish vote and 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats.
Then came the Brexit referendum and its long-drawn-out parliamentary roller-coaster of high drama and low politics. Along came general elections in 2017 and 2019, the chaotic Johnson years, the insane Truss weeks and now Sunak and, most recently, the rejection by the Supreme Court of the Scottish Government’s referendum case.
Cometh ‘The Donald’ and his MAGA private army
Nor let us forget the Trump years. The Donald Tweeted night and day. We in the UK lived every maniacal Trump utterance. He ended his term presiding over a very great threat to the constitution of the United States, when his Make America Great Again private army invaded the US Congress.
So, the admen caught the public mood, but behind what the sharp suits of Soho and Mayfair discovered about public perceptions of politics and politicians may lie more troubling factors. This month, The House of Commons Library published Political disengagement in the UK: Who is disengaged? – a comprehensive review of where participatory democracy in the UK currently stands.
While the turnout at general elections has increased over the past four elections, it still fell far short of the 1997 level and a long way from the over-80% turnouts of the early 1950s. The proportion of people who trusted the Government “to put the needs of the nation first” always or most of the time decreased from 38% in 1986 to 15% in 2019, before rising again to 23% in 2020.
Trust in politicians is between 6% and 11%
If these were the figures for a commercial brand or business, the board and all the executives would have been fired, if bankruptcy had not come first. Fieldwork on the House of Commons paper was done before the Truss debacle. One can only speculate as to where we are now. What should worry us most is the strong possibility of voter fatigue, that people have simply had enough of politics.
Will turnout be lower again in 2024?
Will voters be persuaded to vote by the lacklustre Keir Starmer or the not very engaging billionaire Rishi Sunak? In Scotland, will Nicola Sturgeon lead her party to the promised land via a de facto “referendum general election”? Will Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein capture the Province’s Westminster seats and its new MPs turn up in London’s parliament?
Will Mark Drakeford’s “good pandemic” lead to a Labour revival in Wales? Or will the Tories again capture power, mainly because it got its vote out, with voter fatigue keeping other voters away from the polls?
Public disengagement from the political process must worry all democrats, regardless of political allegiance. Tesco’s The Christmas Party is a symptom of the political upheavals of recent times. It is also a manifestation of the public mood. The chart below (which appears in the House of Commons Library study) tells its own story.
UK democracy needs to press CTRL+ALT+DEL and reset
There is, without doubt, an opportunity for a political force that promises to give the public reason to believe again in the political process and the importance of political engagement. At present, no such party is to be seen. Britain’s newest party, The Christmas Party, has the advantage of knowing that large numbers of people across the land value Tesco.
Will voters in the next general election come out to vote in large numbers, and if they do, will they be voting enthusiastically for a party or leader that has captured their trust, or will they be voting mainly to stop those they dislike?
What is clear is that our democracy is weaker and less resilient than we perhaps thought. Our constitution is consistently under scrutiny, its weaknesses more apparent by the day.
That we need a democracy reset is unquestionable. How it is to happen is a mystery.
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