It’s all about the image for some voters

AT a time when everyone in the public eye finds it hard to buy a pint of milk without media scrutiny, having the right image has become as important their reason for being famous in the first place.

This is truer for politicians than for any other magnified walk of life. During the campaign trail for the last general election, I was making small-talk with a friend about who we were likely to vote for when she made a disparaging remark about Gordon Brown’s appearance.

It was something along the lines of: “Oh I can’t vote for him. Another term staring at his ugly mug on the telly? No thanks.”

I expect her response was slightly knee-jerk and may have been exaggerated, but I warned her we weren’t voting on The House of Commons’ Next Top Model, and that she should make her mind up based on policies.

She had accidently stumbled upon making a good point though, and one that has resurfaced in the run up to the forthcoming elections. Speaking this time to a more aged friend of mine in a wider political discussion, he said he wouldn’t vote Conservative because David Cameron’s face was too shiny.

I could tell he was joking, or at least I thought I could. He then went on to say Labour should have picked David Miliband instead of Ed as their leader because he’s “more normal” looking than his sibling, and that Nick Clegg looked too much like “a supply teacher trying to be cool.”

This friend of mine isn’t politically aligned and doesn’t follow politics, and I didn’t get to the bottom of which one of his local candidates he will be voting for. His political knowledge begins and ends at the surface image of the main party leaders.

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He is though, what I would consider, a man-on-the-street. A floating voter who bases a big chunk of his selection on which one looks most like a bloke he would like to have a pint with.

There are two ways for political parties to gain the support of people like my mate. The first is to teach him about politics and explain to him their policies. Bearing in mind he doesn’t watch the news and flicks through the political pages of his selected newspaper, this would have to be done in a series of one-on-one sessions. Considering the amount of people in the same situation as him, this would surely be too time-consuming.

The second is to respect the importance of a good image. This doesn’t mean faux attempts at leaders trying to prove they are ‘one of us’ by saying they like Arctic Monkeys or flying with Ryanair as David Cameron recently did.

It means looking like a man that can be trusted by dressing tidily and having confidence. It also means sounding like a man who can be trusted by having a calming voice that isn’t too posh, but is in no way common. It also means having no annoying mannerisms (Brown), no crooked smiles (Cameron), and no doubt about the ability to grow facial hair like a real man (Clegg).

Unfortunate though it may be, in reality, these are the attributes that matter to many of the UK’s voters. The correct image is the first thing people notice about a politician, and if it isn’t spot-on, voters could be lost forever.