Nick Clegg the leader of the Liberal Democrats released a video yesterday apologising for breaking his election pledge/promise not to raise tuition fees. In fact the promise was to scrap tuition fees paid by students, instead of which the government (of which he is part), ended up raising the maximum fees to £9000 per year. Clegg’s ‘straight to the camera, tell it like is, sorry is the hardest word’ apology is part of a party political broadcast to air on terrestrial TV in a few days, but the apology was preloaded onto YouTube.
Predictably social media, and particularly twitter, lit up with opinions about this apology. Most (at least in my timeline) were negative reactions, along the lines of: too little too late, the apology means nothing, he’s realised his party is finished at the 2015 elections. But there were a few voices in this wilderness of criticism, prepared to say he had done the right thing by saying sorry. From a political strategy point of view, the golden rule is for a politician to never say sorry ever, under any circumstances, but Clegg and his team probably decided the situation was so bad, that trust in the Lib Dems was so so low, that an apology could not make things worse and even if it made things a tiny tiny bit better, that was better than nothing.
And then today we had The Poke’s autotune remix of his apology, setting his words to a catchy (sic) tune and taking Clegg’s earnest puppy eyes entreatment to the camera and turning it into an acidic parody of this intentions. Clegg was transformed from political leader, to a bizarrely updated version of Max Headroom and any political gravitas he hoped to garner was leaking away quicker than an upturned glass of Claret on David Cameron’s sitting room carpet.
The story moved quickly; the video spread virally on twitter in the morning, and by midday it was on Jeremy Vine on Radio 2, and The Poke had asked for permission to release it as a single. Clegg agreed (if the profits were donated to Sheffield Children’s Hospital) and so we went from a party political broadcast to a comedy record in less than 24 hours. And now the parodies are proliferating with the video being remixed to different music and backgrounds, all to send up the original message. Dissent in the social media space is often just that, dissent and people moaning. But it can transform into creative dissent very quickly which is far more powerful as creates new texts which create a momentum of their own.
This is the power of social media incarnate. Political parties, large corporations even the government, can no longer control what happens to their media. The democratisation of social media is so powerful and widespread that the agenda is no longer controlled by the big players, at least not in social media and online space. And the pace at which things move is so fast, that it’s hard to see how PR and media strategists can come up with a plan which cannot be blown off course, or just blown up, by social media.
Political campaigns will never be the same again.