It is with some inevitability that the British press this morning launched into a huge anti-Nick Clegg attack – but all the same it is sobering to see it in reality.
As leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg has set the UK election on fire following the first ever televised debate of political leaders, where he came out of it looking like a politician who may have a fresh approach, and the old Labour and Conservative figureheads looked like the same people saying the same things that the British people have had for the past 30 years.
Clegg leapt in the polls and although there is no way the LibDems will enter power, it does put them in an extraordinary position given the split across the country between the other two parties.
What today’s papers highlight starkly however is that the British newspapers (with the exception of the Guardian and Independent) look just as old, out-of-date and mired in old-world politics as Gordon Brown (Labour) and David Cameron (Conservative).
The headlines are so ludicrous, the charges so trumped-up, and the attack so mindlessly biased that it lays bare what the papers have always been – mouthpieces for powerful men. But what those power-players have forgotten is that newspapers also need to be in-step with society and reflect people’s views and attitudes rather than so transparently trying to manipulate them.
And the reason that this manipulation is so stark this time around is thanks to the Internet. The Internet brings with it a culture of openness and transparency. It also allows millions of people to communicate directly without having to go through the filter of the media.
When people watched the first leaders debate, a very large percentage didn’t turn to the TV or newspapers afterwards to find out what others thought – they looked online, at Twitter and on Facebook and on blogs to see what people thought directly. The commentary that the very few media professionals would usually provide was replaced with the hundreds of ordinary individuals out there commenting – and the comments that resonated with people were repeated by the people themselves.
This ability to work outside media and to lift free from media manipulation is particularly clear in the fact that the hashtag #nickcleggsfault is currently the number one topic on Twitter in the UK and in the top five globally.
What is #nickcleggsfault?
It the instinctive reaction of thousands of people who see the old-school media’s manipulation for what it is, and decide to take revenge in the most effective way that you can against powerful people – through mockery.
Currently Nick Clegg is being blamed for everything from wetting beds to the Icelandic volcano explosion to people being tired to bad computer updates. It is an extraordinary sign of people grouping together and reinforcing their own beliefs – in this case that the newspapers have gone too far, that they’re out of date and out of touch.
I don’t think we will see this kind of political attack – at least not such a blunt, unthinking attack again. By the time of the next election, the media will have learnt that the rules have changed. It’s a small but sweet step in the direction of a truer democracy, with power spread thinner and wider. And I’m pretty happy about that.