The spin doctors’ dilemma: should David be mean to Nick?

Critics of the rampant spin doctoring that seems to have taken over the political process on both sides of the Atlantic say it has reduced politics to the level of the X-Factor or American Idol.

Well finally, in the last three weeks of the UK General Election and prior to the second televised debate between the three main party leaders, they’re all agreed it has. But they haven’t got the faintest idea what do about it.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and his party have surged in the polls following the first debate on ITV, although some polls show the Lib bounce deflating somewhat.

Now the second debate looms and the question for the spinners (and the leaders of course) is how to play it?

Both the Tories under David Cameron and the incumbent Labour Party under Gordon Brown have suffered at the hands of the youthful and fresh-faced Clegg. Cameron is no longer the clear favourite while Brown is looking at third place in terms of the number of votes although he could still, bizarrely, end up with the most seats.

The second debate is unlikely to be as dramatic in its consequences as the first because it’s on pay channel Sky so not everyone can see it live (although the BBC is broadcasting it straight afterwards). Clegg, of course, might drop the ball. But if he doesn’t, the focus is firmly on Cameron.

Some of his advisers are saying that he should take the metaphorical gloves off and lace into Clegg for his inexperience and idealism. But Cameron too can be accused of inexperience. He’s also spent the last four years trying to show the voters that the Tories are no longer the ‘nasty party’ so a Flashman-like performance is hardly likely to do him any favours.

Clegg for his part is getting his retaliation in first, telling the Daily Telegraph this morning that Brown is a ‘desperate’ politician and he doubts his recent (and convenient) conversion to a reform of the voting system that would favour the Libs.

The implication of this is that the Libs won’t be inclined to do a post-vote deal with a Labour Party led by Brown. Which will be music to the ears of assorted Milibands and other Labour would-be leaders. Brown looks a dead duck anyway, his latest folly in promising to send a fleet of coaches (which has proved mostly non-existent) to Madrid airport to pick up Brits stranded by the Icelandic volcano dust is probably his last big, botched initiative.

So what will Cameron do?

He’ll be a bit sharper with Clegg than he was and much harder on Brown. But he’ll be hoping that old tribal affiliations resurface as the Clegg novelty wears off and voters work out the best way to get rid of Brown.

It’s not much of a strategy but it looks like the only one he’s got.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.