'Pershonalities' v 'ishoos'
Tony Benn used to upbraid the media for focussing on what he called "pershonalities" and not "the ishoos". Some Newsloggers obviously agree, as we saw on Friday.
John wrote that the media was interested in personalities but then pointed fingers at the politicians for not having explained their policies properly. Jonathan wrote that UK politics was becoming similar to the 'who-can-come-up-with-the-most-dirt-about-their-opponent' politics of the US.
But there's one intriguing fact that suggests they are wrong. It tells you a great deal about what David Cameron is up to.
Simply attaching the word Conservative to a particular policy proposal significantly reduces public support for it - in other words people who take a view of an issue take the opposite view once they know which personalities support it.
The reason for this is fairly obvious and well documented. It's less and less common for voters to choose parties on the basis of their class or ideology - in part, of course, because fewer of us can tell the major parties apart.
You may believe this is a thoroughly bad thing or you may think its evidence of a mature emerging consensus. Either way it makes the personality of leaders vitally important. Labour had been changing its policies and structures for many years before Tony Blair reached the top. The fact that he was young, middle class, English and a family man with young children and a successful career wife embodied that change for many voters, and served as a reassurance to many nervy of voting Labour perhaps for the first time.
The Tories too have been changing some of their policy stances - becoming more positive about public spending, the environment, international development, etc - in the past few years. The buzz in the political classes is because some believe that David Cameron may do for the Tories what Blair did for Labour.
The question is whether the problem with the Tories is personality or, as Ken Clarke sought to remind everyone yesterday, being in the wrong place on the fundamental issues - tax, Europe, the war with Iraq, etc.