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Can they play 3D politics?

Mark Easton | 18:07 UK time, Friday, 16 April 2010

3D is popular again. And maybe not just at the cinema.

Three suited avatars lined up on the telly last night in a formation that suggested an end to the traditional two-dimensional, left-right, Punch-and-Judy politics that has defined Westminster for generations.

Whatever people think of Liberal Democrat policies, the mere presence of Nick Clegg may have made some wonder whether 3D politics might actually be quite a good idea. The "equality of esteem" granted to the party leader who normally finds himself drowned out by baying Tory and Labour backbenches in the Commons may have sowed a seed in the minds of the electorate.

The fury of voters at a Westminster system that allowed dozens of MPs to trouser large sums in dodgy expenses could be encouraging some to consider a different style of national politics. Recent polls have suggested increasing public support for a hung Parliament. The idea that politicians might be forced to work together - to compromise - appears not to hold the same fears it once did; in part, perhaps, because people have seen coalition politics operating in Scotland and Wales without the sky falling in.

If public attitudes are changing, it would appear that those hoping for a place in the next House of Commons are still busy promoting a two-dimensional world. Nick Clegg himself has published an election leaflet stressing how, in the constituency he hopes to represent, "It's a two-horse race here".


The graph, incidentally, merits more than a cursory glance if you wish to appreciate quite how dodgy it is.

Where I live in London, three of my local candidates have been trying to convince me that it is a straight fight between two parties with the "others" nowhere.

The Labour leaflet uses figures from the elections for the Greater London Assembly to claim that Islington South and Finsbury is a fight between themselves and the Tories. They have extracted ward data from the results for the North East London seat on the GLA to make their point.


The Liberal Democrat leaflet prefers to use votes from the 2005 general election where the party came within a few hundred votes of beating Labour. Again, there is nothing "proportional" about the "representation" of the graph.


The Conservatives, like Labour, have dived into the detail of the GLA elections to suggest they are battling Labour for the seat. The leaflet claims "only... Conservatives can beat Labour in Islington". This graph, too, would make any statistics teacher weep.


In a first-past-the-post context, of course, it makes sense for a candidate to present himself or herself as a runner in a two-horse race. But such local leaflets risk looking increasingly odd as each televised debate presents an idea of our national politics embracing a 3D age.


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