Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Liberal Democrats, its all in the justification

With the first poll emerging which puts the Liberal Democrats one point ahead of the Conservatives I thought it was time to write something about the mechanisms of justification, and how they relate to my field of interest.

The Liberal Democrats have benefitted significantly from Nick Clegg's debate performance, and in all fairness it was a commanding performance. He was intelligent, engaging and shot from the hip. He didnt pull punches and he stuck rigidly to the "Labservatives" message, unifying the position of the Conservatives and Labour and establishing himself as the only true 'change' candidate.

And so the message has suddenly turned, the Liberal Democrats are a serious contender for the election and the other parties are on the back foot. But really, do we believe that one debate is what changed the minds of so many people?

People make decisions, justify it, and then rationalise it. When they see others making a decision they personally want to justify, they are given the tool they need to justify it. When the only information they have is the media telling them others are making a decision, its even easier. Its always been true that Liberal Democrats are many people's second choice candidate, and all of a sudden the message is, you can vote for them, they're serious people.

The internet is a powerful tool for this type of justification, particularly when it comes to more extreme decisions. People want to belong to a community, or a movement. Previously this would be confined to your immediate surroundings, with the occasional foray into something you'd seen on television or in the newspaper. The problem with the television and the newspaper is that they are one way communicators without a mechanism to engage.

Internet communities are not constrained by distance, and somewhere, there is a group of people who believe virtually anything is a good idea. A virtual community is easily engaged with and allow people to reinforce their opinions with the assistance of others. See, for example, the rise of pro bulimia or pro anorexia sites. Every bit of medical evidence shows both these lifestyle choices are wildly bad ideas, and yet a great and growing number of people appear to be using these sites to justify decisions they want to make. If you dont believe me a quick google search will find you plenty of examples.

I think we are seeing a similar process occuring with the Liberal Democrats, an emerging zeitgeist which is taking hold of a significant number of people. All forms of communication are part of this transition, old media, new media, social media, even me by writing about it.

It will be fascinating to see how this continues to evolve. There will be two more debates to come, and if the instant polls continue to show Clegg as the victor the media will have no choice but to agree to report their rise. This will enable larger numbers of people to justify their choice, and convince still more people to justify theirs, advocates seeking out advocates.

Personally I think this whole process is probably no bad thing, certainly not for democracy in the UK. Adding a viable Liberal Democratic campaign to the mix may not suit my political allegience but it does demand that the other candidates raise the bar and speak truth to power. Although strangely in this case, the power is the people, not the powerful.

And on that note, I'm off to enjoy the sunshine and bask in the zeitgeist.


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