Nick Jones
What greater challenge could there be for a political enthusiast than to be given ten minutes to tell twenty sixth formers the ten most important facts about the 2010 general election. Top of my list was a no brainer given the age of the audience. One in four of all 18-24 year olds commented on the election via social networking sites.  Eighty per cent of them expressed an interest in political issues during the campaign.  On polling day the turn out in their age group was up seven per cent on the 2005 general election, just one illustration of an unprecedented level of online interaction and participation.  Old-style doorstep politics was overtaken by conversations via the web on sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the rest. So another key fact what was I called the ‘online insurgency’: David Cameron’s air-brushed poster became the most mocked image of the campaign thanks to viral graffiti artists; Nick Clegg was supported by an online fight back when accused by the Daily Mail of a ‘Nazi slur’; and Gordon Brown disastrous Bigotgate encounter became an online sensation. But it was the three televised debates which were the election game changer – changing the dynamics of the way the campaign was reported. Without the three live confrontations between the leaders there would not have been ‘Cleggmania’ and Clegg would not have been able to command the Westminster stage as the kingmaker in the post-election hard bargaining that led to the formation of the UK’s first peace time coalition government since the 1930s. Another factor which resulted in a British general election becoming more like a US Presidential contest was the emergence of the WAGs – not the wives and girlfriends of footballers but of the three party leaders. Sarah Brown’s presentation of herself as the UK’s first First Lady – modelling herself on the political role of Michelle Obama – made it harder for the wives of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to avoid adopting a higher profile. Samantha Cameron’s pregnancy did wonders for her image; Miriam Clegg’s refusal to pander to the media won her many admirers; but Sarah Brown was way in front with over a million followers on Twitter, far exceeding the following of the site’s runaway star Stephen Fry.   Tabloid newspapers loved it: fashion writers gave a daily rating on the clothes being worn by the leaders’ wives and the three ‘WAGs’ were elevated even further by being the subject of their own opinion surveys.  Froth apart, the 2010 general election resulted in a new post-war chapter in British politics.  An agreement by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to form a coalition government required compromises by two opposing political tribes. So far at least, the new administration does not seem to be in danger of repeating the corrosive splits of the Blair-Brown years.  George Osborne insists that all he wants to be is Chancellor of the Exchequer; William Hague longed to become Foreign Secretary and is not angling for David Cameron’s job; and Cameron’s deputy Nick Clegg is more than happy to have become the first Liberal Democrat since Lloyd George to have stood at the despatch box and answered Prime Minister’s questions.  (Nicholas Jones was guest speaker at Overton Grange School in the London Borough of Sutton on 20.7.2010.)