Ask the Chancellors

Tonight on Channel 4 the first of the big election debates will take place with their ‘Ask the Chancellors’ programme. It’s a live debate featuring chancellor Alistair Darling (Labour) and both the would-be chancellors, George Osborne (Conservative) and Vince Cable (Lib Dem).

Channel 4 has been heavily trailing the programme. As I moved around London today I saw the huge face of Osborne staring at me from video screens at Liverpool St, and the Chancellor on the tube escalators. It’s impossible to escape the heavy promotion for the debate.
This debate is important for a number of reasons. Three leadership debates have already been planned for this election, to be hosted by the BBC, Sky, and ITV. The format has been agreed for those debates and the exact dates will be determined once the election date has been announced and campaigning begins in earnest. This is going to be a one-hour trailer for those leadership debates, but clearly with a focus on the economy – one of the single most important issues of this forthcoming election.
Apart from the obvious importance for the British electorate, this is going to be another new test for social media and engagement with an electorate. Channel 4 has ensured that everyone who is potentially interested in this debate knows that the hashtag for the evening is   #askthechancellors and they will start covering the event online a full hour before the live debate begins on TV.
The importance of engaging the audience in the debate online as well as those within the TV studio is clear. Channel 4 has even assigned one of their editorial team to be a live ‘fact checker’ during the debate.
I’m going to be live blogging during the event for Reuters. Take a look at their coverage here, and expect more Reuters live coverage of other key events in the run up to the election itself.
What’s clear is that the politicians have accepted that social media is now an important engagement tool. The media has clearly bought into the same argument – that one-way broadcast is no longer enough. Now if the politicians and media have accepted this so obviously, how come there are still companies out there that think they don’t need to be engaging online with their customers – or those who influence their customers?