Editor-At-Large: The internet is no place to fight a general election

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Has the level of political debate really come to this? The next prime minister will probably be elected on the basis of the biscuit he nibbles. Winning an election is about cleverly targeting undecided voters, and you can guess what group the spin doctors have in their sights this time. In 1992 the Tories wooed the "pebbledash people" who'd bought their own council houses under Maggie Thatcher. In 1997 Tony Blair's team was obsessed with middle-class voters they tagged Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman. This time around it's mums.

Blair had no trouble appealing to female voters – he was attractive, personable and user-friendly. Casual, with a hint of spirituality – a bit like those gorgeous chocs filled with little granules of mint. Gordon Brown, on the other hand, struggles with informality and emotion – that's why Sarah is being ruthlessly marketed as the acceptable face of No 10, as Labour desperately tries to re-engage with women. We now get regular updates on her wardrobe as if wearing a cheap hat from Accessorize to a state occasion will win a couple of votes at crunch time.

In previous elections, politicians used public meetings and door-stepping to get their message across. This time around, fatally, they've decided to get down with the trendies and go online, deciding that a general election must be treated like another episode of The X Factor. Instead of pamphlets, Twitter, chatrooms, texting and telly debates are the name of the game. It's all so hopelessly lightweight, so lacking in any analytical depth that you want to scream. They'll be enlisting Heat next, or sending David Miliband to Australia to pontificate about goings-on in the jungle. Anything to appear on-trend, and au fait with popular culture.

In the latest round, David Cameron followed Gordon and submitted himself to a grilling on Mumsnet. The website has more than 850,000 regular users, and must be a godsend to women stuck at home with screaming babies. But is an hour-long chat a good way to flesh out policies and aspirations in a meaningful way? Much was made of Gordon Brown's failure to answer the biscuit question– 12 attempts didn't get a response and it took another 24 hours before he owned up to chocolate HobNobs. This doesn't make him a lesser politician in my book, but someone with a slightly weightier agenda than some of the nappy-rash gang on Mumsnet. (Sample chat last Friday morning – "Is Adrian Chiles really attractive?" followed by "Is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall really attractive?")

Brown didn't connect with his interrogators on an intimate level, but why should he be castigated for not being as touchy-feely as a mum with her new baby? Cameron is cleverer at the personal stuff – mixing insights about his time caring for his disabled son Ivan with little details about his home life, proudly telling Mumsnet his kids went to state schools. Gordon Brown also has a disabled child and his kids go to state schools; he just doesn't parade this in quite the same (pretty blatant) way. Mind you, he couldn't wait to tell This Morning that his family was backing Stacey Solomon to win The X Factor.

Cameron's critics claim he took too long to answer – well, nowt wrong with thinking before you articulate a response to a serious question. Sadly this is a relatively rare occurrence in chatrooms, and cyberspace has become a tidal wave of illiterate twaddle and knee-jerk reactions. Every time Cameron answered one mumsnetter, 10 more were trying to get through, so not surprisingly people were disgruntled. In the end, technology let him down and caused the delays. Reading through the debate, his answers are surprisingly coherent and direct. Sadly, going on Mumsnet is the modern equivalent of entering the gladiatorial arena – you're never going to win, and the crowd will just bay for your blood.

As a nation we've become disenchanted with politicians, but we don't allow them to explain themselves properly, and when they speak to us, we've already made up our minds. On Question Time we heckle and scream abuse, and that's pretty typical. We think we know more than they do. The trouble is, using the tactics employed by fluffy celebrity culture reduces serious policies to twittery soundbites. I want my country run by people who have depth – not a command of the keyboard.

Bottom gear: Change is slow when macho men drive it

The Ministry of Defence has finally admitted (following a freedom of information request) that military personnel have spent more than 140 days over the past five years taking part in stunts for the BBC's Top Gear programme. Helicopters have raced sports cars; tanks have competed against a Range Rover and army snipers have fired at high-performance cars driven by the three presenters. Other stunts have involved an aircraft carrier, amphibious landing craft and RAF fighter jets. This dubious use of public funds was justified by the MoD as a way of "raising public awareness" about what our armed forces do. With news of rising casualties in Afghanistan on television every night, I don't think any member of the public can be in the dark about that. More importantly, is the testosterone-filled world of Clarkson and co the right image for a modern army? If the MoD wants to recruit more women and minorities, this is a pretty rum way of going about it.

Dignity and romance in old age

Tom Morris has an impressive track record: he directed War Horse at the National Theatre and helped to develop Jerry Springer – The Opera. Both shows have been huge hits. His next project could be even more controversial: he's planning a new production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet at the Bristol Old Vic next March, which is set in a care home where the lovers will be in their eighties.

If he's looking for an insight into the mentality of those running accommodation for the elderly, Morris might like to take a look at the Consensus Business Group, which manages retirement complexes housing 57,000 pensioners. Last week, Ian Rapley, a Consensus spokesman, was interviewed on BBC Breakfast about a website that has received 18,000 hits from disgruntled members of the public complaining about charges levied on residents in sheltered accommodation. After Mr Rapley used the unfortunate term "dribbling geriatrics", his bosses had to make a public apology.

Obafemi's grand nights out

So what's your budget for the weekend? It's good to hear that, just like the rest of us, footballers have trouble making the cash they draw out of the bank on a Friday last till Monday.

Obafemi Martins used to play for Newcastle United until this summer, for the princely sum of £75,000 a week. His former management company is suing Martins, who was transferred to a German club for £9m, claiming he owes them more than £300,000 in unpaid fees. According to NVA Management, Martins was constantly overdrawn, in spite of them negotiating a contract worth £2m for use of his image in merchandising. It claims the footballer would draw £40,000 out of the bank for the weekend, and have to withdraw another £25,000 on Monday morning to get through the week.

Apparently, he spent the cash on eating out and fast cars. Does a good dinner really cost that much in Newcastle?

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