Election 2010 Lookahead: Thursday 22 April

The who, when and where of the campaign.

With another 16 days to go in this election campaign, here is what is happening today:

Labour

With Gordon Brown locked in a bunker with Alastair Campbell et al. trying furiously to stop him smiling, things are quiet today for Labour. Health Secretary Andy Burnham debates the future direction of health policy against his Tory and Lib Dem opponents at the Cavendish Conference Centre in Westminster (10.30am).

Conservatives

For those struggling to get their fix of David Cameron in the run-up to tonight's action, the Tory leader is featured on a CBBC election special this afternoon (4.35pm; see below). According to the BBC, Cambo has been out jogging in Bristol and insists he is "really, really enjoying" the campaign, despite yesterday's egging. Elsewhere, Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley debates health in Westminster (10.30am).

Liberal Democrats

Ahead of the Bristol match-up, Nick Clegg visits a parent and toddler group in the city (11am), presumably ignoring the morning papers. Former Liberal Democrat Leader Charles Kennedy meets campaigners and voters in Cambridge with Lib Dem candidate Julian Huppert (11am). Health spokesman Norman Lamb is in Westminster with Messrs Burnham and Lansley debating health (10.30am).

The media

Dominating media coverage will be the build-up to tonight's Sky News Debate, hosted by Sky political editor Adam Boulton in Bristol and focusing on international affairs (8pm). Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems received a huge poll boost following the first debate on ITV last week, which drew peak viewing figures of 10.3 million.

At the BBC, David Dimbleby hosts Question Time in Greenwich, with a panel including William Hague, Yvette Cooper, and Menzies Campbell (10.35pm). The programme is broadcast live so that both the audience and panel can comment on the Bristol debate.

CBBC broadcast Election: Your Vote, a special featuring children interviewing David Cameron, Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik on key issues that matter to their age group. It is presented by Angellica Bell and the debate is chaired by Andrew Neil, in front of a live audience of 140 children. Sharon Osbourne, Julia Bradbury and Evan Davis appear as celebrity mentors (4.35pm).

On UTV, The UTV Leaders Debate sees the leaders of the four main parties discuss all the major issues facing Northern Ireland in the upcoming elections before an audience of first time voters, chaired by Jim Dougal (9pm).

Other parties

In Edinburgh, SNP Deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon joins Edinburgh East MSP and Justice Sec Kenny MacAskill, SNP Edinburgh East candidate George Kerevan and Edinburgh North and Leith candidate Calum Cashley in an SNP branded taxi "to make the point that only SNP MPs are championing stable fuel prices at Westminster" (10.15am).

Away from the campaign

If you think a lot of people will be watching the leaders debate, the NFL draft pulled in 39m viewers last year. The annual pick of college American football players by the huge sport franchises gets underway at 11.30pm (coverage on Sky Sports over the weekend).

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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