Friday, December 30, 2005

Trivial political pursuits

I managed to catch David Blunkett’s stint as guest editor of the Today programme. I can’t help having a bit of a soft spot for Blunkett, perhaps because he has the courage of his convictions and argues his case, unlike Blair who gives the impression that he thinks we should all agree with him because of his own transparent goodness.

David Blunkett’s role reversal interview with John Humphrys was interesting. Blunkett’s theme was that the media stifle and trivialise political debate by pouncing on single words or phrases and endlessly speculating on their meaning, so that it becomes imposssible for politicians to make jokes in public or think aloud. This is a line of argument that is most closely associated with the journalist John Lloyd, most recently put forward in an article in the New Statesmen, written jointly with government minister Douglas Alexander.

I would have a bit more sympathy with this line of argument, if political parties were not equally guilty of the sins they attribute to the media. To take examples from recent by-elections. When the Labour victor of the 2004 Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election was interviewed on television, he repeated almost as a mantra that the reason for his success was that Labour were on the side of the victims of crime whereas Liberal Democrats were on the side of the perpetrators. Similar tactics were used in the subsequent Hartlepool by-election. Labour made much of a jocular remark made by the Lib Dem candidate’s about an evening’s canvassing, spinning this as an insult to the people of Hartlepool.

This is not to make a partisan point – I am more than aware that our opponents would have rather severe comments to make about Lib Dem campaigning methods. All I am saying is that if a political party can reduce the complexities of criminal justice policy to a claim that their party is against crime whereas their opponents are in favour of it, then politicians can hardly then blame the media for trivialising political debate.

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