One of the interesting things about moving in and out of the politico-media bubble is to see the extent to which though the world has changed since I was at it full-time, a lot of the political habits I came to reject have not.
David Cameron once described GB as an analog politician in a digital age. Like a lot that DC says, it is neat, makes a point for the media chatterati, but ultimately doesn’t take the debate very far. What he is trying to say is ‘I’m modern, he’s not.’
But my impression of all of the parties, his included, is that the focus on old media remains fairly intense. When outside the bubble, I read the papers less, watch the news less than I did when I was full-time in it. Latterly, even when I was in it, I had reached the view that most time spent actually following the media twists and turns was wasted. Trends mattered. What individual commentators said and wrote did not.
Bill Clinton once said to me ‘the force of the modern media is such that too many decision-makers define their reality according to that day’s noise. It is almost always a mistake.’ He was a great campaigner and like a lot that he said on campaigns, politicians of all the parties could do well to heed that statement as the election nears.
As I have said here several times, it is hugely frustrating that the media want to talk debates, process and polls, and post election tactics, almost to the exclusion of all else, particularly policy. Frustrating but not insurmountable – unless the politicians play into it.
I have just had a quick skim through Labour’s morning media brief (best to know what’s in them whilst not reading them). There are lots of briefings and interviews from leading figures in all the parties. And most play into the processology obsession. I cannot for the life of me work out why politicians meant to be fighting for a majority for their party get drawn, almost more commentator than politician, into playing the media’s ‘what happens if you lose?’ speculation.
I thought GB dealt with hung parliament questions perfectly well at the press conference yesterday. So too did David Cameron on Newsnight when he said he is fighting to win and if he doesn’t he will try to be responsible. Nick Clegg is also wise not to get too drawn on post election options, even if he has them in mind, which of course he does.
But the papers are littered with interviews and briefings from people who ought to know better answering all the ‘what ifs?’and thereby absorbing space that should be given to ‘why us?’ It is utterly counterproductive, inside the beltway stuff at a time the parties should be reaching out to the public.
One exception is David Miliband’s interview in The Guardian which gives reasons why that paper’s readers should vote Labour if they want progressive politics to continue, and not vote Lib Dem. And before anyone asks, no, this is not me saying I would back David as next leader, it is me saying thank God someone did an interview that puts an argument that might make people think twice about flirting with Cleggery and vote Labour instead.
Nick Clegg says he stands for new politics but the ’65 years of failure’ line that is on the opening pages of his manifesto is just a more epic version of running Britain down than the one Cameron does. Labour activists out campaigning on this lovely sunny day (here at least) would do well to take The Guardian with them – and it is not often you hear me say that. But David has given a very strong argument and that is what we need right now.
There is one golden rule that should be applied by all ministers, MPs, candidates and activists between now and May 6 — ‘is what I am saying and doing helping or hindering our efforts to add to the support we already have?’
Nothing else matters. In the Bristol spin room the other night I was struck by how many people from all the parties really did seem to think that media commentary was more important than public reaction. Of course to some extent they are linked. But if there is one lesson from Nick Clegg’s rise during this campaign it is that the public can make their own minds up about what they see and hear. Of course you have to try to fill the space. But the only time that really mattered was the 90 minutes the leaders were up there, and the debates inspired instantly, in people’s homes, workplaces and online.
Indeed the rubbishing Clegg has had in some quarters of the press has served to help nobody but him.
The analysis more likely to hurt him is the one that says that on policy he is less progressive than Labour, shown both by what we have delivered in the past and what we can deliver in the future.
Let the media focus on post-election processology. Yesterday showed – and so does the polling – that the economy remains the number one issue.
No wonder Cameron prefers to talk about the process of the campaign, or the Lib Dems to talk about the Clegg phenomenon. GB may be analog whatever that means. But he is winning on substance in this campaign. And that is where he, and all of his ministers, need to put all their efforts now, rather than worry overly what the papers or the broadcasters say on a day to day basis.
None of this means I won’t keep banging on about the need for the media, especially the broadcasters, to do more on policy and less on process. That is because I believe when we are on policy, Labour are strongest. When we are on style, Cameron and Clegg get it. When we are on politician as commentator, the media win, and the politicians and public lose.
*** I feel a bit bad by tweeting last night that one of my biggest heroes would be coming out for Labour at our health rally today, and that he made Gary Barlow look like small fry. It sparked dozens of guesses as to who it was, and now apparently it is the subjct of phone-in speculation on Five Live. I so hope you won’t be disappointed….
I gave one clue on twitter last night, namely that he was also John Lennon’s hero. I will give another now. Regular visitors here and to my vlog may recall that I have met him at a campaign event in the past. Now sit back and enjoy the show.
*** Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash for Labour http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.