There is a bit of a problem with the way the media, public service broadcasters included, now cover politics in general and elections in particular.
Back in my journalistic days, writes a middle-aged old fart, not only did the manifestoes get covered seriously and in full but so, on subsequent days, did specific policy issues that flowed from them. So it was perfectly possible, as it still is today, to wake up to the news that Labour would be focusing on x, the Tories on y, the Liberals/SDP or whatever on z.
The difference with today is that then through the day, and into the next day’s papers, the media would report what it was the parties were proposing on x, y and z, and engage in a debate of sorts about it.
Today, the tone is more ‘well, Labour wants to talk on a, the Tories on b and the Libs on c, but we the media have decided that what the public want to hear about is d.’ (currently speculation about May 7 and beyond)
The first election I was properly involved in was 1987. The phenomenon I describe above has developed step by step with each election, to the current position. It is one of the great ironies of our time that we have more media space for debate (24 hour news, radio station proliferation, bigger papers, the internet) but actually less policy coverage than ever.
I said after the first TV debate, in genuine hope, that there might now be a chance of getting the election onto policy, rather than Cameron curtain-measuring type stories. But instead of Cameron government processology and TV debate processology, the media have now moved to a mix of Cleggmania so-called and hung parliament processology.
At a time like this, surely the media has a responsibility to set out for the public, in detail, what the parties are actually putting forward. I caught a package on the news last night designed to show that the public don’t know any of the Lib Dems’ policies. I doubt many of them are much wiser about Labour’s or the Tories’ manifestoes.
Instead of doing pieces saying nobody knows what the policies are, I wonder if it might be an idea to set them out. Otherwise, we really are now into politics as beauty contests.
X Factor, Pop Idol and Britain’s Got Talent are fine in so far as they go – light entertainment which makes a star or two. But the consequences for the country are not that great. General elections surely have to be about more than the stuff we are hearing, five days on from the debate, a lot of which is policy-less processological space-filling before the next one in two days’ time.