To remind you of another Rule One of communications – never confuse media opinion with public opinion. And Rule 1a – always expect better, more interesting and more varied questions from the public.
If ever I do a media interview these days there will usually come a point where the journalist shifts in his chair, smiles and says ‘obviously I have to ask you about Iraq …’ Obvious to whom? Obvious to the journalist, thinking as he asks the question about what other journalists will think if he doesn’t rather than what readers or viewers will think when they hear the same questions and answers they’ve heard often enough before.
In a session lasting two hours at the Du Maurier Festival in Fowey last night, I think the subject of Iraq came up three times – twice raised by me in my opening remarks, once by a member of the audience in a q and a covering maybe 40 or so different subjects.
The more of these events I do, the more convinced I am that one of the reasons people pay good money to go out and hear people in the flesh, and then quiz them whilst deciding whether to buy their books, is that despite the enormous amount of airtime in the media age, they don’t really feel they get a true sense of people or events.
It was a pretty middle England kind of audience. Middle class, generally middle aged, with smatterings of young and old. Yet as I tweeted last night, my description of the Daily Mail as evil was met by a generous round of applause, as was the observation that it was wrong not to have invited TB and GB to the Royal Wedding. They seemed to agree too that Nick Clegg should not be taking all the hits for Tory policies.
So if they didn’t ask about Iraq, what did they ask about, you may ask?
I didn’t keep a note of all the questions but I did note the last batch when, in an idea I borrowed from John Sergeant a few years back, as 10pm neared I closed by asking people who had not been called to shout out questions which I then answered in one go. So here goes … and this is not untypical …
What do you think of the Attlee government? (A lot)
What do you think of Danny Alexander? (Not a lot … as in not often, and not a lot)
Advice you’d give to Ed Miliband? Same question re Nick Clegg. (Different answers, for another blog on another day.) Why aren’t there more Republicans speaking out?
Why didn’t we go for a Cornish Assembly?
What is the point of the Labour Party? (A bit harsh I thought)
My finest hour? (After a bit of embarrassed shuffling I mentioned Kosovo and Northern Ireland, as comms played a part in both, whilst giving the real success to politicians and military).
Best political journalist? ….(A tough one that. I didn’t want to name any of the current crop as they wouldn’t thank me for it, so I copped out and said John Sergeant because his reports were not all about him. Actually I think it was probably Tony Bevins, alas no longer with us).
Best Burnley player? (Leighton James)
Best marathon time? (3.53.01)
How did I look after my mental health? (Sport, family, medication when needed, cue usual spiel re campaigns against stigma and discrimination.)
What did I learn from Dream School? (Cue big defence of teachers and kids)
Was I happy being an unemployed Antichrist (my words in opening remarks) or was there a job I wanted to do? (Football manager)
View on superinjunctions? (Complicated)
Happiest memory? (Lots)
Why did I have writer’s block re a third novel? (Probably because it’s about the coalition)
Is Fiona writing a diary? (Got a good laugh)
Why did GB set up the FSA and then ignore it?
Did Cherie influence TB political strategy? (Not so far as I noticed)
Next great Labour leader? (I said I hoped it was Ed)
As for the earlier questions ‘in normal time’, they included some big ones …
– go through the qualities of all the world leaders I saw. (Clinton came out well, Bush better than they expected, high marks for Ahern and Keating).
– which person living or dead is the biggest threat to world peace? (I went for leaders of radical Islam but wonder if I would come up with a different answer if I had more time to think)
Was I always a Rottweiler? (Cue argument re how media can only ever handle one prism per person)
Has Cameron got the leadership qualities to go in the same league as Thatcher and Blair? (Jury out but he didn’t win the election when he should have).
Did the Labour Party lose its basic ideology when we got rid of Clause 4?
Were MPs aware of the damage done by the expenses scandal? (Yes, but I also defended the vast bulk of MPs).
This from a former colleague on the Tavistock Times … did I remember swinging on a tree outside Angela Rippon’s house when we were doorstepping her once?
There was another dozen or so that will come back to me as I enjoy the train journey home.
I really liked this one … Someone pointed out I seemed to talk a lot about what politics could learn from sport, so in the New Labour team, who was the goalie and who was the coach? I was a bit stumped on that – I ended up with combinations which wasn’t very satisfactory. So I promised to put together a whole team which I will post as a blog in due course.
Journalists who have got as far as this will tend to look at much of the above and conclude that ‘their’ public would not be interested in such things. But this was their public, and they were not unrepresentative. They want variety, not a media-decided monotony of tone, subject and prism, which is what we tend to get on the 24 hour news channels, overly influenced by papers with their own agenda. Cue agreement from the bulk of the people of Fowey as represented by those in a big tent in a schoolyard last night.