Monday, May 08, 2006

Making the News

I really don't like politicians.

In particular, I'm no great fan of the current administration. Swept to power in 1997 on promises of the earth, the only significant achievement they have made in the last nine years has been to ban foxhunting. And even that's been a complete waste of time. Foxes are still hunted by men and women on horseback, with hounds.

OK, to be fair, my own political leanings are hardly likely to make me support President Blair and his useless cronies. I prefer a society where most of the aspects of daily life aren't a concern of the state; a small government doing the absolute minimum necessary to ensure the smooth continuation of life. I would like people to take more responsibility for themselves and stop expecting 'them' to do things.

But I'm not so air-headedly idealistic as to think there aren't areas where regulation is necessary, aspects of life where some form of policy needs to be developed and implemented. Much as I hate to admit it, people do need to be governed. I just wish we could rely on a little less.

Instead we have ever more, growing like some monstrous metastasised cancer. A bureaucracy gone mad, bloated, and above all incompetent. And at the top of the pyramid, government ministers who don't seem to know what they are supposed to be doing, who seek to further their own grubby ends without a care for the society they are supposed to be serving. It's true that running a government department is not a job for the faint-hearted, and it must be even more difficult with the constant counter-meddling by the office of the Prime Minister and his alleged arch-rival Chancellor of the Exchequer, but that only goes so far towards explaining what a feeble lot we have had foisted upon us over the past near-decade. If I didn't think it would bore you all sideways, I'd start listing some of the revolving-door ministries where no-one has been at the helm for more than a year; the toadying yes-men who have shuffled from government job to government job never staying long enough for the paint to dry on their office nameplate; the busy-busy activity that hides a deeper stagnation and intellectual cowardice in high office. But that's not what this rant is meant to be about.

No, this is about that other scourge of modern society, the media.

It's long been a tradition of the print media to hunt the scalps of our politicians. As blood sports go, this is a hard one to condemn. Politicians are they cyclops-eyed country-bumpkin cousins of Estate Agents in our national league of contempt, after all. And they have an innate ability to do the wrong thing, with the wrong person, at the wrong time. Setting the journalist hounds onto them is a kindness - it weeds out the unworthy whilst allowing the fleet of foot (and zippered of trouser) to escape unscathed for another day.

But like the quarry they hunt, our print media have grown ever fatter, lazier and sleazier with the passing years. Recent notable examples of this trend have been the harrowing of John Prescott, and the latest round of bickering and malarkey concerning whether or not His Toniness is ever going to give up his crown.

Now it beggars belief that the Deputy Prime Minister could attract a weak electrical force, let alone a Jo Guest look-a-like secretary. But so he seems to have done. In older (though not necessarily better) days, this would have been enough for him to resign and take a seat on the back benches, perhaps devote the rest of his life to charitable causes. As it is, he's not only got away with it, but now has all the perks of his position without any of the annoying and tedious duties. Great work if you can get it. And the media danced along to the predictable tune throughout the whole episode - picking up the affair as a suitable cudgel with which to beat Mr Prescott.

Likewise with The Smiler himself, who finds himself in a spot of bother over plans for his succession and the fallout from disastrous local election results. It has dominated the news over the weekend to the extent where I'm avoiding it now, but the media obviously smells blood - and perhaps the biggest scalp of them all. Now it is circling around the ailing body, darting in to rip chunks off before skittering away again with its tail between its legs. It seems that the papers, radio and television interviews will poke and prod this story from every possible angle (and several impossible ones too) in the hope that something will break and the whole edifice come a-tumbling down.

What is it that drives our journalists to this game? Is there a kudos in being 'the man who brought down a government'? Is it just about listener ratings or newspaper sales - pursuing the sensational because that's all that will stir the blood of an increasingly apathetic nation? If that is the case, then we get what we deserve, I suppose, but it doesn't make it any better for that.

I don't much care about which politician is sleeping with whose wife; adultery stopped being scandalous about the same time divorce became fashionable. I couldn't really care less when Tony Blair decides to go, and I certainly don't think it merits anything like the airtime it gets; it's not as if the world will stop functioning without him. I wouldn't even shed a tear if the labour party imploded and started fighting its own shadow, though I'd really rather it was left to do it on its own. But if the media are going to pull it apart, then let them do it for sound reasons - the failure to deliver promises; the squandering of national resources on half-baked pseudo socialism; the petty and misguided destruction of old traditions and heritage for no better reason than that they are symbols of an old order. If the new king was any good at his job, he wouldn't need to knock down the statue of the old king.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh. There are good journalists, and papers, out there constantly chipping away at our national malaise. They do shout about the failure of government, about the threat our ever-growing and ever more intrusive state poses to society. Society meanwhile would rather gasp in astonishment at the bedroom (and office) antics of a former merchant seaman turned professional buffoon. Even the so-called intellectuals would rather get their kicks from anticipating a long-deserved come-uppance than from debating the best way to provide first class healthcare to all, free at the point of source.

So maybe it's not politicians I'm mad at; not the media either.

Maybe I'm just ranting at myself.


Blogger Vincent said...

Sounds like you're ranting at the politicians and the media to me. Justifiably so too.

While I don't agree with all your politics, I think it's a sad, but inevitable consequence of our system that politics has practically become an end in itself, rather than a means to achieve good governance.

May 08, 2006 5:06 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

Sometimes I think I wouldn't mind what flavour of political party was in charge if they'd just do the damned job competently. But our politicans are timid where they should be forceful and forceful where they should tread very, very carefully indeed.

And none of the opposition look any better, quite frankly. Not even the BNP.

May 08, 2006 5:55 pm  
Blogger Vincent said...

I think part of the problem is that there have to be so many of them. You can vote in a good Prime Minister, but can he find a cabinet's worth of decent ministers? History suggests not. And then whatever the government tries to do its effectiveness (either good or bad) is mediated by the mechanics and staff of the civil service, which stay pretty much the same whoever's in charge.

May 08, 2006 9:35 pm  

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