Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Poor little loves

Geoff Hoon has been complaining about what a hard time Britain's politicians get from evil journalists:

'There is not a media in the developed Western world that is as dismissive or as aggressive or as intrusive as ours.'

Translation: The bastards sometimes find out what we are up, and then have the temerity to report it.

Message for you, Geoff. It's not the hacks that are bringing politics into disrepute in this country. It is the activities of politicians themselves. It is the corrosive drip-drip effect of one scandal after another since 1997 that is eroding public trust in the government.

Ecclestone. The Hinduja Brothers. Lakshmi Mittal. Mandelson's mortgage, Blunkett's company directorship, David Mills' backhander. Another week, another scam. If this is Tuesday, it must be loans for Lordships.

I know you'd like it if none of this ever got in the press, Geoff. So maybe - just maybe - New Labour could consider not acting in these kinds of ways. Then there would be nothing nasty for journalists to write about.

Dismissive? Aggressive? The Daily Mail, for instance, can certainly dish it out. But today even that paper summons up nothing like the vitriol it devoted to Labour when Labour was recognisably left of centre.

And the dominant tone in the broadsheets/Berliners is overtly deferential. When was the last time cutesy big-eyed New Labour puppies such as Patrick Wintour or John Rentoul ever criticised anything that emerged from the Blairite camp? Come to think of it, it's a wonder Wintour is able to come up with any copy whatsoever now that Mandelson is no longer in Westminster.

A huge chunk of other media coverage is essentially apolitical, spinning soap opera story lines about whether Tony and Gordon are on speaking terms this week. The trivial is the political. Again the net effect is to enable politicians to escape scrutiny.

Intrusive? Not particularly, either. A year or so back, all newspapers sat on a story concerning a leading politician's child, and rightly so. Most drug habits and extra-marital relationships are also deemed not worthy of newsprint these days. These days, gay MPs that wish to stay in the closet do not get forced to come out.

Hoon's mindset harks back to the days of not that long ago, when the serious newspapers devoted a broadsheet page a day to uncritically reporting parliamentary speeches, more or less verbatim and with little extraneous comment.

There was arguably something to be said for that approach, which was axed around the late eighties. When debates are polarised - as they were throughout most of the Thatcher period - it is good to know who said what. But there's still Yesterday in Parliament, and Hansard is available online for those that want this kind of stuff.

Meanwhile, here's another fascinating glimpse of Hoon's contempt for the electorate:

'Enoch Powell famously refused to declare his interests. Wouldn't even fill in the form. It would be interesting to see how modern newspapers would treat him today, given that principled position that he took, as far as he was concerned.'

So refusal to make a declaration of interests is suddenly 'a principled position'? In other words, the public do not have a right to know which interests are paying MPs more than their already not inconsiderable salaries, and judge for themselves how that colours the political positions of their elected representatives. Sorry, but any press criticism of an MP trying that one on would be entirely justified.

Robust independent journalism is essential in a healthy democracy. Politicians are big girls and boys, and should just get used to it.

PS: Guido is worth a read on this one.

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