Saturday, 16 July 2011

post Screws, what do politicians do next?

It doesn't really matter what details emerge about whose cosy relationship with whom, about who was invited by whom to dinner where and who was paid a retainer by whom.  (Great pronouns, hein?) It is a fact that politicians have, for a long time, perhaps always, got into bed with the media, and they haven't used protection either.  So no surprises when it all goes toxic. The public don't care about the details, they don't care much about phone hacking either, primary school children do it to each other and nobody much has moral scruples about it.  The public do want to believe that the police, public servants, even politicians, even journalists, are people of probity and integrity.  The British public is quite rare in this desire.  In France, where I live now, in Japan, where I lived a long time ago, in Latvia, where I lived more recently, the general public holds politicians in deepest contempt, believing them, not always rightly, to be venal and self-serving.  In France the media are quite high-minded, or like to think themselves so, they do not stoop to the tabloid trashing of people's lives that goes on in Britain.  But journalists are wined and dined by politicians, and vice versa, in France as in most places.  The President of the Republic has a finger in media pies.

The question I ask myself is, is this right?  Politicians have seemingly always thought that to get elected, to get power, you need the print media with you.  I remember at the beginning of the 1997 general election campaign in the UK Mr Salter put the Sun's front page on his campaign office wall "The Sun Backs Blair", it shouted.  Well, Neil Kinnock did not lose in 1992 because the Sun was against him.  It is perfectly possible to have a career in politics without selling your soul to the print media.  I did it for many years.  And I got elected despite weeks of sneering from the Reading Evening Post that I was a no-hope, lame-duck candidate, and re-elected to the accompaniment of savage attacks from the Reading Evening Post and constant tirades of lies from the Guardian.  And I wasn't alone in that.

It is arguable that the print media have become pointless, that we do not go there for news.  I subscribe to The Times on iPad, and I look forward to it every day, but its news stories seem stale when I look at them in the morning - it has all been thrashed out on Twitter over the past  24 hours.  Rupert Murdoch has probably understood that there is not much point to the print media, which is why he let the NotW go - its readers will probably not buy another tabloid on Sundays.  I used to get the Screws regularly, but there is no equivalent in France and I have never bought anything else in the UK, nor would I if I went back there.  Murdoch may well let the Times and Sunday Times go too, and focus on the broadcast media empire he has.  Well, we'll see.  But I remember my father telling me in the mid-60s (he worked in advertising) that since the advent of television people had stopped reading the papers for news.  They wanted comment and to understand more about what was going on.  He didn't know that the era of reliance on broadcast media for news was to be fairly short-lived, and that now we read the news again instead of listening to it - we just do it on line these days.  So that was true 50 years ago, but newspapers did not disappear, and they will not disappear now,

Back to my original question - do politicians need the print media?  My answer is no, and that those who thought they did, and who sold them a piece of their soul, pay heavily for something they did not need in the first place.  And online media - despite paywalls and so on, online media is something we control.  We have our Twitter feeds, which are not censored, and we do not have to take anyone to lunch to be able to publish what we like on them, and we can blog and publish what we want.  I follow Lady Gaga on Twitter, but if I didn't like what she does I wouldn't bother.  I knew an MP who lost his seat at the 2005 election, who was about the most media-savvy and media-connected I have met, and was litigious too.  He lost because no-one was bothering much in his constituency - people had seen him in the paper but they hadn't met him.  People got cynical. And voted for the person who came to their door, not the one they had seen on the telly.

Cllr Jan Gavin in Reading posted recently that some local politicians were too "cozy" (her spelling - where did she get that one from, and how did she work as a teacher for all that time with that standard of literacy? Oh.) with the local media.  But if you read the post it is clear that she is resentful that a LibDem or two is able to get quotes into the Reading Evening Post, which she has been told is the exclusive preserve of Reading Labour.  She didn't mean that it is a bad idea to be "cozy" (in fact I think I will adopt that spelling, and then you will know I am talking about Reading Labour and you will know to stop reading).  So, David Cameron, and anyone else in British politics, if you thought you needed the Murdoch family, you didn't, but it is too late now.  Learn from it, or die.


Anonymous said...

I agree - up to a point.

But there is no denying that day after day, month after month, year after year of spite and bile trotted out ( as far as I was concerned by The Guardian, in the main), is dispiriting and has a detrimental effect on your confidence and ability to hold your head high. It makes colleageus look on you - and think they can treat you with a type of lukewarm contempt ( because of course, they are only too happy to believe the lies), it makes discontented Party memebrs in the constituency feel that they have a right to attempt to get rid of you ( and they planted most of the nasty stories in the first place, knowing that the likes of The Guardian would print anything without checking), and it introduces a sense of unease about you amongst the voting public. They know that you have, perhaps helped them - have attended to constituency matters assiduously - but 'wasn't there that piece in the paper?' It isn't helpful.

Those colleageus who went on to have CAREERS at Westminsetr - rather than jobs, were, in the main, ones who had not had to put up with this type of treatment.They had basked in glowing reams of print and were regularly tipped for power and glory. Ironically, many of those have sicne experienced media hell and have sunk from their pedestals -- step forward Jacqui Smith! But not before they had held the type of job that meant they were financially secure, pension-wise, for example, for life.And other possible employers were keen to offer them a chance.
Not evrybody wanted a CAREER at Westminster. I am increasingly unsure whether or not I did myself - although at the time I certainly THOUGHT I did. But it would have been nice to have had the OPTION of taking that route - regardless of how it would have turned out.

On once occasion, a good friend who was a Minister said 'We all know you have loads of ability. And when I say that, I mean people right at the top of the Party. But there have been too many 'stories' for Tony to take the risk'.

I think that tells its own story.

Anonymous said...

You don't get it. Typical of the political class. Nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Don't get what? And what is 'the political class' exactly?

How does it differ from say, the accountant class, or the estate agent class, or the nursing class, or the body building class or the lawyer class, or the sheet metal worker class -- HEIN?

You know what? Politicians are people. They eat, drink, love, hate, buy, sell, even go to the loo - just like everybody else.

So grow up - stop getting up yourself, last Anon and order a head transplant for Crimble HEIN and out! And quadruple HEIN so diddums.

Jane Griffiths said...

anon 1959 perhaps you would care to explain yourself. What is not being got here?

dreamingspire said...

Victor Keegan didn't get the top job at the Grauniad, which was a pity.
Across the pond, Gore Vidal wrote about just the same interplay, long ago, between media and official politicians.

Anonymous said...

WHich reminds me of the recent mini series on The Kennedys. It was panned - for obvious reasons - but was tremendous - esp Tom Wilkinson as Joseph Kennedy.

And, actually, Katie Holmes as Jackie wasn't half bad! Tom Cruise or no!

Jane Griffiths said...

I have been watching it, dubbed into French and it is terrific, and it takes something for me to watch anything dubbed

Anonymous said...

Political class is a concept in comparative political science originally developed by Italian political theorist theory of Gaetano Mosca (1858-1941). It refers to the relatively small group of activists that is highly aware and active in politics. As Max Weber noted, they do not only live "for politics"—like the old notables used to—but make their careers "off politics" as policy specialists and experts on specific fields of public administration.

Its only my opinion of your piece no need to belittle, won't try again. Bye.

Jane Griffiths said...

if yo have an opinion anon 2050 I will be happy to publish it if not hateful, so far there has only been abuse, if that was you, and my question was a serious one.