Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Disappointing Start To Election 2010

If it isn't bad enough that we're going to have to put up with months of electioneering, Monday's efforts, if indicative of what is to come, are worrying if not predictable.

My main gripe is with the broadcast media more than the politicians, however. I say broadcast as I've not had a chance to review the papers today, but assume they will follow in a similar style.

The Conservatives, at least, attempted to present some substance on their NHS plans by publishing the first in a series of "draft manifesto" policy announcements planned for the next few weeks. They also launched a poster campaign...

Labour, rather more negatively, published a dossier analysing Tory spending promises and tax plans and said it showed that their sums didn't add up.

And the Lib Dems probably did something or said something No one was listening, I'm afraid. 

So, all good so far. Then both Labour and Tory announcements had problems.
  • David Cameron seemingly watered down the Tory's previous commitment to married couples' taxation reform. They later clarified that they were committed to reform, but the damage was done.
  • Alastair Darling's dossier turned out to be almost as dodgy as Alastair Campbell's last effort at dossier writing. But, more significantly I believe, he exposed splits in opinion over future taxation policy and not a small amount of hypocrisy over the Government VAT plans (he said he refused to rule out a VAT increase but was attacking the Tories for saying exactly the same thing previously).
So, all normal rough and tumble of a political campaign then. What has irked me was the coverage I saw on BBC (and I have no doubt ITV and Sky were just as bad). The focus was entirely on Cameron's gaffe. The News at 9 even led with it as their top story - the most important thing that had happened in the world that day. I'd not extend this criticism to Newsnight, which handled the events of the day quite well, I thought.

What worries me is that, rather than attempting to inform the public of what the Conservatives were saying about their plans for the NHS and the deficit they focused on what was a relativity trivial slip up. 

They covered Alastair Darlings dossier respectfully and obediently used the "black hole" sound bites that would have appeared in their Labour press briefings. Labour should be very pleased with the coverage they got from that. I saw only a little (certainly not in-depth) analysis of the inaccuracies and dodgy assumptions made in the document. And I saw absolutely NOTHING about the really substantial story, the differences of opinion at the top of Government with regard to their taxation policy.

Given our dumbed down broadcast news services, it is no surprise that trivia is preferred over substance. It seems that if you want to get coverage you need to be negative or make a gaffe (no matter how small - it'll get blown up out of all proportion).

I hope the politicians, at least, try to have reasonably positive campaigns in the hope they will get fair coverage. But I can't see it, can you?

It would be nice to believe that, should there be a change in Government later this year, and with the already certain refresh of many MPs (due to the expenses scandal), that a new relationship between media and political establishment could be forged. Gaffes should be reported, of course (especially if they happen regularly and reflect some kind of personality defect), but not entirely at the expense of the substantial points being made. Let's have a bit of balance.

Thay say we get the politicians and media we deserve, though. So that doesn't say very much for us, does it?

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