Opinion: Serious politics RIP?

by Stephen Tall on July 31, 2007

I know it’s the summer silly season, but the quality of political reporting in the British media appears to have sunk below even its customary July nadir.

As a partisan Lib Dem, I’m quite content for the ‘feral beasts’ to decide now’s the moment to stick it to Tory leader David Cameron. He has, for far too long, been given a free ride by London-centric journalists for whom Dave’s emetic brand of frappe-lite politics makes easy copy. Rarely daring to venture beyond received opinion – or the M25 – the British commentariat has garlanded Mr Cameron as politics’ answer to David Beckham.

But now the beast is bored, and Mr Cameron is just sooo, like, last month. Our new Prime Minister, the oh-so-serious Gordon Brown, is the new flavour of the month. Throw in a couple of dodgy by-election results for the Tories, and a few indiscreet criticisms from some malcontents, and the media has all it needs to justify a wallow in some shallow speculation.

To judge from his peevish performance on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning (juicily dissected by Alex Wilcock here) Mr Cameron is feeling this summer heat. He needn’t worry so much: next month it’ll be someone else’s turn.

Oh, it’s all such larks! Who’s up, who’s down; who’s hot, who’s not; who’s in, who’s out. That’s the full extent of the media’s interest in politics. Unless an issue can be given a reality-show twist, injecting some succulent human interest, it won’t get a look-in. Analysis is no match for impact. The news media’s nihilistic drive to grab the casual attention-span of the consumer is corroding civic discourse.

It’s our fault, of course. The media is, after all, merely trying to sate the appetites of its audience. It is we who prove, time and again, HL Mencken’s adage, “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public.”

And so the parcel labelled responsibility is passed round and round: from politician to journalist to citizen to politician to journalist to citizen. Remorselessly, repetitively, recklessly. With each passing of the parcel our trust in ourselves and others diminishes. It’s time for the music to stop, and for all of us to share the responsibility around.

Or, to put it another way: it’s time we all grew up, and started to care about the things that matter a damn.