19 January 2006

Politicians with vague promises and nice smiles: blame the media.

Why is a nice smile more important then clear policies when it comes to winning votes?

In running this blog, I have demonstrated how easy it is to lose support by being too upfront and open about your policy ideas. It doesn't matter what you say, if you stress it in strong definite terms you will upset someone. Nearly everyone who has visited this site could find ideas here that are not conventional wisdom, that they nevertheless strongly agree with, but it is the ideas here they disagree with that they remember most.

Sometimes the most sensible policies are opposed by the majority.

People can be very fickle. If they disagree with a couple of policies, you can lose their vote. In that case it pays for politicians to be as vague as possible when it comes to any issue that is even remotely controversial. People moan about how boring and vague politicians are, but when faced with a politician of the calibre of Ken Livingstone who is clear about policy, he is vilified to the extreme. Of course this vilification is helped by the misrepresentation of his policies by the press.

Labour's task is made doubly difficult by the 75% of the press that opposes almost anything they try to do. Of course these newspapers owned by a few wealthy overseas men, have their own agenda and it rarely corresponds with what is good for the majority in this country. Until we truly have a free press, this disgraceful curtailment of democratic debate will continue and politicians will continue to be vague.

Another factor in our boring vague repetitive politics is the 'first past the post' electoral system, which by excluding fringe opinion, makes it much more difficult for challenges to conventional wisdom to be properly debated.

Without electoral reform and a truly free press, we are doomed to head towards the inequality and death of democracy that has occurred in the US, where large sectors of the urban poor are unrepresented. This has already started to happen to here, where Labour has been forced to the right by our press and electoral system and effectively disenfranchised the poor, whose vote is so devalued in safe seats.

The boundaries are working in Labour's favour at the moment, but if we continue with FPTP, an unreconstructed Tory party will inevitably win power again and change the boundaries to suit them (just like the Republicans have done in the US).

I also feel that the current impartiality of the broadcast media could be threatened, and ultimately the existence of the BBC itself could be in danger. For obvious reasons Murdoch and Rothermere use their media power to undermine their BBC rival as much as they can. Who is to say a secret promise from the Tories, who would have the most to gain from a biased broadcast media (just like how the Republicans gain in the US) wouldn't secure Murdoch's support. I dread to think what deals Blair made with Murdoch to get his support in 1997. Although lately (especially the last election) it has been obvious his papers have been supporting the Tories to the hilt and then giving nominal support to Labour, only when it was clear they were going to win. Murdoch blamed the internet for the loss of his paper's influence over the voters. (If anybody wonders why Murdoch shows CBS reports and not his own Fox during the night, it's because Fox falls foul of our anti-bias rules which govern the broadcast media).

So in short, as Robin Cook made clear before his death, this is Labour's last chance to give us electoral reform probably for a generation, because when the Tories get back in power, they will make damn sure they alter the boundaries in their favour. FPTP is just too dangerous a threat to our democracy to leave in place any longer. Where the boundaries are drawn shouldn't be allowed to be more important than how people actually vote. If Labour misses this chance at reform we could rue our mistake for another generation, as a right wing Tory government again demolishes all the good we have done in building up this country from the selfish ruin of the Thatcher years.

13 comments:

  1. I'm Labour through and through but i've never bought into this Electoral system bias talk, When Labour got hammered by Thatcher it wasn't electoral bias that did it, It was Sonny Jims incompetance and those militant lefties that made my party unelectable for a generation, The Tories have and possibly still are as divided as Labour was, That is why they lost three elections not because of the electoral system. The fact is if the winds of change are blowing the party in power is toast no matter what the electoral system is.
    As for your comments on the press, I agree to some extent, However i don't think the likes of Fox news make much impact, Everyone who watches is either already Republican or Democrat doing research, If the Murdoch press had that much influence would Kerry have polled as much as he did? Would Labour? Personally i hope the Sun goes back to the Tories because their scum and scum belong together.

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  2. "Nearly everyone who has visited this site could find ideas here that are not conventional wisdom, that they nevertheless strongly agree with,..."

    Just so as I can keep up, where are these "ideas ... that are not conventional wisdom"? Could you give me some pointers please?

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  3. supporting ID Cards (initially), and Tony Blair on summary justice are not exactly conventional for the Blogosphere.

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  4. Anon, indeed. But I thought of expanding my comment with an analogy. Plenty of people believe that the Pope has a special spiritual role, which is more than being merely the elected head of the Catholic church. And plenty of people think that that is nonsense. Just because there is a large body of people are against a particular belief does not make it unconventional. Belief in the holiness of, ah, His Holiness is perfectly conventional -- for Catholics.

    I read Neil's post as averring something stronger and he's setting up his "not conventional wisdom" as if it were on a par with Mary Wollstonecraft or Marx. It's not. Saying "I think the Prime Minister is right" never is.

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  5. The Remittance Man19/1/06 2:34 pm

    If one looks dispassionately back at the 20th Century there has always been a few owners of newspaper chains and there have always been claims of bias.

    Surprisingly, given this "massive media bias" there have been governments of all persuasions from nationalise everything socialists to free-market thatcherites. It seems to me that the general population are actually smart enough to detect and filter out the bias all for themselves and make up their minds accordingly.

    Maybe it's time for the politicians and political commentators (of all hues) to get their heads out of the sand and realise that the general public aren't a bunch of dimwitted sheep and start engaging them with real dialogue.

    Just a thought,

    RM

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  6. Labour's task is made doubly difficult by the 75% of the press that opposes almost anything they try to do.

    Well, only about 25% of the population voted Labour, so this seems about right.

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  7. Polly Toynbee is my Mum19/1/06 10:51 pm

    There was 'only' a million votes difference between 1983's Longest \Suicide Note in History and 2005's Historic Third Term.

    Within this the votes won and lost are largely those of undecided voters and important only in the marginals. FPTP involves all parties conforming to the unconsidered prejudices of these minorities.

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  8. Backward Dave:

    What the PM said on his respect agenda was not the conventional wisdom of the blogosphere or the mainstream press. The comments here suggest that. So by supporting the PM over this, I have gone against conventional wisdom like I have on other issues, for example, I support the following;

    Legalising all drugs.
    Proportional Representation.
    Liberalising pub opening hours.
    Free public transport funded by taxation.
    Widening the bands on Council Tax to make it less regressive.
    Citizen's Income.
    More redistributive taxation.
    Higher density housing.
    Tuition Fees (in conjuction with maintenance grants for poorest)
    Religion is dangerous nonsense.
    Total ban on public smoking.

    If there isn't anything you agree with there then maybe you are the exception that proves the rule?

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  9. "It seems to me that the general population are actually smart enough to detect and filter out the bias all for themselves and make up their minds accordingly."

    To some extext yes, but the press still have a massive effect. Some issues just don't get very much coverage. Dare I say we have (apart from 1945-51) only had fairly right wing governments in this country in comparison to say Scandanavia or Germany or France etc., where the press is much less concentrated and less foreign owned.

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  10. The Remittance Man23/1/06 8:08 am

    Could it be that the British population are, by and large, more centre right in sentiment? That might explain the higher popularity of right leaning newspapers over left leaning ones.

    Perhaps what you see as a few press barons leading the sheep astray is actually the sheep dictating to the barons what they want to read by the power of the shilling in their pocket. No-one forces people to buy a particular newspaper after all.

    The cynic in me sometimes wonders whether this whole biased press argument didn't actually begin within the profession of journalism. I mean, it does enhance the image of journalists as the ultimate arbiters of public opinion. Perhaps it was born out of wishful thinking, allied to the socialist view that anyone with money is obviously an evil capitalist.

    Just a thought.

    RM

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  11. "Could it be that the British population are, by and large, more centre right in sentiment? That might explain the higher popularity of right leaning newspapers over left leaning ones."

    The problem is opinion polls regularly show that people think taxes for the rich should go up. Not surprisingly the argument of the press is largely in tune with their wealthy owners, i.e. that the rich are too heavily taxed.

    People want to see better public services. Of course the public are affected by what they read.

    Most people buy newspapers for reasons other than politics, but the press barons are insistent on putting in their right wing message. The majority are able to filter this message out, but it does have a significant effect in keeping the Tories vote up and Labour's suppressed.

    Is it a coincidence that the message that 75% of the press pushes is in accordance with what you would expect the wealthy owners of the press to agree with.

    To claim that this message has no effect is to claim that the billions of pounds private companies spend on advertising also has no effect.

    I don't believe the Tories or republicans would be anything more than a right wing rump on about 15% support (just like Sweden), if it wasn't for the right wing press we have.

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  12. The Remittance Man23/1/06 2:38 pm

    Given that press barons are typically beyond the mere rich and could be considered "mega rich" I'd be surprised if they concern themselves with tax at all. At their sort of level of wealth everything is carefully locked into trusts, companies and other tax efficient and tax avoiding schemes.

    Rupert Murdoch, an aussie-born, US citizen with major companies on many continents probably manages to avoid all income tax merely by shuttling between his various homes around the globe and thereby failing the standard residence requirements for income tax anywhere.

    For the general population, taxing the crap out of the rich usually sounds attractive because whatever your income you tend to think of it as taxing the crap out of anyone who earns more than you do.

    As for better public services, that could also be a conservative trait. Even us right wing loons accept that some things need to be done by the state. And if they are to be done by the state we'd prefer them to be done better than they are at the moment. This does not necessarily mean we think the state should be invading our lives to the extent that it does at present.

    Let's be honest, even Labour supporters acknowledge that the only reason the current government are in power is because they have adopted many conservative ideas from the eighties and early nineties. It's what makes the likes of Dennis Skinner and Tony Benn so hopping mad.

    It's ideas and performance that win elections. Ideas that capture the public's imagination and performance in previous terms in office. If I were Tony (or more likely Gordon) I'd be getting a bit worried about now. Labour seems to be running out of new ideas just as their own performance is beginning to look shaky and the conservatives might, just might, be shaking off the legacy of the past ten years.

    RM

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  13. "Let's be honest, even Labour supporters acknowledge that the only reason the current government are in power is because they have adopted many conservative ideas from the eighties and early nineties."

    Partly, but the electoral system has also been influential both in making the Labour party more right wing and in keeping them in power (because of boundary bias).

    As for the super rich like Murdoch not paying tax, you are completely right, but his papers also have an agenda of pushing tax cuts that reduce his costs to his business. This is not in the interests of the lowest wage earners that rely on public services more.

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