There are important issues at stake in this election. So why are the media obsessed with trivia?

While the media obsess over the latest 'game-changing' poll, there are real issues out there that deserve attention

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Public disillusionment with politics is at an all-time high and a number of factors are purportedly to blame. The most commonly cited of these (in no particular order) are: the ‘out of touch Westminster elite’, political parties which are ‘all the same’ and politicians who are ‘on the take’.

These superficially convincing explanations for low electoral turnouts and hostility toward the political establishment are increasingly ubiquitous: if only we could nail this pernicious trilogy then politics would once again regain a semblance of relevance. Or so it is widely assumed.

And there is some truth to this. Labour and the Conservatives are more similar today than, say, 70 years ago – although not because Labour ‘sold out’, as the purists scream, but because it is a great deal harder to be a social democrat today than it was in the 1940s.

Similarly, we do have a problem with out of touch politicians drawn from a narrow pool of gilded Oxbridge PPE students. To some extent this issue has always existed, but there is evidence that things are getting worse. When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, 40 per cent of Labour MPs had done some kind of manual or clerical work before they entered parliament. By 2010, that figure had dropped to just 9 per cent.

No wonder, then, that four in 10 people are reportedly ‘alienated’ from Britain’s political parties and say they won’t consider voting for any of them.

But are we not overlooking something? More specifically, for all the pejorative cliches about an ‘out of touch Westminster elite’, is there not a sliver of a chance that people are turning off of politics in their droves because, as well as being the forte of dull establishment types, media coverage of politics has become almost uniformly banal and content-free?

If you require proof, look no further than the nascent television coverage of the General Election. There are still 37 days to go until polling day, yet already politics has become a cacophony of triviality over who is up and who is down in the latest ‘game-changing’ poll. Psephology is the science of bores, and bores appear to have taken over the space where at one time those with conflicting ideas fought it out.

Nor is it only an obsession with miniscule poll movements and Westminster gossip that is slowly murdering politics. Even when politicians and pundits do find the stomach to talk about ideas, they increasingly obsess about the parochial over the substantial. You might even call this the election of things which really don’t matter.

Take deficit reduction as an example. Today, as in 2010, the most pressing political issue facing Britain is, according to a large number of politicians and pundits, the deficit. You know the shtick by now: if Britain does not ‘pay down her debts’ the markets (see: the bankers) will panic and the ceiling will fall in.

Yet five years on from the first round of similar warnings, the deficit is still there (George Osborne’s deficit reduction plans have progressed at a slower pace than those once proposed by his 2010 Labour counterpart Alistair Darling) and things go on very much as before. Despite the histrionic prophesies of right-wing commentators, the apocalypse (financial or otherwise) did not materialise because of the deficit – nor did bankers throw their toys out of the pram in a fit of pique. As the former Sex Pistol John Lydon once put it, ever feel like you’ve been cheated?

In contrast to this cacophony of insignificance, there are a number of issues Britain is facing today which really do warrant attention and which, one might think, deserve a good deal more airtime than tedious know-nothing psephology and deficit-mongering. Here are a few of them:

  • The five richest families in Britain now own more than the poorest 20 per cent combined.
  • A million people had to use a food bank to eat last year.
  • London is the unpaid internship capital of Europe*.
  • Just 7 per cent of British children are privately educated, yet their alumni make up 33 per cent of MPs, 71 per cent of senior judges and 44 per cent of people on the Sunday Times Rich List.
  • Rough sleeping has increased by 55 per cent in the past five years.

There are huge issues at stake in this election and here is a secret: they are not a 0.0002 per cent swing in South Thanet or the deficit reduction fears of some spiv in a city bank. We say we want the public to take more of an interest in politics; so how about we start talking about politics again, rather than obsessing over the unimportant and inconsequential.

*Inequality and the 1%, Danny Dorling

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

25 Responses to “There are important issues at stake in this election. So why are the media obsessed with trivia?”

  1. Gary Scott

    Voters are most interested in politics when its perceived there are big problems or big changes afoot. Like the 85% turnout in the Scottish referendum. With parties scouring the middle ground for votes its almost assured the public will turn away and the coverage will be banal. The engagement level in Scotland is extremely high but of course it cuts both ways. Most Scots have been Labour all their lives. The particular reasons for loyal voters going to SNP are twofold. Firstly, whilst Labour voters were entirely ambivalent to SNP their MPs and MSPs were not. There is a deep, deep hatred of SNP by Scottish Labour, to the point where it ceases to make political sense. The voters sensed this, with some unease, it was unseemly. Secondly, despite little coverage (understandably) of the referendum campaign outside Scotland, rest assured, it dragged on for TWO YEARS. During this time SNP issued their proposal and reasons why. Labour were part of a coalition with the Tories in the NO camp. Tories are toxic in Scotland, they only have one MP. The campaign was, necessarily, somewhat negative for the NO camp. That said, the extent of the negativity and the perception of sharp practises CONSTANTLY for two years by this campaign which was fronted by Labour and paid for by Tory donors has absolutely killed Labour in Scotland. When this comes at a time of recession and turbulent politics in Europe its not surprising that Scotland has reacted thus. Wales, on the other hand, has had no such campaign. A Labour heartland it has not been ‘activated’ by any extreme event. They face threats from UKIP of course which may galvanise otherwise disinterested voters to come out to prevent them taking Labour seats. It seems almost inevitable now that Ed Milliband will be PM in May, unless he simply refuses any kind of arrangement with the other parties. In the meantime the Tory press will, and already have, cry shrilly about Salmond having Milliband in his pocket and resort to tactics so tasteless as to beggar belief. The Daily Mail ran a ‘rivers of blood’ article which bordered on incitement. All this to try and scare UKIP votes back into the fold! The Tories are sweating, rightly so. The next few weeks will see them stoop to new lows and this, itself, may cause voters to engage. It won’t be the same afterwards. As in the referendum the voters may feel sickened, the Tories could kill their own vote in the process.

  2. David Lindsay

    This picture makes it look as if you are taking young Forsyth for a makeover before one of those infernal prom things.

  3. madasafish

    40 per cent of Labour MPs had done some kind of manual or clerical work before they entered parliament. By 2010, that figure had dropped to just 9 per cent.

    And what value is manual work today? Most clerical work has been computerised…

  4. Cole

    There are lots of manual jobs. Sure, manufacturing has declined but there are still many jobs there, and there’s construction, farming, cleaning etc etc.

  5. madasafish

    So you think construction and farming are unskilled? Obviously you know nothing of those industries.

    Modern construction requires specific skills. Bricklaying is a skilled job, as is wiring and plumbing and roofing. As for farming, when you are driving a combine worth £200k and steered by GPS, you don’t want an unskilled numpty driving it..

    None of those are “manual” jobs in the sense of unskilled mass labour. They require education and training…

  6. Mike Stallard

    I should have thought that the real challenges facing us at the moment are these: I agree about the debt/deficit and, yes, it has skyrocketed under this government.
    What about Europe? We can so easily stay in the EEA and EFTA and leave the destructive Eurozone countries to get on with it. It really is not that difficult. But to hear people speak, you would think that you were either in or out!
    Immigration? Unpopular, not mentioned, and we can do nothing as our country is taken over by people who have not paid and who do not speak our language, or hold our common ideals and yet who queue up for our welfare/schools/legal rights.
    Add to this the threat from Islamic militants and the idiotic poking of the Russian bear by the EU and we sit here defenceless with just an aircraft carrier which has no planes on it.
    Meanwhile the BBC, all the papers and many blogs just whine on about people wanting more and more money from the government for themselves.

  7. sarntcrip

    THE MEDIA IS PACKED WITH PEOPLE N 6 FIG SALARIES WHO ARE ART OF THE1%Z REPRESENTING A TRUTHFUL PICTUTE OF UK ,LIFE IS NOT IN THEIR INTERESTS

  8. Stephen Glynn

    the point is 40% worked in the real world instead of going from oxford or cambridge straight into a job at the labour party

  9. Stephen Glynn

    negative campaign? all turned out to be true. the crash in oil prices would have sent scotland into oblivion if it were independent seeing as they needed a certain price on oil to make the sums add up.

  10. Geeza Break

    It wasnt all about oil , oil wouldve been a bonus as was mentioned throughout the Indy Ref campaign , it was for Scotlands future and the right to govern our own country , only the selfish went on and on about oil and clung to any old excuse to vote No , “Scotland into oblivion ” lol I think someones overdosed in TV , wake the fk up !

  11. ForeignRedTory

    No, the point is that un-specialised labour no longer has much of a place in the real world.

  12. Guest

    ..All of which you’ve opposed. Repeatedly.

  13. Guest

    Voters have Duck Tales senses? I see.

    As you yell that having morals kills parties in Scotland.

  14. Guest

    Except their own figures don’t add up.

    It’s about your isolationist views and attempts to split up the UK. Scotland is a region, the Acts of Union are quite clear.

    “Smash your head into a wall”, you say, like any good right wing isolationist.

  15. Guest

    “Easily stay”. – lie. As you call counties doing on average better “destructive”…oh, wages are not falling there like they are here. Right, very destructible to your corperate welfare dependent “business” model.

    EFTA means losing a huge chunk of sovereignty, paying for it and having to lose i.e. the WTD opt-out, having to join Schengen, etc. – that’s your argument, to surrender all that AND still lose access to the EU’s own trade treaties, taking a major economic hit as a result. It’s silly.

    As you talk about yourself, foreigner, a rich leech who does not pay tax, speaks snobeese and not Eglish, who denies British values and tries to bring more misery onto the English and yet claims, as well as his fat corporate welfare cheques, public services.

    You are a threat, Putinite, as you work against this country – as much as Islamists, as you whine about our tax rates, which are low for Europe. And you want to slash them, leaving us with less defence capacity.

  16. Stephen Glynn

    you miss the point. scotland could not have afforded to run things without the oil price being high. all the spending plans were based around the high price. you also fail to understand that i get you wanting to govern yourselves, i get that 100%. but basing so much of your spending on oil was never going to work and that has been proven 100%

  17. Stephen Glynn

    so the millions that work unskilled jobs have no meaning to the country? just the nonsense i’d expect coming from a tory.

  18. Ian

    The media plays a part for certain but not by it’s focus on trivia, more by it’s bias and relentlessly obvious bullshitting.

    Politicians are really the problem, the Tories because of their negativity, arrogance, spite and lies; Labour because of their gleeful charge to the right. You think it’s a coincidence Labour’s turnout has gradually eroded since the leadership of Blair? Have a word with yourself.

    The people actually want renationalised rail and utilities, caps on bonuses etc yet Miliband is dead set against even talking about it. The people don’t want a private NHS yet Miliband just makes wishy washy statements about making the NHS preferred bidder for contracts and stopping private contractors making ‘excess’ profits.

    The people are nothing like as stupid as the Labour leadership assumes and know a waste of a vote when they see it. It’s no use the party and supposedly left wing commentators blaming the media when the major problem is the party itself and it’s ineffectual, cowardly leadership.

    It’s truly emetic to see all the fake left commentariat treating the announcement on the NMW increase to £8 an hour as though Marx himself had risen from the grave when actually all it really means is 30p a year increase for five years. Very few of those commenters, MPs or their families would go anywhere near a minimum wage job yet we’re supposed to be happy with it?

    Shape up or lose your votes, Labour…

  19. ForeignRedTory

    Which unskilled jobs? Callcenters, cleaning, burgerflipping and pizza delivery?

    Toss in the tendency for people to live longer,and we get a pciture of a future society in which paid work of any description can no longer command the pride of place it once had. The amount of hours the average person will work through a lifetime, if it goes up at all, wont keep pace with the number of hours lived by the same person. A baby-girl born in Western Europe now, is likely to live till 100. If you think she will be in employment for half of that time,then I think you will be in the wrong.

    The truly imprtant question is how we are going to look at the distribution of goods and services in the economy.,andnot the production thereof.

    Which is where I take the OPPOSITE tack from the Blue Tories and insist that the Government MUST think in terms of applying the money-tit broadly. Unless you want half of the population to starve, of course. Insisting that everybody must pull their weight wont do – there is not enough gainful pulling to be done.

    There will be an increasing number of people for whom paid, fulltime employment, even at MNW is simply an aspiration that is very unlikely to be achieved for long.
    Now, with that in mind, just how relevant is unskilled manual labour likely to be?

  20. Guest

    And yet you back their policies on this, so..

  21. Leon Wolfeson

    Labour’s a lost cause. They showed that at conference by leading with a kid’s benefit freeze and a refusal to allow councils to borrow for housing. Not to mention Ms. Reeves’s little rants.

    Labour are not leftist. So….we need voting reform instead. A PASOK-type grave lies ahead for Labour, and they built it with their own policies.

  22. ForeignRedTory

    Leon, your grasp of facts is much like your grasp of Iwrit: close to non-existent.

    Now shut up and cooperate fully with such important policies as increasing tax-income by raising taxation on financial transactions.

  23. Steve Kerensky

    In the 60`s the cry went up: “Why don`t we have professional politicians? People who come in from business, medicine, the law or other work know nothing about hoe to do politics.” there are many claims that change is wanted. But change to what does not seem to be explained. We have had a fierce attack on MP`s led by the sinister Barclay Bros in the Telegraph. We have very little real corruption and most MP`s are very hard working. Times are very bad economically for most, but the crash was caused by GW Bush`s failure to prop up Lehmann Bros. What is all the anger really about?

  24. Norfolk29

    And the problem is that they think they are impartial. Just listen to Martha Kearney on The World at One on BBC Radio 4 for the best example of the BBC bias towards rich well educated people (who just happen to be Tories).

  25. Guest

    Yes yes, the peons must be shut up. No democracy for you! Nope, I must go blindly along with your policies, which you’ll just use to make sure that i.e. the additional income is purely from pension funds held by the 99%, as one UKIP-based proposal was…

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