The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘media image’

The Content-Free Election

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 29, 2010 @ 11:11

I suspect the 1992 election was about personalities too...

Elections are about people as much as they are about policies. It’s truer now than it’s ever been, but let’s not kid ourselves: personalities matter, and they always have done. In 1964, the aloof, patrician Alec Douglas-Home was bested by “man of the people” Harold Wilson, despite Harold Wilson actually being nothing of the sort.

Image matters.

But this election is certainly taking that to new levels. We can hardly be surprised, what with the election debates and all that. Indeed, when I look back at this post I wrote when the news first broke than the debates would definitely be happening, I now feel quite chuffed:

But most of all, I am worried that unless the debates are truly focused on policies and vision for Britain, we are going to hear a lot more about whether David Cameron “looks like a Prime Minister”.

We’ve had enough of politics being trivialised and reduced to the lowest common denominator in this country. It’s been a bad couple of years, yes, but not so bad as to completely sell out our system to soap opera style bickering and televised chat shows.

OK, the debates themselves have not been like that. The rules have made the conduct orderly, and the leaders have done their level best to have a debate on policy.

But that’s not what gets reported afterwards. It has been all about how each leader reacted to the pressure. How they expressed their point of view. How confident they looked on camera. Whether, in fact, they even looked at the camera.

And as any good PR person will tell you, it’s not the event that matters, it’s how it’s reported.

The debates have turned the election into one long serial drama. The third act will take place tonight.

Inbetween, we have been kept entertained with morsels about “who won”. But rarely has the conversation entered into the realms of what they talked about for 90 minutes.

And then, to cap it all, we have yesterday’s Gordon Brown gaffe, which totally destroyed the agenda of all the parties – they were wanting to talk about the economy in the lead up to tonight’s debate.

We’ve basically had three weeks of  personality politics so far. Substantive examination of policies has gone out the window.

Who benefits most from that?

Ironically, it probably has to be the Liberal Democrats. Often we hear about them not getting enough attention. But this time, they are getting it, and it’s all being focused on the two key players at the top of the party: Nick and Vince. But if all the focus was on the minutiae of Liberal Democrat policy, you can be sure that the Tories and Labour would be spinning that “they say one thing in Labour seats, but say the other in Tory seats = you can’t trust the Lib Dems” – in spite of it being wholly false, because it plays into the stereotypes about Lib Dems that the electorate is so keen to wallow in.

But it suits the politicians. After all, who wants to talk about what sacrifices have to be made? The electorate will only punish you for telling the truth anyway.


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The Long Term Impact Of The Expenses Scandal

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 2, 2010 @ 11:26

I think we all need to take David Cameron's words a little more seriously. You won't hear me saying that very often...

There has been much ink spilled over the expenses debacle, but there has been an extremely disappointing lack of analysis about what the real consequences are going to be. And not just the intended ones either, like making politics cheaper, and making the political class more transparent with the taxpayers who fund them.

What’s really important to me is what the unintended consequences of change are going to be.

First off, I think we need to appreciate that most of us already knew that MPs were on some sort of fiddle. In fact, I’d be aghast if they weren’t. The world is filled with expenses fiddlers, and so politics is no different. MPs are just as human as the rest of us, usually when we “accidentally” overclaim on an expense or leave out something from a tax return. A few extra miles here, some mispriced “depreciation” on assets there, and maybe a few pilfered items of stationery. We all do it.

And the truth of the matter is that no matter how much we try to have gloriously untainted politicians, they are still human, and susceptible to all human frailties. It would be nice if they could be beyond reproach, but it takes a stunning level of naivety to believe that that is ever achievable.

Nevertheless, it was good to see MPs exposed, partially because of the waste of taxpayers money, but also because they’ve had it coming to them for a long time. The direct consequences of it have been severe, with the huge swathe of retirements and even more of them certain to be defeated at the next election.

It will probably resulting in the cost of politics coming down, at least in the short term. But the real price is likely to be in terms of the type of person who goes into it. More and more of our MPs will be of independent means, wealthy before going into politics. Will they be able to understand what it means to live on a council estate today? I think not.

The biggest change, however, will be the resulting rise in the full time politician. The completion of the past few decades work to fully professionalise the occupation. I genuinely don’t think that’s what The Telegraph intended when they started this campaign, but that’s what they’re going to get. All those accidental and part-time MPs will move on, not prepared to be put under so much scrutiny, required to account for all the hours they spend on the job.

Meanwhile, the next generation – well honed by the expectations of reality TV – will understand exactly what is required, and will be even more shameless publicity seekers than ever before. Could we see a rise in the ever more populist politician? Part of me thinks this is why the BNP is gaining ground.

And – let’s face it – we’re also going to see the rise of the squeaky clean politician. Never having done anything; never even lived just a little for fear of what tales may be outed in years to come. Spending their entire lives just waiting for the moment to join the political class, never putting a foot wrong. Honest, yes. Reflective of real life, no.

Maybe we need to be a bit more tolerant of the faults in our politicians. After all, the population of this country regularly engages in adultery, casual drug use, alcoholism, misappropriation and a little white lying to smooth over the roughest social situation.

In the past, politicians used to do all this kind of stuff and no one batted an eyelid. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, and all that. Times may have changed, but we’re often in no doubt that the politicians of yesteryear were better than the ones of today. But if they had to stand up to today’s scrutiny, I’ll bet we’d soon change our mind on a few of them.

Conclusion: let’s stop going down this path. Let’s give our politicians a bit more room to be real people. Stop them wasting our money, of course, but I think it’s time to put away our microscopes.

I would quote that bit from the Bible about motes, beams and eyes, but that would make me a hypocrite as well…

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“Il Cavaliere” Or Why We Shouldn’t Always Trust Democracy

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 23, 2009 @ 09:54

The picture says it all...

Our friends over in Italy have the pleasure/misfortune (delete to taste) of being governed by the formidable Silvio Berlusconi. An ageing lothario, botox-filled, with hair and teeth that can’t possibly be his own any more. Some of us forget that he’s now 73, but still a slip of a lad when compared to the “thrusting” Ming Campbell.

Sorry, Ming. That was unfair. He is, after all, only 68. Anyway…

Berlusconi is now into his third attempt as Prime Minister. The first one was a short-lived disaster. The second one a much longer period of disaster. And the third? Well, that’s also a disaster.

However, I’m biased. Seriously biased. I am, after all, a liberal, yoghurt-knitting leftie. I despise Berlusconi and everything he stands for. The man is seriously corrupt, and has spent all his periods of office attempting to cover his tracks, shield himself from prosecution and, worse, legislating to further his businesses and passing immunity laws to thwart investigations into his activities.

As for his personal life… his taste in women is indeed fine, but to be continuously in the headlines for it must make it rather difficult to concentrate on real matters of state in this modern media age.

But perhaps that doesn’t matter. Berlusconi has never been about anything other than feathering his own nest. The Italian people seem to appreciate that level of honesty in their politicians. They know they’re all crooks, so why not elect someone who is rotten to the core, but at least has fun with it and keeps everyone entertained in the process.

Meanwhile, Berlusconi’s media empire, enhanced by years of legislation in its favour, keeps the populace distracted with an agenda that is almost unceasingly in his favour. And where his media organisations lead, the rest of them follow, even ones that are apparently neutral as they are owned by the state.

Berlusconi’s presence is such that any kind of attack on him now is brushed aside as a mere inconvenience;
the usual suspects “in the establishment” once more trying to get one over an old enemy. He has this marvellous way of diminishing his opponents by accusing them of trying to settle old scores and turning everything personal. It usually works.

The sad part of all this is that there is almost nothing anyone can do. This is democracy. It isn’t easy. It throws up results we don’t like.

The last refuge of the left is usually to say democracy isn’t always right. Even more so now in the modern media age, where celebrity, personality and trivial facts are what’s important to the media. Like it or not, Cameron will win the next British election largely because he is seen as “more in touch” with the British people than Gordon Brown. More likeable. More personable. Less aloof.

And so it worked for Berlusconi.

Democracy is distorted by such manipulation of the agenda. Even more so in the case of Berlusconi because of his media empire.

There is, however, one saving grace.

Maybe the Italians are – finally – starting to see the light.

Let’s hope that democracy gets it right in the end.

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Conference Call

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 22, 2009 @ 06:44

Does Bournemouth really look like that? I wouldn't know...

Does Bournemouth really look like that? I wouldn't know...

It would be wrong of me to let the Lib Dem Conference pass without some comment on the kind of things that have been coming out of it since it started. After all, it’s ending tomorrow!

The first point of “excitement” to the media came when Nick Clegg downgraded the tuition fee policy to no more than an aspiration. That got Charles Kennedy a little worked up when he suggested it may damage the “heart” of the Lib Dems.

The one worry I have about this change of party position is that it has been justified by the terrible economic position the country is in. But, in fact, one could justify tearing apart the entirety of Lib Dem policy on the basis of the recession.

No… there is something suspicious about it. After all, there have been rumours in the past that senior Lib Dems have been trying to distance themselves from the policy. It now almost seems too convenient that it has been one of the first policies placed on the bonfire as a victim of the credit crunch.

It’s the same feeling that I have when I hear Cameron talking about cuts. I suspect he is a “cutter” by instinct anyway, like most of the Tory party. They’ve been desperate to give the public sector a serious slashing ever since they left office. Now they’ll be able to do it with the most wonderful of covers provided by an economic backdrop that no one can deny.

I fully expect other Lib Dem priorities that are a little costly to join tuition fee abolition on the shelf.

My real problem though is what it does to future recruitment of the party. If we want to grow, we must continue to work hard on the youngest generations, the students and youth, to convince them to choose us. Catch ’em while they’re young, they say. It worked for me.

Meanwhile, other policy planks have included the over £1m property tax… which I think is broadly a good idea. It was quite amusing to watch Andrew Neil yesterday try to defend the poor, downtrodden elderly who might, unbeknownst to them, be sitting on a property goldmine. I don’t think these people actually exist other than in the minds of our opponents on this policy. And even if they do, they will be able to escape paying it as that’s part of the plan.

Then there’s a little something today which might just be a game-changer. Are we really going to call for an end to the Afghanistan war? That’s what the headlines are going to say even if the detail is much more complex. The public would be on our side for sure. But it’s one of the most difficult international issues we’re going to face in the modern era. I really don’t know what the right answer is.

Otherwise, conference hasn’t been all that exciting. A frippery here or there on airbrushing, raising pay of soldiers, some “savage” cuts… it’s all much of a muchness for Lib Dems these days.

But hey, I guess that’s what Conference is all about. It’s not really about selling policy to political geeks like me. It’s about trying to get some airtime for the party’s agenda to the people who are switched off from it most of the year.

The jury’s still out on that one…

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Clegg (Gets His Point) Over

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 18, 2009 @ 18:29

Much as Clegg is doing well lately, pictures like this really shouldn't be on the Internet...

Much as Clegg is doing well lately, pictures like this really shouldn't be on the Internet...

I can’t be the only one to have noticed that lately we seem to be witnessing an extremely active Nick Clegg.

Either that or someone is doing a very good job in the PR department of the Lib Dems.

It seems not a day goes by at the moment without Nick Clegg getting a column of some kind in a newspaper. Of course that’s all well and good, because not many people read newspapers these days. But it does feed into the national agenda, because like it or not the broadcast media are very much in hock with the newspapers for going with their stories.

Maybe I’ll be more excited about this one when he gets a column into The Sun, as that would give him a chance to get noticed by a much wider social range of people than those who peruse The Independent. Though that might just suggest we’re doing something that pleases Mr Murdoch (any Murdoch will do). And that can’t possibly be a good thing!

Meanwhile, there’s the various experiments with the social media platforms: including his “interview” via Twitter. A novel idea, but obviously very limited to simple replies. Perhaps that says something about the attention span of today. What if someone had asked him to explain how he will reform the tax system? Don’t think you can do that in under 140 characters!

But most of all it’s the policy positions that seem to be catching the eye. Maybe it’s opportunism, but his intervention on Afghanistan, while hardly principled (not yet, anyway), was indeed timely.

Then there was Trident, in which the Lib Dems have been the first one to stick their necks on the line to suggest it might not be such a good thing after all.

And as we all know, I don’t think Speaker Michael Martin would have gone anywhere if it wasn’t for Clegg breaking the usual conventions wide open with his opposition to his continued presence.

What it is showing though is that on the back of that Gurkha thing, Clegg appears to have built up a very favourable media persona. One that they don’t seem to be ignoring as much as they used to. A bit of good faith that he is now cashing in. And the media are willing to listen.

Even better, the polls seem to be responding. Maybe things aren’t going to be too bad for us at the next election after all.

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