Thursday, March 29, 2007

Media Pomp and Circumstance

Charles Clarke tells us that at a meeting in Tony Blair's house in 1994 Blair asserted that the 'central factor' in determining the success of his campaign to become party leader would be the attitude of the media. It was, says Clarke, surprising at the time, though thanks to the success of Blair's mediacentric vision, it seems unremarkable now. Mediacentrism, combined with the Blair-Brown feud, has been the determinant of British political history for the last decade. It is the main reason why I struggle to take any interest at all in Westminster affairs, dominated as they are by cretinous manipulations and endless phony inishyativs. In the last couple of weeks I have even found it impossible to read our political bloggers. These are arguments about arguments, debates about nothing. Brown, of course, has been as mediacentric as Blair, but, latterly, more effectively so. His quiet editor-schmoozing continues to earn him far more friendly coverage than he deserves. Clarke, who is running the stop-Brown campaign, calls for an end to mediacentrism after a decade of what he calls 'media pomp'. He is right. The newspapers have been bloated with the power given to them by Blair's 'project'. But can it be done? This is, in its way, the only serious question for the next election. Put another way: can we be governed by wise, independent minds or must we be governed by sleazy PR and marketing apparatchiks?


  1. On the point of the relationship between politicians and the media, what do you make of Guido's Newsnight film, Bryan?

    I can see how anyone on the outside of mainstream journalism would find Guido's argument persuasive, but it's naive in the extreme, and dangerously short-sighted, to expect political hacks to adopt his modus operandi.

    Guido should be grateful, as we all should, that blogging, in the right hands, can become such a powerful, alternative voice in politics. The BBC's Nick Robinson makes the point well.

    The more pertinent question, as your post suggests, is: how much has the relationship between politicians and the press changed under New Labour, and to what effect?

  2. I've been trying to watch Guido's film, Johnny, but Paddy O'Internet won't let me. The Robinson post is interesting, notably for these words about Clarke's speech -

    'Much more stimulating is a lecture by Charles Clarke on New Labour and the Media, which reflects his frustration that his efforts to kick start a debate about what Labour should do in the future is seen entirely through the prism of whether he, or anyone else, will challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership.'

    Note he avoids engaging with the substance of Clarke's speech and interprets it solely in terms of the leadership issue. This makes Clarke's point.

  3. Sorry, badly put - he does acknowledge that point but doesn't take on the wider media issue

  4. I apologise for interrupting this obessive discussion about Guido Fawkes (yawn)...

    Bryan yr comments seem to assume 'intentionality' on Tony's part - or anyone else's. How how can politics NOT be completely enmeshed with the Media? It's like ivy on a wall. And it doesn't matter which is which, metaphorically speaking.

    I can't begin to imagine an alternative scenario.

  5. I'm afraid I find myself generally untempted by the various media circuses as a whole. The Goldfish Consciousness that seems to result probably isn't one to be highly recommended. This without going into how little ceredence one can put in the media and its lovers, the politicians in the first place.

  6. Ha, indeed. Well observed.

    And that actually raises another key point: while Guido and his ilk need to accept that political hacks must and do play a different role to political bloggers in certain crucial respects, it's important to note that, thanks to the all-seeing blogosphere, journalists and their practices are, quite properly, also under close and constant scrutiny.

    Big Blogger is watching you.

  7. Bryan, your comments hold true on this side of the pond as well. Barack Obama's campaign has been successful to this point solely based on his ability to tap into the media's favored storylines. The media has become like a publisher of pulp novels. If the author (candidate) follows the standard storyline, then the publisher (news outlet) knows he can sell it. It's about the sales.

  8. Addressing Chris's point but also all the others - it. surely, is a question of balance. Politics and the media are inevitably enmeshed but the pendulum has swung too far. The media, to be effective, must work on the basis that politics is about something. But, at the moment, it seems to be about the media and little else.

  9. If one keeps it in mind that politics has become, essentially, show business for ugly people, then it all makes sense. A new policy or inishyativ is like a new album or film release and elections are box office. One could take this analogy too far, so I'll stop (although it might be fun).

  10. The current media-obsessed climate has, for me, resulted in one seemingly impossible outcome: it has made John Prescott more bearable. I actually look forward to Prescott's (now very occasional) outings on the Today programme which, gruff and ignorant as they may be, at least sound genuine and unspun.

  11. I’m heartily sick of politicians who want to engage with us, have a dialogue, and as you say Bryan - introduce yet more initiatives. A bit of leadership might not go amiss. Politics is like corporate life - people desperately trying to avoid getting caught out, surrounding themselves with layers that protect them and moving on in two years before they're rumbled.

    When I had a proper job people used to talk about politics in business. Today it's much more a case of business in politics.

    We had a finance director, I worked for an airline, who was fond of saying. The problem with our business is there’s too much show business and not enough business. Methinks that applies to our politics just now. And will it ever change?

  12. Apologies or a nod, I don't know which, to Neil. I hadn't read his comment before posting mine.

  13. In today's media driven frenzy of reporting everything, we seem to be getting more and more of nothing! No truer example of this is politics and the dismal showing of elected officials from all parties. Long gone are the days when we could look to our chosen leaders with a sense of optimism and comfort that we have chosen the right person for the job, now we vote and wait for the proverbial merde to hit the fan. Sad.

  14. Hasn't politics always been slightly image obsessed? The tories elect PR man David cameron and their polls go up.
    It doesn't matter what his policies are, as long as he carries on appearing handsome, charming and relatively sane, that's it.
    Same with Blair, Clinton, JFK, Thatcher, Hitler, Stalin etc.
    Policies aside, they all had personalities that inspired many, many people.

  15. I attended the event and have my own post. Overall, although Clarke's analysis was right, it was right for the wrong reasons.

    Having started this idiocy of media worship he wants it changed becuase it does not suit his purposes anymore.

    He is just arrogant in the extreme.