Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Why people are turned off by politics

Yesterday at a Tory press conference, there was a quite remarkable occurrence. Michael Howard and Theresa May had just outlined new Tory plans for childcare, and invited questions. A reporter from Sky News said that although he was strongly interested in childcare, he had to ask about the ongoing Howard Flight saga. Howard replied, quite rightly, that he wished to take questions on childcare first, but would return to the Flight question after he had finished with that. There were no takers.

We read a lot in the media about people being turned off by politics - that it doesn't appeal to people because of the unnecessarily adversarial style; that both parties seem to offer little change and are interested only by power. Michael Howard was yesterday putting forward proposals that he believed "could make a real difference to thousands of families throughout Britain". And not a single member of the media was interested.

A cynic would argue that he was only making this announcement to try and deflect attention from the Howard Flight issue, giving the Tory Party a bad press at a time when they seemed to have significant momentum. Yet when the media discuss a lack of interest in politics, they always ask the question: what do the politicians need to do? A commonly offered solution is for the parties to concentrate on policy. We saw yesterday that when they do, the media aren't interested. They are bothered only about creating their own side issues which are far more clear-cut. Easily presentable so that they can sensationalise and sell more papers.

You might say that this is their job. And that's fine - provided they aren't outright hypocrites. Whether you agree with their policy or not, the Tories were trying to contribute to intelligent debate. They weren't even doing it as a smokescreen, for Howard was mroe than willing to answer questions about the Flight farce once questions about the policy had been dealt with. If we are to have intelligent political debate in this country, then the means of conveying this debate have to act intelligently too. If all we get in its place is ignorance of issues and a delight in Labour's relentlessly mendacious and negative pre-election campaign, then it is no wonder that turnout is predicted to fall.