Political Promise

Electoral Intentions

In Matthew Wheavil on April 11, 2010 at 9:19 am

Today, I leafed through the Guardian’s Weekend magazine towards their exclusive ‘once in a decade’ Jonathan Ross interview with an apathy that would make even the British electorate proud. I didn’t expect to read anything remotely interesting or intelligent. And then, somehow the infamously childish chat show host surprised me with a few sharp insights (amidst a vast puddle of cringe).

First, was the commonly held view that everyone has ulterior motives under the spotlight of publicity: the reason Ross cites for choosing not to give interviews over the last 10 years.

I was already planning a blog post on that very topic, albeit more political. The business leaders such as Richard Branson and Stuart Rose who have come out in force this week to declare their opposition to Labour’s planned rise in the National Insurance rate are not saying so because it benefits the country. Rather it benefits their collective commercial pocket and they hope to convince everyone else to vote against it.

But it isn’t just businesses who declare their electoral position on the basis of self-interest. Everyone does – whether media organisation, charity or politician.

And that brings us to the second of Ross’s insights, “The people running [the BBC] are always trying to second-guess what the newspapers will say about them – and whatever the next government we wind up with will say about them. The experience of being there isn’t quite the place it was. And it’s a terrible, terrible shame.”

He may hardly be an objective source himself but Ross is right. The BBC has a reputation for impartiality but their practice can be dubious during election time. They will want to be looked upon favourably by the incoming Government given that their funding is reliant upon the public purse.

So, when you’re watching BBC news (or ITV news or Sky news) over the next month, think about what you’re seeing. Don’t just watch and absorb everything. Critically analyse it. Whether you read the Daily Mail, Guardian or Times you should be doing this. They all have political agendas.

How do you do this, you might ask? Well the last few times I’ve seen BBC election coverage; it has been subtly obvious. The footage of David Cameron has always been energetically shot – showing him slamming a pool ball into a pocket or jaunting joyfully down an aisle of Sainsburys proclaiming the ‘trustworthiness’ of business leaders. Compare this with Gordon Brown’s photoshopped face being placed on a National Insurance card and the contrast of negative and positive connotations emerge.

It’s not that the BBC are particularly biased – they do at least interview a member from each of the main three political parties and today’s coverage of the Conservative’s proposed marriage tax break was more balanced (though it is worth noting the order of who gets interviewed and under what conditions).

But both the BBC and the aforementioned Business leaders are concerned about having a favourable relationship with the next Government and Prime Minister. David Cameron is pretty much a safe bet. The polls are swinging back to the Conservatives and there is no doubt media portrayal has an impact on this.

You might read this article and argue, “of course the footage of Cameron is more energetic – He’s younger and has a more vibrant personality than Brown.” Think back to Tony Blair’s election battle with John Major though and you might realise it’s not necessarily about which party when it comes to media motive. Back then Blair was portrayed as the new young and energetic hopeful, contrasted with tired old Major.

Cameron and Brown’s election coverage is Blair and Major all over again. The red and blue corners have swapped places but it is essentially old wine in a new bottle.

And if you think it’s impossible to predict who will win a general election, then you should ponder upon why the Sun has successfully backed and forecasted the winner for the last 25 years.

They say the media can’t tell us what to think but can tell us what to think about. Sometimes I wonder, although it seems the British majority tend to think voting isn’t worth their while. Maybe more than anything, media portrayals of political parties cause apathy. Given the number of times I’ve seen party leaders playing table tennis with a school child for the cameras instead of doing their job, it wouldn’t surprise me.

Matt Wheavil

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