Political Promise

Frak you I won’t vote how you tell me

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Following yesterday’s tabloid assault on Clegg, the people spoke – and were not impressed. The #nickcleggsfault tag was topping global trends by lunchtime, and the right wing press’ websites were drowning in hostile comments, to the extend that the slurs came down as the morning progressed.

People are aware how partisan the British print media have become, and I was not surprised to hear several anecdotal reports of the Daily Fail headline causing people to donate money to – or join – the Lib Dems. This anti-Murdoch sentiment can be summed up by a phrase I remember from university – "if the Daily Mail don’t like them, they must be doing something right!"

In this sense, the press have become as bad as the politicians – the Sun publicly decrying the Labour party during their conference, for example – and the partisan stench doesn’t pass people by. In the past it might have taken a day to get the public’s reaction to the tabloids assault on the relatively squeaky Lib Dem leader, but in the age of twitter and reader-contributed comments on the tubes nobody’s sloppy reporting and cherry picked quotes stand up for long (The Guardian had a link to Clegg’s supposed Nazi article on their front page by 11am.)

This debacle reminds me of a point that came up at a civil liberties meeting my local Lib Dems held in Hackney, with our local PPC and Lembert Opik (of rather larger renown.) I can’t remember who said what, and I don’t want to misquote anyone, but the point being discussed was press freedom versus the people’s right to restrict political power. The argument I was impressed by (although it must be stressed that this is not a policy of anyone’s) was that the print media have a stake in the balance of powers, and should be regulated in the same vein as political parties. Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers are read by millions of people in this country (the Daily Fail alone shifts 8 million copies a day, I heard somewhere) and this kind of political advertising is equivalent to millions upon millions in election campaign costs (which are regulated to the hilt,) and the exposure is incomparable to the “free speech” of, for example, an individual setting up a blog, which might in the end attract thousands of regular readers (with some serious effort.)

In short, the political influence of the press is huge, and it needs to be regulated rather better. While defending free speech, we must find a way to curb the ridiculous power held over the significant number of non-right wingers in this country by a single mental Australian. As a commonwealth citizen he is entitled to vote in our parliamentary elections, but his influence shouldn’t go much further than that; mine doesn’t.

Social media like twitter, and also Facebook, have opened up the analysis of the coverage to all of us in this election, and long may that continue (as a legally non-invasive alternative to constitutional reform as regards the media). I particularly like the Facebook group entitled "We got rage against the machine to number 1, we can get the Lib Dems into office!" with over 100,000 members it is a really good example of youth participation and excitement about supposedly boring politics. Those who would criticise the group on the basis that is reduces the election to an X-factor style contest are missing the point – the election is an X-factor style contest; it’s an election.

The current rage against the "political machine" is now also being turned on the "media machine," and Clegg has the opportunity to cast himself not only as anti-politics, but (and with slightly more justification) anti-media, which will be a crowd pleaser in a world where many are terrified of the reach of the Murdoch empire. With the largest (official and unofficial) Facebook groups, Nick Clegg regularly topping the twitter trends, and popular comment backlashes to unfounded news criticism, the Lib Dems are clearly doing something right this election. Although how far that will get us in the broken FPTP system is yet to be seen.

Joe Jordan


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