… I would single out the rise of the commentariat as especially note-worthy. It is within living memory that journalists’ names started to appear in newspapers; before then, no name was attached to articles. And in recent years commentary has taken over from investigation or news reporting, to the point where commentators are viewed by some as every bit as important as elected politicians, with views as valid as cabinet ministers.
A clear implication that elected politicians are more important than commentators (or any other member of the public?), that the views of cabinet ministers are somehow more valid…
They are not better qualified. They are not more competent. They may have better access to information. They are motivated by political expediency as much if not more so than genuine altruism. It seems rare that they are motivated by evidence-based rationales.
And if you can wield influence and even power, without ever standing for office or being held to account by an electorate, it further undermines our democracy.
The commentariat operates without scrutiny or redress. They cannot be held to account for their views, even when they perform the most athletic and acrobatic of flip-flops in the space of a few weeks. I can understand when commentators disagree with each other; it’s when they disagree with themselves we should worry.
All that seems rather arguable. It seems to me that blogs and newspapers are rather more ‘democratic’ in the sense that I choose what blogs to read or newspapers to buy – whenever I choose. Neither my time nor money goes to those who don’t appeal.
Contrast with our first-past-the-post parliamentary system. Every five years, unless someone dies or a general election is called early, I have the opportunity to toddle off down to the local polling booth and tick the box next to the name of a (probably unappealing) candidate. The winning candidate receives my money even if I haven’t voted for him. He wins no matter how few people turn out to vote, so long as he gets at least one more vote than his opponents. He is MP for five years no matter how many of his constituents get fed up with him.
(It is also worth pointing out that the Government is seriously suggesting taxpayers must contribute to party coffers, because the Labour party (well, not just them) is haemorrhaging party members and donors and can’t seem to live within its means or avoid narrowing its appeal.)
If he becomes a Minister, he might get involved in some sort of lie or scandal. If we’re lucky, he might – just might resign. But then he might come back… and get involved in another lie or scandal. And he might resign again. If we’re lucky.
The party that forms our current Government was voted for by only one in five of the public.
This is accountability?
There will always be a role for political commentary, providing perspective, illumination and explanation. But editors need to do more to disentangle it from news reporting, and to allow elected politicians the same kind of prominent space for comment as people who have never stood for office.
Editors should be free to give whatever space they wish to whomever they wish – newspapers are private businesses. If politicians want to express their views they are free to start their own blogs or newspapers. In fact why don’t they?
Their success (or lack of it) will provide a measure of the esteem in which they are held.
This brings me to the role of political bloggers. Perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a Samizdat style. The most popular blogs are rightwing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes.
This point is skewered by MatGB at Liberal Conspiracy.
Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour government. Perhaps if there was a Tory government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?
There are some informative and entertaining political blogs, including those written by elected councillors. But mostly, political blogs are written by people with a disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.
Unless and until political blogging adds value to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate voices,
Um, nothing except for legal restrictions on freedom of speech prohibits anyone with Internet access and a modicum of intelligence from starting a blog.
ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair.
Has Blears considered the root cause of this alleged culture of cynicism and despair? Because it isn’t bloggers or the commentariat or any of the media – while those are factors, it’s the politicians who betray our trust who are at fault.
The running theme I sense from Labour speeches relating to disengagement is that “it wasn’t me.”
Their fingers are pointed in the wrong direction.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will invite high-street businesses today to tender to be biometrics enrolment centres for the National Identity Scheme, which the government will use to issue ID cards.
The Home Office wants to use the tender process to gauge whether businesses such as post offices and banks would be interested in participating in taking fingerprints from people for the scheme, silicon.com sister site ZDNet UK understands. It also hopes to formulate a document, called the Frontline Services Prospectus, outlining how biometric enrolment would be carried out by businesses.
“If they’re taking fingerprints on the high street, they simply cannot guarantee locking prints to details,” [Phil Booth] said. “The only way they could have done that is in an interrogation centre, with some official scrutinising documentation, then walking you over to the scanner to take your prints.”
Booth suggested that a high-street-based system would be open to fraud and systems error, and could lead to chaos.