Sunday, May 01, 2005


Like a swarm of locusts, politicians and attendant journalists have emerged from their Westminster eyrie and descended all over Britain these past few weeks.
In the name of democracy, and travelling faster than American tourists in Europe, they have swept the country by plane and train, helicopter and bus.
If it’s Monday it must be Luton, Northampton, Nottingham, Newcastle – but thankfully they can be back in bed in London before the circus starts again on Tuesday.
Thank God, it will soon all be over, they sigh as they try to snatch a few winks before the spring morning light disrupts their sleep and they’re off again.
Whatever the election outcome, by Friday they will gratefully only have to talk to each other again. And not have to ask ordinary ‘real’ people about what a former Labour Sports Minister, Tony Banks, (soon to take his seat in the House of Lords) recently sneeringly called their ‘intellectually numbing’ needs.
Many journalists feel the same way.
Doing a ‘vox pop’ is work fit only for pollsters and the lowliest of junior reporters. Not political and media stars.
BBC staff are reported to be so fed up with talking to ordinary mortals they want to stop their ‘informed’ people having to talk to ‘real’ people who are ‘not informed.’
Perhaps it was to cut down on such interviews that out with their touring election bus the BBC got voters to write their concerns on notes which were stuck on notice boards that were then shown on the TV news.
But hey, it’s an election. You’ve got to make a show of wanting to know what ‘real’ people think — even if, as Donald Rumsfield might put it, they don’t know they don’t know.
So it’s a dreadful shock when ordinary people turn out to be intelligent, articulate — and lethal.
The ‘real’ woman who tackled Prime Minister Tony Blair on the BBC’s Question Time and voiced the frustration of millions about the difficulty of getting a doctor’s appointment under the government’s 48-hour target system reduced him to ribbons in nano seconds.
Sweating profusely and wondering what had hit him, an embarrassed Blair admitted the problem was ‘news’ to him.
He looked as if he lived on a different planet from his questioner.
In real terms he probably does.
This may be why he has insulated himself with carefully selected journalists on his travels. Anyone who might be hostile doesn’t get a seat on his plane. They may even have a hard time finding out where he is going.
At least part of the problem of media manipulation, spin and briefing against colleagues who are no longer in favour, which the Blair government has operated, is the symbiotic relationship which exists between politicians and the journalists who regularly cover their activities.
It is not confined to Westminster. The danger of being suborned and not reporting unfavourable news exists in all specialist areas of journalism. Perhaps it was most tellingly illustrated by the uncovering of the Watergate scandal by two ordinary reporters on the Washington Post and not by their White House correspondent.
The most brilliant editor I have ever worked for wanted to switch his specialists around. He would have moved the City editor to Westminster after a couple of years and then to the diplomatic beat two years after that, if he had got his way. But the system was too entrenched and murmurs about a possible strike bringing his successful enterprise to a halt made him back off.
‘They talk about the importance of their contacts,’ he sighed. ‘But a good reporter will always get the story.’
When it comes to having their voices heard, ‘real’ people also face the problem that it is not ‘cool’ to be ordinary.
To be valued, you must be famous, a celebrity. And fame, no matter how brief, is the spur which motivates the young in particular.
To say most celebrities are nouveau is not the right way to describe them. The American shoddy, which means the same, is a far better name for their ilk.
Former Labour MP Brian Sedgemore, who’s fled to the Liberal Democrats, says Finance Minister Gordon Brown has intellect but no backbone.
Brown, who currently seems joined by the torso to Tony Blair, has once more shown he’s not up to the job of Prime Minister. His support for Blair over the summary of Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s caveats about the legality of the war in Iraq was a cringe-making public exhibition of crawling — not leadership.
If Blair gets re-elected and kicks him in the teeth again it’s what Brown deserves.
Condoleezza Rice used to pussyfoot at a discreet distance behind American President George W Bush when she was his National Security Adviser.
Now US Secretary of State, she strides the world like a bossy Big Sister, telling every country and continent how to behave.
In Moscow she lectures President Vladimir Putin on the need for Russia to improve its democracy and free up its media.
At a NATO conference in Vilnius she warns Belarus — ‘the last dictatorship in Europe’ — she’s watching and it had better look out and mend its ways.
According to her, there is no need for Europe to lift its arms embargo on China because the US takes care of things in the Far East.
She’s doubtless speaking with her master’s voice. But as she’s supposed to be a diplomat, she ought to put it more politely.
As he looks like what Saddam Hussein will do at eighty, it may be just as well if John Bolton never becomes America’s man at the United Nations.
Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton 2005. All Rights Reserved