Monday, 31 May 2010

The British People, Part II

[Andy Rees follows his pre-election musings - found here on page 15 - with this post-election analysis]

So here we are. The sky hasn't fallen on our heads. Maggie hasn't come down from the clouds on a black chariot pulled by seven snarling horses. But still, it's Torygeddon, right?

Perhaps. But the big thing is – who really knows? No-one!

There's been an awful lot of very strong reaction to the Tory-Lib Dem blood pact, but personally I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Now I'm no Tory, but I'm no Labour or Lib Dem either.

The thing is we can't actually expect politicians to live up to the promises that they make during election campaigns. And I don't think it’s entirely their fault either. As far as I can see, it's all a big colourful game. It's a circus, and the politicians are the trained animals in the middle, getting all the applause and all the anger when it doesn't go right. The crowd bays or it cheers, depending on whether they like what they see or not.

Can you blame the animals for performing? Hardly. In the same way you can hardly blame the politicians for wild lies and emotive promises such as 'free cancer drugs', because that's what the people want.

Or is it what the people want? There's someone, something else we haven't mentioned yet.

It's not just the people and the politicians, just like it's not just the lions and the audience. The ringmaster... They mitigate everything. They are the conduit between one and the other. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give youuuuuu.... The Media.

Such is the vastness of this country; such is the concentration on political might in Westminster, that we very rarely have any first-hand contact with big party politics, or big party politicians. So how do we find out? The media. Newspapers, TV interviews, the radio, Bloggy McBloggerson and his friends.

And guess what? They've all got an angle, an opinion, a take on it. There's not a single news show or newspaper, not a single piece of text written on, about, around or after the election (including this one) that doesn't take a perspective. And taking a perspective means, inevitably, that something gets exaggerated, and something gets lost.

And this is a two-way process. We learn about the politicians, and the politicians learn about us. And just as we think of them as a bunch of slimeballs, they must look at the people like they're from another planet. Who are these angry men and women? Why do they shout at us all the time? They can have all the focus groups in the world, but it's from the media where the impression really comes.

The media needs a good story. A good story is, often, perhaps always, a short and snappy story. Quick news. Gossip, opinion, slander, promises. And if there's ever a pause to consider the bigger issues – justice, wealth redistribution, national identity – it's always done by getting some experts to disagree with each other so that they all look stupid. It's all conflict. And if it's not conflict, it's quick news.

Even so-called respected journalistic programmes like Today on Radio 4 seem unable to do anything but ask vicious questions in the hope of getting a headline. You might say that it's right to challenge those who hold power, and bring them to account. Of course. But when that challenge becomes a few acerbic questions where the answers are then ridiculed or disbelieved – a hunt for the quick hit story – what use is that?

We pick each word that politicians say to pieces. Look at the linguistic glass-treading around 'cuts'. Some said 'deep', some said 'savage', some said 'severe'. Politicians were chastised for saying too much, or not saying enough. Is it any surprise that they never tell the truth? If they told us the truth about the amount of money that would have to be cut from the Budget to avoid us becoming a Hellenic mess, no-one would've voted, or we'd all have voted BNP.

So, two things. First, the truth is shit and hard to bear. Second, the Media pounces on any mistakes, and we clap and eat some more popcorn as they rip open the proverbial jugular. I'll say it again: is it any surprise that they never tell us the truth?

To come back to my starting point – what's the big fuss? I bet that nothing much will change, or at least it won't be vastly different to a more ‘left-wing’ coalition. Sure, there is a chance that the Tory-Lib Dem coalition will 'cut' by launching a moral crusade against the poor and vulnerable. But that would've happened under a Labour Government too. No-one likes a scrounger.

I think we all need to take a step back. I think we all need to stop believing that this country is simply the sum of its Cabinet and Prime Ministerial parts. The Government, although it and the media would have you believe otherwise, is one tiny cherry on top of a massive civil service and civic society that is far more static and far more resistant to top-down change than the Twittering social commentators would have us believe. I hear it so often – 'we're the internet generation, it's a new age.' No. You just spend too much time on Facebook and reading G2. Get outside, smell the piss and the honey, the beauty and the beast, and you'll get a much better idea of what the hell is going on.

Words: Andy Rees

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