When does politics ever really engage the public ?
As it appears the election will finally be called tomorrow, and the media will be overloading us all with political stories for the next month or so, I’m wondering just how engaged the general public – as opposed to the kind of people like you and me – who write and read political blogs – really ever are about politics.
Clearly some of them always are, and lots of them sometimes are. If politicians could only get their heads around why and when they are, and perhaps just as importantly – why and when they’re not, then we’d have a very different political landscape
One of the recent big events politically on television would appear on the face of it, to have been Channel 4’s “Ask the Chancellors” Televised Debate Ask the Chancellors – 4oD – Channel 4 – featuring real Chancellor Alistair Darling, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, and for the Lib Dems, the man described as the Hung Chancellor, Vince Cable.
It certainly lit up the world of Twitter, and would appear to have been judged a success in terms of people voting on the C4 website and the trending topics on Social networking sites Ask the Chancellors: a success for Channel 4 – Telegraph Blogs , but did it really capture the public imagination ?
Certainly with estimated viewing figures of just 1.7 Million it would seem that it did not. Compare this with the audience of over 8 Million for B N P leader Nick Griffin on Question Time BBC celebrates record ratings for Nick Griffin on Question Time – Times Online . What was it about that programme, which fired up the public so much more for a late night programme featuring a minority group politician, than for a peak time “Big guns” debate ?
When I went into to work the day after the Question Time with Nick Griffin, the whole place was buzzing with talk about the programme – even those who hadn’t seen it, were talking about it.
After the “chancellors”, not a murmur. This despite the economy being probably the key political issue of the day. So why aren’t people interested ?
For me these are difficult questions to answer. What makes it difficult for me peronally, is that, when all said and done I have to confess to being a bit of a political geek. The fact that you’re reading my blog probably indicates that you are too. People like us, look at politics news, and usually see every nuance of every development, and turn it over in our mind, trying to work out what effect it will have on public opinion – our moods soaring with every stirring speech from our chosen parties, and dropping into the slough of despond with each embarrassing faux pas. It’s not easy for people like us to understand the workings of the minds of people like my Mum, who at 72 reads the Daily Mail every day, but claims she only does the crossword, and never reads the articles.
As a ‘political geek’ I’m someone who is often involved in on-line claim and counter-claim regarding political minutiae, and so I wasn’t entirely surprised a couple of weeks ago to be challenged (via Twitter of course) by independent candidate for Luton, and well known purveyor of oddly shaped vegetables Esther Rantzen (Esther4Luton) to watch Channel 4’s Dispatches programme regarding allegations concerning Labour politicians involved in unsavoury activity regarding payment from parliamentary lobbyists. Allegations which I was vociferously sceptical of, prior to seeing the programme.
It was an odd time for me as I was unusually not able to indulge my usual passion for all things politically newsworthy, and spent the best part of a week not really tuning in to Twitter, or the news, or any of my normal sources of information. I didn’t actually ever get to see the programme itself fully either. Instead I just got the background chatter from people I work with, the glimpses of other peoples newspapers on the train. In short I got the man in the street’s version of politics – not the politics wonk’s version. I have to say that the revelations about Stephen Buyers, Patrica Hewitt, Geoff Hoon, and Margaret Moran didn’t register on my radar at all, and when I came to catch up with this at the end of the week, it would appear that Labour’s reaction, had been to condemn the four out of hand, and more or less say – well we wanted rid of them anyway, it’s no big deal. Simples ! as those meerkats annoyingly say.
Except, to be fair to Esther Rantzen, I think she had both me and them bang to rights (I’m talking like Gene Hunt now – I’ll have to watch out). I couldn’t see any saving graces here, and none were offered by the party as far as I can see. The actions of these MPs appear to have been despicable and dishonourable. In other circumstances this could have been very damaging indeed to the Government, and to the Labour Party, and yet – somehow – it hasn’t been.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been inch after column inch of coverage of it in all the papers Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon suspended over lobbying allegations – Telegraph . It’s not to say that the opponents of Labour out there in the blogosphere and twittersphere, haven’t gone ballistic over it. But if you ask someone who’s not a political blogger, someone perhaps who thinks Facebook is for looking at their niece’s wedding pictures, and for playing Farmville, ask them what they think about the lobbying allegations; then they’ll more than likely just look blankly at you. Geoff Hoon ? Geoff Who he ?
I don’t understand this. Sometimes the public really do get worked up about political stuff. Remember the #ILoveTheNHS hashtag ? the storm that was created when right wing Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan described the NHS as 60 year mistake ? It was huge. It was on all the newspapers, everybody heard about it, and it just grew out of nothing.
Except that it didn’t really – it had rumbled on for months with John Prescott amongst others, trying his best to make a story out of this, plugging YouTube videos of Hannan – all to no avail. The story would not run. But then it did. It ran and ran and ran.
I don’t understand it – and for once I’m not offering any answers – just asking the questions. When does politics ever really engage the public ? and Why ?
Maybe we’ll find out over the next few weeks.