Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Madness, Madness, they call it Madness...

Anyone dropping into today would be convinced that aliens had infected the human race with the insanity virus. The ongoing "Hackgate" scandal has developed a life of its own and despite few new developments, it remains the main topic for conversation and what passes for debate on what used to be an enjoyable site.

Politically, there has clearly been damage to David Cameron and the Conservatives. Cameron's relationship with former News of the World Editor Andy Coulson was useful at the time - it clearly helped Cameron win the critical support of Murdoch and his newspapers and the interconnection of relationships between the top levels of Cameron's inner circle and senior members of News International played no small part in the Conservative success of 2010.

However, Coulson clearly came with a health warning and there's no doubt certain people said this at the time to David Cameron yet Cameron chose to appoint Coulson clearly because his value to him and the Conservative Party outweighed the risk.

Once in office, Coulson was abandoned but as the scandal has exploded, the judgement of Cameron in appointing Coulson and having him as close to the centre of power has been called in question. Does it seem unwise now? No, it wasn't an error of judgement as some have described - it was a calculated act designed to help the Conservatives win the election and Cameron to become Prime Minister.

Yet suppling with the Devil requires the longest of spoons and while I certainly can't see a smoking gun which will bring him down, Cameron's actions with Coulson are so reminiscent of Blair's with Bernie Ecclestone. It was the use of influence to win the reality of power.

Beyond that, we are seeing the laying-bare of a political culture which has flourished in the past 20-30 years under successive Governments based on a triangle of politicians, press and police at each apex and the flow of information in the middle.

Knowledge is power and the acquisition, manipulation and dissemination of that knowledge is central to how the modern political world operates. In the 1980s and 1990s, the influence of powerful media editors and owners, at a time when circulation figures suggested the not-inconsiderable power newspaper proprietors and their editors had on public opinion, was sought by Conservative and Labour politicians alike.

The Thatcher years were bolstered by a phalanx of supportive newspapers but once she went, the support of many of these newspapers ebbed away. David Cameron sought to rebuild that influence and win the greatest prize, the support of News International, but journalists themselves, eager to outdo each other to get exclusives to boost circulation, began to move into darker areas.

The advent of mobile phones offered a fantastic opportunity for eavesdropping and hacking on a scale previously not available. Those seeking the information were bolstered by editors and owners who saw circulation figures as being dependent on the salacious, the innuendo and the elevation (and destruction) of celebrities.

And we lapped it up and didn't care if holiday snaps or texts or phone calls were obtained but with Milly Dowler, a line was crossed.

Politicians were too close to journalists and journalists too close to those who obtained information through dubious means and elements of the Police who turned a blind eye or were actually complicit in the obtaining of this information.

The need to weed out corrupt or criminal elements in the Police and among journalists is now paramount and it is to be hoped ongoing investigations will accomplish this but the relationship between politicians and journalists and the media in general needs to be reviewed and overhauled.

It's fascinating to watch those on the Right arguing against press restrictions and claiming a "free" press would be at risk. We do not of course have a free press in this country. Media power is not derived from Government but it comes from wealth. The wealthy control the media and it is the opinions of the wealthy (who usually favour the Right) which predominate and populate. The Right rail against balance because they enjoy majority opinion - a more level playing field with a greater plurality and diversity of opinion would dilute them and weaken their political and economic leverage.

Plurality won't be easy and a balance has to be struck. A new culture needs to emerge from the wrckage of the old and relationships must change and be seen to change. A robust, diverse Press holding those in power to account is to be welcome. It did exist here once but we moved away from it. Recapturing that world won't be easy but sometimes the past is a good place to start building the future.

As for the politics, Blair was contrite when the Ecclestone/F1 story got out and still won two more elections. Nothing yet will stop Cameron winning again in 2015 but part of his aura of invincibility has been shattered and things will never be the same again.

1 comment:

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