Alert readers may have perceived the thundering cloven hooves of an approaching General Election. Thousands of women are even now bearing down heavily to ensure sufficient raw materials for baby-smooching photo ops with slobbering, faux-chummy moat-owners and mortgage flippers. Between now and – most likely – May 6th (curse my predictive non-skills!) – pols of all flavours, none of them particularly lickable, will promise the earth while secretly planning to deliver a couple of inconsequential sods.
It’s a familiar, draining process. Manifestos full of smiling multiracial faces, hero-posing alongside commitments that mysteriously become aspirations for the n+1th term as soon as the ballot boxes go back into the ballot box box. Those smiling faces, like the swirling angels at the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark, melt and burn into evil spirits sucking the souls of the electorate into a Westminster-based heaven allegory. Er, spoiler alert.
During the campaign we’ll see interview after interview where the usual reporters ask the usual questions and get the usual non-answers: “I’m glad you asked me that, Krishnan, let me answer something else”; “Look, the real question you should be asking is…”; “You should be focusing on the things the public care about, like…”; “Typical of the left/right wing BBC to…”. And my favourite double act: “The only poll that matters is the one on…” vs “Our internal polling is showing something entirely different”. Over, and over, and over…
This happens because complete honesty tends to be a career-limiting move for a politician. To climb the greasy pole – to even grasp your hands around its base – you need to become one with the grease. You don’t so much climb up the pole as oleaginate via osmosis and rise by capillary action. Dare to level with the electorate – by which I mean truly level, not say “Let me be clear here” because that’s code for “I am saying words to fill dead air while I formulate my non-response” – and you risk a roughing up by the whips, the party Dementors, and possibly defenestration.
Voters hate the evasion, distraction, rhetorical tricks, petty squabbling, dishonesty, finger-pointing, underhand tactics, etc, etc, used by politicians. They also hate it when broadcasters let politicians off the hook. Jeremy “Did you threaten to overrule him?” Paxman’s apparently accidental stuffing of Michael Howard in 1997 is a beautiful, shining, oh so rare exception. Discos and triscos typically degenerate into playground arguments over Top Trumps moderated by freshly graduated teachers eager to please both sides, when what’s really needed is a grumpy old soak not afraid to administer a good, old-fashioned clip round the ear.
I fear there is no great desire amongst broadcasters to fix this problem. It’s mostly all about the news cycle, the trivia, the access. I fully expect this time to see Sky News broadcasting live from David Cameron’s freshly waxed anus. There’ll be breathless reporters deployed like paratroopers at Arnhem to chase after any suit with a rosette, and eager to magnify the tiniest fluff or mullet-related punch-up to grotesque proportions, vomiting Westminster twittle-twattle to a British public thoroughly, self-throttlingly bored of the whole thing by day two.
I’m atypical; I love elections and TV election coverage. Indeed I have an honorary degree in Swingometry from McKenzie College of Psephology and Knitting, Vancouver, BC. And yet even I get utterly sick of the same old faces spouting the same old stories and getting away with it. I’ll be shouting at the screen – while stabbing my politician-shaped voodoo doll with a selection of the very finest cutlery – as reporters move swiftly down lines of suited twerps bleating their non-responses, then wrapping them up because they’ve only got twenty-five seconds before the next update from Jeremy Thompson wedged firmly up Cameron’s bumcrack.
But this election is, I think, going to be different and a little disruptive. This election will be the first bottom-up election.
Linus’ law: Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. This works just as well in politics: given enough eyeballs, all politicians are shallow. We’ve now reached critical mass. Someone outside the mainstream media, at some point during the campaign, will discover something important. It might be one of the ‘celebrity’ political bloggers, like Iain Dale or Guido Fawkes, already breaking stories; it might be an unknown. It could be a street urchin or ragamuffin of some kind who YouTubes a candidate twatting about. There are signs of bottom-up already: look at www.mydavidcameron.com.
Twitter will spread the key stories – true or not – twice round the world before rolling news has cut back from the weather. It’s going to be a shock to the political system, and everyone will be fair game. It might even change a few results.
None of this can prevent manifestos full of self-destructing promises, interviews as enlightening as the test card, and 24-hour CamAnusCam. And the Westminster of tomorrow won’t look that different to the Westminster of today, whoever ends up kissing hooves with Queenie. But it’s a start.