Elections Should be Exciting
We are 55 days from the General Election but we have already had 71 days of moaning from the political press about the campaign. It’s boring, they say, with repetition that is itself getting very boring indeed. They could not be more wrong. In fact, I’d say the only thing that is boring is their lacklustre coverage of what is the high-point of democratic calendar.
We’ve heard a lot about the duties of politicians over the past seven or eight years – much of it entirely correct. But others have duties too. I’ve written recently about how we all have a duty to celebrate the democratic process – to be positive about the canvassers coming to your door and be pleased that we have this moment to see ideas thrashed out in a public arena. And that leaves the fourth estate – the people who used to be called the ‘gentlemen of the press’.
These guys are powerful, for they still mediate much of what we as representatives say and do for our electorate, and the in the same way they feed back to politicians what they feel is the public mood. The exercise of both these roles is far more art than science and requires, therefore, a great deal of judgement. They have a responsibility, therefore, to be fair, to act with integrity, and to think about what their actions might do to the broader health of our democracy and society.
That last sentence might sound suspiciously like a demand for self-censorship – and in this way you would be right. There are times when journalists need to think carefully about what they might feel and whether they actually want to put that into print.
Here is a good example. Too many commentators have been complaining that the election campaign has not yet set alight – that it is long and tedious. They are right in this regard – the election campaign is indeed long, but that is a function of our new fixed term parliaments, which has itself put paid to something that is genuinely tedious, which is the constant “will he, won’t he” guessing game about when the election might be called.
What they are wrong about is that this campaign is boring. They are wrong for two reasons, and wrong to state it for a third. Wrong because no election is boring: this is the high-point of our national life, when we chose how we wish to be governed – a moment millions have fought for and hundreds and thousands have died to preserve. This is not boring – it is glorious, and we should treasure it.
Even if the characters or parties involved in some elections are not exactly thrilling, that could not be further from the truth in 2015. This is a titanic clash – the return of a left-wing Labour Party against a Conservative Party seeking re-election for the first time in eighteen years. For the first time since the early 80s Labour are proposing re-nationalisation, price and rent controls. We are promising infrastructure projects of a scale not seen since the nineteenth century. Labour might go into coalition with the SNP, which wants to scrap Trident. And that is before we contemplate the Greens or UKIP, or indeed the Lib Dems.
But here’s the third reason. The media has a duty to report politics, to explain it and to help stimulate debate. By shrugging their shoulders, just to prove how clever or world-weary, they do themselves no favours and their audience a disservice.
Elections are important: it is up to everyone, media especially, to make them interesting.
Promoted by Olivia Willett, on behalf of Ben Gummer, all of 9 Fore Street, Ipswich, IP4 1JW
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