In a New Statesman article from October 2014, Willard Foxton put the case for the TV debates preceding the UK General Election to be more inclusive – in particular, for them to accommodate the Green Party. Despite the suspicion that the Greens bear the stigmata of the damned (i.e. dullness), he insisted that they should be included anyway because ‘…this isn’t just TV, guys.’ His point being that where a political party finds itself on the ‘sex appeal’ spectrum, should be irrelevant:
'…TV producers making these debates should not be chasing ratings, looking for the best guests – this is TV channels doing a huge public service, not the latter rounds of political X Factor.'
And the point has indeed registered – the second of the televised debates will include Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, in a seven-way debate. Mission accomplished, then. Britain’s democracy is alive and well. Right..?
Oh, what a lovely war!
In an era of continuous, 360 degree media streams, the weight given to these flagship debates must be questioned. After all, what prospects can a political party expect when its message is regularly not broadcast (or broadcast but poorly amplified?) In modern, democratic politics, one axiom is clear: exploitation of media potential is not a side show - it is the show. Which elevates its gatekeepers to demi-gods:
History informs of the power of the media over public opinion - not just in Britain, but globally. When the Prols simply fall in line behind the Pied Pier, what matters is convincing him to play your tune:
So whose petition will be heard? The one who is right? The one who is earnest? The sop of Public Service aside, the media’s role is not to educate or inform. To strike a chord, one must aggravate the nation’s humors: hence the unceasing demand for agitation and titillation. And this is why UKIP are so ‘hot’, and conversely, why the Green Party suffers – their ‘dullness’ is not about individual personality, but rather, is bound up with their agenda; their mandate. Question – which of the following will make ‘better copy’: the breakup of the Antarctic ice sheet, or some muffled comment about golliwogs? Quite…
‘But we only reflect the concerns of ordinary people,’ is the stock defence to the ‘media created UKIP’ charge. In other words, the media is but a reactive organ. But this is subterfuge: the public’s concerns and priorities do not take shape in some hermetically-sealed environment. And that is why the surround-sound white noise generated by some theatre in a desert, and all that flows thereafter, takes top billing:
Dear Britain – who wants to discuss the economy? Or rather, who can discuss the economy? Who is able to grasp the thrust of debate, and keep up with argument and counter-argument? Or shall we just zoom out from all that tricky detail and enjoy the Punch and Judy show? Alternatively, to really capture everyone’s imagination, let’s brush all that boring, important stuff aside, and talk about immigration: