Ease up on Gordon and Biffo for all our sakes

Although I know I’m departing from blogosphere conventions, I’m getting fed up with the gadarene rush to proclaim the end of the world, every time politicians do something stupid. Take two former finance ministers, both shoo-ins as party leaders after a decade of rule by dominant predecessors, both now slated for incompetence on political grounds and in their area of expertise, both facing meltdown, we’re told. You can take your pick from a tsunami of polemic. But hold on a minute. Might the fault in these conveniently parallel assessments lie as much in the ruler as in the ruled (a question a politician may never ask?) And does the deafening hue and cry make a bad situation worse?

Although a junior member of the ratpack in my time, I’ve always had a sneaking sympathy for Tony Blair’s parting swipe at the “feral “ media. And remember the Cruiser’s great description of the British mainstream media with its “cockiness, ignorance, carelessness, prurience, innuendo, and lip- service to the highest moral standards?” The case against the media in the age of spin was classically put in an atmosphere of boiling controversy over Iraq by the academic journalist John Lloyd when he argued

The media still take differing political positions, but their most powerful ‘ideology’ is the pursuit of their own power, and the permanent untrustworthiness of public figures.”

Mick had a canter round the course, widening the analysis to include new media’s potential in public engagement. An equally cerebral journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft has revisited Lloyd’s thesis, only to dismiss it:

“Politicians have finally grasped the full extent of this public contempt. An MP of whatever party who tries to explain away the racket of parliamentary expenses in front of an audience is shouted down….What the media are doing”, which looked a little shaky even at the time as a thesis, is now completely unsustainable… Lloyd’s case collapses at a crucial point. The greatest single dereliction of duty by the press for years past was not corrosive scepticism about politicians but the exact opposite: the servile credulity with which so many journalists swallowed a patently fraudulent case for a needless and illegal war….If anything has changed dangerously for the worse in my lifetime it’s our political culture rather than “the media”. One of the characteristics of New Labour is that no one ever resigns unless forced to, and almost no one ever is.”

For me, Wheatcroft over-eggs his pudding. He falls into the habitual comment trap of interpreting a broad canvas on the basis of short-term news. Leaving aside the fact that this is the week in which British troops have been extracted from Iraq – a fact for which Brown deserves some credit – how corrupt are British politicians really? An 88p bath plug, come on! Compared with the astonishing cronyism and corruption of Irish politics for which few have really paid, it’s small potatoes indeed. While there’s plenty to criticise in both States, to get through the recession we all need to keep our heads and sense of balance and go easy on the self-indulgent rants. As so often, Fintan O’Toole strikes the chord. We still need our politicians to give us a bit of hope. We can hardly expect hope from them if we keep tearing them to pieces.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London