Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Don't believe everything you read in the papers

Is anyone else sick of Tony Blair?

I don’t mean sick of Tony Blair being Prime Minister, but sick of Tony Blair’s future being at the top of every news programme and on the front page of every newspaper! Sick of the disrespect some quarters are showing a man who has served the country for 9 years as Prime Minister (and the people have re-elected his government twice) . And sick of superficial nonsense getting in the way of real debate.

Surely I can’t be the only person who thinks that the government’s policies are more important than who fronts them? It won’t shock (or indeed bother) the world to know that I’m not a Labour voter, but it puzzles me how anybody can meaningfully vote for anyone when policies get mired in a media driven crazy by personalities. And I wonder that anyone gives any government any respect at all when its leaders are lampooned in the press with alarming regularity for no real reason at all (So John Prescott played croquet. So what?!)

I said it last week about Charles Kennedy and Sir Ming Campbell, when our Health policies appeared on page 25 whilst the “Charles had a drink” story appeared on pages 1-10. And now, on the day that Mr Blair further enunciates his policies on pre-birth intervention in families, which are interesting to say the least, again the news is buried by constant jibing and name-calling and accusations from every corner of the Labour Party, given the red-carpet treatment by every news outlet in the land.

I care very much about who leads the Labour Party, and I care even more about who the Prime Minister of the country is. But I care even more than that about what that person and his party stands for. And I’m having to turn more and more pages of the newspaper to find out.

I don’t think that it’s Tony Blair’s fault. He said that he’d stand down giving his successor enough time to bed in before the next General Election, which seems to have incurred the wrath of commentators who say “he should have known better!” and arguing that of course this is the only topic of interest now. But I’m of the view that, even if he had kept his mouth shut, speculation would have been just as rife. We’d just be one step behind where we are now in terms of how honest the Prime Minister was being.

I know that blaming the media is the easy option, but if there is to be a culprit at all in this, I feel that it has to be the news organisations. What purpose are they serving by focusing so much on personality, and so little on policy? What value to the world is a front page screaming about a leaked memo about Tony Blair's farewell plans, other than to mock the head of our government, and to further lessen public regard for the offices of state? I am no mystic, but I bet the vast majority of newspapers, and all the TV and radio news outlets will lead on the leadership tomorrow, not the anti-social behaviour speech. Or David Cameron’s trip to India. Am I the only one to think that this is wrong?

People are turned off my politics these days. The Power Inquiry is a great way of finding out some of the reasons why, but one of them is that people feel that they have little knowledge of formal politics. Today was a great time to let people know about some of the issues. But again it has been an opportunity missed because the focus has remained with party squabbling and the continuing Westminster in-fighting.

I know it’s the Prime Minister’s future we're talking about, and I know that it's important. But he isn’t the President of the United States. He is a man who leads the largest party in Parliament, and so if his party loses the General Election, he isn’t Prime Minister any more. So I ask again, why then do so many people concentrate on the man rather than his party and his policies? Yes, he has more power than Prime Ministers of old. But he is still the Prime Minister, not the President, and that’s why terror suspects can’t be held for 90 days.

As Liberal Democrats I feel that we have a raft of policies that appeal to such a broad range of people: The young, concerned with social justice. Everyone in society concerned with the future of our environment. Families worried about unfair and regressive taxation. Older people worried about having to pay for long term care.

And yet we seem to obsess about the merits of our leader, rather than the merits of these policies. We compare “old” Campbell against “young” Cameron, and look glum-faced (unreasonably, in my view). But we should be comparing “old” Conservative ideas with “young” Liberal Democrat ones like green taxes. We should be leading the agenda and pushing our values so hard that they move the fluff from the front page and replace it with real, tangible politics that will re-engage and reinvigorate the public.

I am sick of Tony Blair, but it’s the speculation about his future I’m sick of, not necessarily his policies. I think that if we hear more about the policies, and more about our own Liberal Democrat ideas for the future of the country, we’ll have far more chance to win around voters than we do at the moment.

I know it’s hard, and I know that resignations and in-fighting sells newspapers, and that tax policies don’t. But surely we owe it to people to have a proper debate and to more away from petty squabbles. People can see right through it, and it’s no wonder they don’t vote.


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