Today’s Guardian contains a leader column containing the following assesment of Ming and our general position:
Meanwhile Liberal Democrat support, which has plunged disturbingly, might recover, more to Mr Cameron’s disadvantage than Mr Brown’s. Sir Menzies Campbell ended his party conference with a capable speech that should have strengthened his leadership, but unfair though it is, he has not caught the public mood and probably never will. How will his party respond?
I will ignore the obvious shit-stirring subtext to this. What I got annoyed with was their use of this curious phrase “unfair though it is, he has not caught the public mood”. Leader columns are supposed to represent the “voice of the newspaper” in question. Well, I imagine the Voice of the Guardian saying this whilst the Face of the Guardian does its best to look innocent. “I can’t imagine why. I’m sure I had nothing to do with it!” say its earnest, pleading eyes. The lie is given only by a slight curl of the mouth indicating a smug grin.
The fact is that the heights of Stalinist revisionist history have nothing on the Guardian’s coverage of the pre-budget report over the past few days. The fact is that Darling stole more of our policy than the Tories’, as Russell Eagling explained here. And yet the Guardian spent its pre-budget report special pullout supplement telling us all about how Darling had been raiding the Tories’ policies. Not a mention of the Lib Dem origins of much of the policy, or even really of the Lib Dems. This stands in stark contrast to the immediate reaction of the BBC, by the way, which was the headline “Darling ‘using Lib Dem air tax'”.
When the papers do things like this, it’s hard, as a proud member of a third party, to come to any conclusion other than that in some way, there is some kind of conspiracy going on. I simply refuse to believe that competent and intelligent journalists can write a whole 16 pages or so about the PBR and include only a few paragraphs about the Lib Dems and no mention of the provenance of much of the policy which they correctly identify as having been lifted from elsewhere.
And this comes back to where I began; the papers, and indeed all the MSM, like to pretend that they merely report, and have nothing to do with the attitudes and opinions they are reporting. And yet saying that Ming has “not yet caught the public mood” surely means, in practice, “We have not yet seen fit to pronouce that Ming has caught the public mood”. Political reporting is driven by this sort of ludicrous projection of opinions onto the general public which they just don’t have.
Presumably, on the day of David Cameron’s speech to conference, much of the country was gathered around the TV watching his masterful feat of speaking without notes (well, without many notes). A few days before, we (apparently) felt he was superficial and had no real substance. Afterwards, we were all bowled over by the substance and policy detail of his speech, and in particular by his and George Osborne’s well received announcements on policy.
Except we weren’t. We read that we were, and most of us went along with that. Because we don’t all have the time to sit actually watching this stuff, and nobody wants to come in from work and do a research project into the veracity of what the news tells them. So we turn on the TV, watch the News at 10, and figure it’s probably right.
Charlie Brooker explored the same terrain in relation to the Northern Rock crisis the other night, in a noticeably calmer and more serious in tone programme on TV News than most episodes of Screenwipe. Go to about 6 minutes into the clip linked to for the Northern Rock thing, or just go here for the start of the whole (excellent) episode.
In that case, the point is rather easier to see, but it holds for much of what the news tells us we are thinking. It works as a kind of echo chamber, where views become perpetuated because we are told people hold these views. Journalists hate actual events getting in the way of their perpetuation of the narrative they have pre-written, because then they have to think on the spot, and do their actual job.