Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Britain's New Government: What's the Rush?

Middle England is in a frenzy, assisted in part by sections of the media, who are both benefiting from the current political uncertainty (due to higher readership and viewer numbers) and, who are at the same time implying that the pace of negotiations represents a potential crisis.

In case we were in any doubt about the need to reach a speedy conclusion to the negotiations, we are unceasingly being reminded of how "the markets" might react to the current political "stalemate".

Behind this criticism of the current political process, two issues seem to be implied:

1) The urgent need for "strong leadership"

2) A criticism of the LibDems for not agreeing to support the Conservatives sooner.

In both cases, the issues are controversial. Firstly, "strong leadership" is portrayed as decisive and with a mandate to enforce its decisions. It's true that such characteristics can be seen as "strong". The playground bully is one example of such strength, as is the elected government that takes is country into a war without a legal mandate and against the counsel of its allies, and by pressurising its own MPs to support it.

It seems that the advocates of "strong leadership" are confusing strength with style. A consensual or cooperative style of leadership, for instance, can be equally strong, even though it may not resort to tactics of dominance and control quite so often. Indeed, there is a case to be made that any organisation (government included) that can win a broad base of support is likely to be more in tune with those it serves and less likely to take decisions that damage them. Governments elected by a first past the post system, by contrast, will often use their notional majorities to implement policies that are focused on their core supporters rather than the public at large.

The second issue (of the LibDems not supporting the Conservatives more quickly) is easier to see through. The failure of any party to secure an outright majority is a result of the political will of the electorate, with a vote that saw the highest turnout for years. The idea that the LibDems Or any other party should ignore this democratic reality - and simply go along with the wishes of the largest single party - is, to my mind, a foolish and dangerous notion. Franky, it smacks more than a little of sour grapes.

Since the politicians are talking about the formation of the government of the UK, with responsibility for decisions that can affect the lives of millions, it seems more important to talk through the issues now, even if that takes time, than to rush into an coalition or partnership which will collapse within months. Even if it leaves the newsmen standing around with nothing to report on.

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Steve Smith said...

Hi Al

Just a random kind of thought that occurred to me from your first paragraph.

It seems to me that the demand by some in the media to 'get things moving' is also informed in part by the capability of the media to report 'just in time' through a multitude of technology conduits. This is to say, technologies make possible a continual flow of news that needs to be created. This suggests that the media experiences technology as creating a vacuum with an insatiable appetite that they see needs to be continually filled. However, discussions such as those happening between the LibDems and the Conservatives and Labour are not conducive to filling this, because they are happening behind the scenes: there is little to tell.

There is also a conundrum here for the media. A resolution would create a filling of the vacuum (hence them calling for one), but this space would then quickly empty. Much better for the discussions to continue, but with the caveat that they are perpetually interrupted by the kinds of news we had yesterday.

In this sense, the creation of news (rather than just 'happening') is sped up due to the demand for technology to be filled, to the degree that news is created more with technology in mind and less with us.


Al Shaw said...

Another angle on this is that it's cheaper for a news organisation to report primarily on domestic matters rather than search out news overseas.

Andrew Kember said...

"...it seems more important to talk through the issues now ... Even if it leaves the newsmen standing around with nothing to report on."

Even though the negotiations have been completed this morning, the BBC were still breathlessly debating whether Cameron would use the front door, or the back door to No. 10.

It's very hard to see the truth through the self-perpetuating media frenzy - indeed, sometimes it's hard to see anything at all!