There’s a semi-fuss running in the media at the moment, which runs pretty much along this chronology:
1. Gordon Brown takes over as Prime Minister of the UK
2. Opinion polls are pretty favourable for Brown and his party
3. There’s some suggestion that Brown might call a general election sooner rather than later
4. Opposition parties, anticipating the start of an election campaign, state a couple of policies which they’d put in place if they were in power
5. Opinion polls show increased support for the opposition parties
6. Gordon Brown states he won’t be holding a general election
7. Media and opposition parties accuse Brown and his party of bottling it
8. Brown’s ministers announce new policies, which appear to echo those suggested by the opposition parties
9. Media and opposition accuse Brown and colleagues of stealing policy ideas
I think that about covers it, in essence. To look at the papers or listen to the news today, you’d think that this whole series of events was one of the major political events of recent times.
However, let me tell you something startling but entirely true: Nobody, repeat nobody, I know is talking about any of this.
This is anecdotal stuff, of course, but I like to think it’s an accurate reflection of public opinion, grassroots feeling, whatever you want to call it. As I say, no-one I have conversations with has even mentioned this ‘burning issue’. The whole brouhaha appears to have been manufactured, stirred up, and perpetuated by the media and MPs themselves (and, of course, their spokesfolks). It has little or no bearing on reality – none of the policies in question have actually come into effect, if indeed they ever will.
I find it a little like turning on the TV, and the channel happens to be showing two characters in a show you don’t follow having an argument; there’s an implied suggestion that I should care, but I really don’t. In fact, the soap opera comparison works pretty well for me, in that – like a soap opera or other form of entertainment – party politics has long been something which I’ve observed with a sense of detachment, and none of the emotional involvement which the various parties involved would probably like me to have.
The various political parties seem to be behaving as if they feel cheated in various ways, and there’s a weird tone of annoyance from the media (I can only assume they’d already started working on their ‘Election 2007’ graphics, only to find they’ve been wasting their time), but outside of the Fourth Estate and MPs, nobody I know has been talking about the possibility of a general election, of inheritance tax rules changing, or whether one party has nicked policy ideas from another. I’d like to think that says something about the degree to which people believe that day-to-day political events actually affect them, but that could be my cynicism about this subject over-riding the evidence.
I’m aware that posting this could arguably be pointed to as an example of talking about the items in question, but I think it’s a very different thing to point to the absence of something than to produce that thing itself. It’s a distinction which has been rather lost in recent times, I know (especially in relation to Iraq, where absence of evidence became seen as evidence of absence – duh), but I like to think that my audience is smart enough to be able to make that distinction (despite the title of this post).