Avoiding the issue

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One horrror movie staple is the monstrous beast that revives unexpectedly when you think the hero has killed it. Another is the monstrous beast unleashing a hideous scream as it disappears into oblivion.

Time will tell whether the wails of the media and the two main parties over the last few days are the former or the latter.

The election has been transformed for the better, both by the TV debate, which has focused voters on policies, and the sudden rise of the Lib Dems, which has made the result much more uncertain.

After the weekend, it’s clear that the main parties and the media have absolutely no clue how to handle either development.

It was extraordinary to hear David Cameron‘s party election broadcast last night claiming, in effect, that the financial crisis made a hung parliament dangerous. “Don’t change horses in midstream” is a cliche of governing parties, not of ambitious oppositions. What’s more, the leader of the opposition telling people not to vote their conscience for fear of a difficult Parliamentary outcome makes the case for electoral reform more clearly than a thousand Electoral Reform Society leaflets.

The media have handled things, if anything, even more clumsily. The right-wing press have gone into kill mode on the Lib Dems. Some are with the Mail and its BNP-brand bludgeon, accusing Clegg of being a dirty traitorous foreigner. Others prefer to patronise, proclaiming amidst thousand-pound bets at metropolitan dinner-tables that Clegg can never connect with the common man.

The more Lib-Dem-friendly media have done no better, focusing on the slightly changed horse race, or an absent PPC, or which leader is posher, rather than the parties’ policies.

As always, there are worthy exceptions, some on TV, some online, and few in the mainstream press. But their power is on the increase. Now, perhaps forever, the power of the national media to filter and interpret has faded, and people are able to hear from the leaders what they think, and research on the Net what that means.

If the May 6th election is, as it might well be, the last ever held using First Past the Post, there are even bigger changes to our political culture on the way. Reading the papers over the last few days, I can only think, about time too.

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Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.

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