Fighting election boredom
If we're going to have four months of this, we'd better make it interesting.
We listened to the Conservative and Labour parties as they sprinted through the starting line of the election race on Monday, romping through about four issues before tea time.
If this campaign is to be a marathon, one can only observe that they're burning through their glycogen at an alarming rate. If they don't pace themselves, they could end up hitting the wall three months in and limping towards the election itself at a slow walking pace.
But more importantly, by yesterday morning a lot of us were wondering how the rest of us would remain engaged with such a long campaign. Richard Littlejohn is surely not alone in the sentiments he expresses in the Daily Mail: "Five more months of this nonsense! Wake me up when it's over".
Well it's easy to be jaded, particularly for those of us in the media who watch unhealthy amounts of rolling news. But believe me, expressions of election boredom are themselves going to be very tedious in a day or two. We should stop them now.
Instead of articulating our fatigue with it all, it's our job to make the election interesting. A failure to do so is our failure more than that of the politicians.
The truth is that this election is surely the most interesting since at least 1992, mostly because we don't know what the result will be. As my colleague Jim Naughtie has pointed out, every outcome one can imagine is fascinating, whether it be a surprise Labour victory, a hung parliament which might bring the Lib Dems into government, or a new Conservative administration.
Of course, if the main parties do now spend several months bickering over tiny policy details and disguising significant ideological differences, the election campaign will feel dull.
But here's the thing: an election is not just a chance for the parties to have their say. It is best viewed as a national experience. A time for us all to take stock of the issues and to argue about how to deal with them. As we have the mother of all fiscal deficits at the moment, we have at least 178 billion things to argue about.
Now I'm not suggesting that 46 million UK voters will think it's fun to talk about the fiscal maths for several months. We'll have to do better than that. But it's hardly arcane. It's not detached from the daily lives of real people. It's not just the talk of the Westminster village.
Professionally run political parties in an election campaign may want to avoid saying too much about the issue. After all, telling people the nasty things you will do is often a way to lose friends. But just because it isn't easy for them to say much, doesn't mean there isn't much to say.
In particular, there is nothing to stop us bringing in voices who are not professional politicians to comment on the issues, raise questions, and deconstruct events. Anyone who listened to the Today programmes last week, guest edited by luminaries such as David Hockney, PD James and Tony Adams, will know that on public policy issues, having a broad cast of speakers makes for a good broadcast.
Psychologists, philosophers, comedians... I wouldn't be at all surprised if they had a perspective worth listening to. Personally, I hope they'll play a part in our coverage of Election 2010.
I certainly don't want to argue that covering the campaign is not a challenge. If the parties duck the questions, lock away their mavericks and regurgitate clichés, it will be difficult to cover in an engaging way. But we should not forget that it's there to be made interesting. It's not their election - it's everybody's.