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Fighting election boredom

Evan Davis | 09:10 UK time, Wednesday, 6 January 2010

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.

David CameronBut 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.

Gordon Brown and Peter MandelsonProfessionally 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    That is very true especially when most of the pre-election promises are recognised by most people as meaningless. If only we had a political party or leader who broke the rules and energised the political system. Like that's ever going to happen!

  • Comment number 2.

    Well, what a overtly labour blog this is-witness the order in which is described the possibilities of who might win. That was not just how it came into the head, but by design, seeking to influence the thinking and so move the outcome. Like the Labour Government, you must take people for fools if they cannot see through your inuendo.
    Like the News items today, giving so much air time to the Labour party, fallen for their trap hook line and sinker! Free labour Party broadcast, again at the publics expense.
    Its not interesting we want or need, but factual, and without journalistic spin. That may be too radical, but clearly BBC wants a Labour victory to protect their inordinate inflationary Budget, and thus their salaries from top to bottom.
    Sadly the BBc has become reprehensible in its overtly Labour/Socialistic/EU stance, and does not reflect what a lot of people are thinking, or want to hear. Journalistic spin in favour of the Old Lab Junta.......

  • Comment number 3.

    Wow, that's a complete and utter load of rubbish (comment number 2 that is).

  • Comment number 4.

    Somehow we need to move beyond the classic dichotomy between the few who simply relish the entertainment value of a general election and the many who are simply bored witless by it.

  • Comment number 5.

    Actually, people are right to be bored by the whole thing, and blaming them for it would be wrong. Even wronger would be any attempts to try and make the election 'accessible' in typical BBC style, by covering it in the same childish way it deals with most 'complicated' issues.

    The real problems with politics are the politicians themselves, and the media. There is precious little to choose between the main parties, who are out of touch with the electorate on a range of issues, notably the EU and immigration, and all vying for the centre ground. There is nowhere for people of the left or right to go. Labour doesn't appeal to its core, working class vote, because of immigration. It doesn't appeal to those who'd like to really deal with the fat cats, either.

    As for the media, well, those tetchy interviews with ministers and opposition politicians probably make you feel good, but they are a huge turn-off for many listeners.

  • Comment number 6.

    I try to ensure that I remain bored by politics and politicians as failure to do so always results in debilitating anger.

    Anyone who has a basic awareness of the British political system and in particular, politicians, understands that it is rife with rhetoric, spin, duplicity and just plain lies.

    When politicians begin treating voters with respect and giving them credit for having the ability to recognise political duplicity, then the people will show a real interest in politics.

    One other thing will also be required by the population - belief that politicians are paying themselves a fair salary and reasonable expenses.

    At present, there appears to be no prospect of this happening.

    Politicians should stop claiming that MPs must be paid more to ensure 'poor' people are not excluded from becoming an MP.

    Poor people would think they had won the Lottery if they became an MP.

    Expenses claimed by MPs have covered their expenses (many times over in some cases) leaving their salary just that - a generous salary. I earn well above the national average but would love to earn £62,000.

    The truth is, middle class MPs want to milk the system of every penny; they compare their salaries to those of doctors and other professionals, yet no qualifications are required to become an MP.

    They have been found out yet fail to show any signs of true remorse and just spout more weasel words.

  • Comment number 7.

    It's easy to get depressed by politicians saying the same old thing but let's not forget there are a few honourable exceptions who constantly provide a clear and razor sharp commentary on events. I'm thinking here of Geoff Hoon. I'm always blown away by the former defence minister's brilliant insight and thoughtful contributions.
    I feel sure a Hoon government (a real possibility) would quickly deliver the economic recovery we are all searching for and believe he could make a striking contribution if asked to lead the country. He showed real skill in mounting a campaign against Gordon Brown last week without revealing any backers. Where others might have been expected to come up with names, Hoon kept his powder dry and his stock rose enormously as the country fell in love with his cloak and dagger approach.
    We'll all eat humble pie in May 2010 when Geoff reveals his hand, mounts a coup, takes over the party and wins the election all in a matter of weeks.
    Geoff Hoon is our great hope. Let's not blow it.

  • Comment number 8.

    You must be joking surely #7 colinnugent.....I can't imagine anyone worse....oops on closer reading your sarcasm becomes apparent! Sorry!!

  • Comment number 9.

    The first difficulty that we are going to experience in the coming General Election is the massive disconnect between the electorate and the Westminster village people.

    The electorate appears to know that the money has run out but the political class still seem to be unable to grasp this reality. This has had the effect of removing the facility of the political class of whatever hue of the means to bribe the electorate with their own money. So what the electorate now seek is someone with a plausible plan to extricate the country from its current mess within a reasonable time scale. None such is forthcoming but at least there are signs of encouraging noises from certain quarters: someone is getting it.

    This presents the electorate and the political class with the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue about how we can all take the country forward.

    This requires that the political class treats the electorate as intelligent beings. Sound-bites won't work any more. Staged capers won't work any more. Glad-handing and kissing babies won't work any more. The razzmatazz must go to be substituted with hard talk.

    I am hopeful that this election will facilitate the return of real politics with a valuable engagement between the public and the putative leaders of the country. I fear that if this does not happen then we open a door which would allow some other, very nasty, populist lunatic to win the election after this one. We would be in serious trouble if that happens.

  • Comment number 10.

    Its not surprising no-one cares anymore - we have too many choices between the liar, the thief, the fraudster, the idiot and the professional politician who's never been away from his party in his life.

    (ok, I exaggerate the terms, but how many MPs have been criticised over their expenses, or lying to the press, public or constituency).

    No-one cares, if only everyone could be persuaded to go and vote - for the Monster Raving Looney party if no-one else, we'd show the politicians just what we really thought of them and maybe we could get some interest in politics again.

  • Comment number 11.

    Perhaps Proportional Representation would spice things up again. PR? Remember that? Labour promised a referendum on PR on coming to power in 1997.

    Maybe you could ask Gordon Brown why after 13 year we still haven't had that referendum.


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