Who is responsible for producing this virtual election?

The Voters' Party is not performing well at all. It is dishevelled and it is apathetic
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The Independent Online
Last night a terrible thing happened. I went to bed with Charles Kennedy. He was there when I went to sleep and he was still there when I woke up. I drifted off while he was on a late-night television programme and woke up to his voice on the radio. As fragrant as Mr Kennedy doubtless is, I thought "This cannot be happening." Then I realised that this was how I felt about the election in general - this is not really happening. So far, this has been a virtual election, a meticulous simulation of what an election might be. Ken Barlow, the commander of the Starship Enterprise, the Klingon wife, Mrs Hamilton, are all significant players in this digital world. If you tog yourself up in the right gloves and goggles, if you plug yourself into the right equipment, you will be amazed at how lifelike it all feels - though you need to have the inclination to make the effort in the first place.

What has produced this disorientating scenario? Well, there are three main parties involved in this election. Contrary to popular belief they are not the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat parties. No. They are the Media Party, the Politicians' Party and the Voters' Party. The Media Party is way ahead, its support wavering somewhat, but its victory assumed by most serious pollsters and commentators. The Politicians' Party is clinging on somewhat desperately to the wreckage of an anachronistic system, but it increasingly steals its policies, its presentation, even its ideals from the dominant Media Party. The Voters' Party, quite frankly, is not performing well at all. It is apathetic, dishevelled, uninterested. It shows up occasionally when ordinary people are required to opine for the benefit of one or other of the two main parties. It is widely considered to be the least well informed and well funded of all the parties. It has simply not got its act together, and is riven with splits based on race, class and gender that it cannot heal. Even more serious splits occur over which make of car its members drive, with the Mondeo and Sierra factions currently prominent. The party's only real strength is its ability to hold the balance of power between the other two parties. Yet one wonders whether it takes this challenge seriously, as it cannot even persuade its own members to participate.

Both the Media Party and the Politicians' Party patiently explain to the Voters' Party that voting is itself a privilege that has been graciously bestowed from on high. "Just think," they proclaim, "there are some places where no one is allowed to vote at all." This argument - like telling a child to eat food he or she doesn't like because somewhere in Africa another child is starving - cuts little ice, yet it is an argument that the Media Party and the Politicians' Party like to recite to each other.

The Media Party has even found its own candidate in the shape of Reverend Bell, who, despite his whiter-than-white suit and angst-ridden body language, will soon find out the true meaning of being shot by both sides. The Politicians' Party is completely split on this one. Tatton is too terrifying for them. Blair and his boys could have marched down there and shouted at the Hamiltons themselves, "Yes, you are bloody guilty and you know it". Instead, the Reverend Bell, flanked by hordes of rabid reporters, could only mumble "Absolutely, absolutely" when asked whether he accepted Hamilton's innocence.

Then again, the Media Party has an enormous advantage over the other two parties because it controls all the coverage of the other contenders. It prides itself on performing a valuable service that everyone is grateful for. It also believes that it can increase its power over the course of this election. That's why it can indulge in its various "media watches", in a cynical deconstruction of its own raison d'etre.

The 24-hour-a-day party- political broadcast for the Media Party may be on a permanent loop but the system is getting badly overloaded. The result is a massive desensitisation that finally gives the poor old Voters' Party a chance to breathe. Through fear of the Media Party, the Politicians' Party has been in closedown mode for some time. The Media Party insists that it wants to open up, debate the issues, but it did a deal so long ago with the Politicians' Party that only a narrow range of issues can be repetitively analysed over and over again. Occasionally tiny parties such as the Church get a look in by bleating on about inequality and everyone looks on in astonishment. Who on earth do they represent?

However, both the Politicians' Party and the Media Party know that some hint of spontaneity is required to make this virtual event seem real and so they like to engineer the odd encounter with representatives of the Voters' Party. Everyone is left second guessing the motives of this odd bunch of misfits. Are they not interested because they are stupid? Quite possibly. Or are they not interested because they are in fact quite clever, intuiting in their bones that we are less and less dependent on what goes in Westminster and understanding that the role of the nation state is not what it once was?

For a virtual election dispenses with public meetings - too many yucky members of the public, too lo-tech, too destabilising. The pact between the Media Party and the Politicians' Party is so ingrained that they have convinced each other that nothing else much matters. Thus the election becomes merely a media construct. The election does not exist. The sooner we realise this, the sooner power will drain away from the Media Party and the Politicians' Party and there could even be a real election. Obviously, I could be making this all up, but then isn't that what my job is all about?

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