Every day without fail when I edited the Independent's fine sister newspaper i, a reader would write to tell me that some of the things that we were “obsessing” about simply were not important to the majority of you.
It’s always a tricky one. By definition not all subjects are of equal interest to all readers. Personal taste plays just as much a part in this as geographic and economic context. Seldom has this distinction felt more acute than currently, when the media is so concerned with issues pertaining to the media.
Try as I might, when I talk to readers I can’t get you to engage much in the argument over a proposed royal charter for the press; the huge phone-hacking trial; and the governments spying on other governments “scandal”.
I’m not saying the above don’t matter. It’s just that for many people today, there are other, more basic things to worry about. It’s not just me. A hapless Radio 5 Live interviewer took to the streets of London near the infamous MI6 building at the weekend to try to get the public agitated about spying, but in vain, bar one former east German.
“The economy, stupid” dominates. You might say, that is always the case. However, currently, there is a discernible disconnect between the “authorities” like the Government, the Bank of England and statisticians telling us that things are getting better, and a genuine sense among ordinary people that they really aren’t.
So what are the non-chattering classes talking about? In London, there is the absolutely nightmarish housing situation, where prices in any remotely desirable area, for both buyers and renters, are not only way out of kilter with the rest of the country, but increasingly out of range for all but the wealthiest. It’s absolutely not a subject only for the rich. Meanwhile in the rest of country, in many areas house prices are actually falling.
The other major topic is fuel bills, especially as the first cold spell of autumn begins to bite. I visited a pensioner at the weekend who took me through her survival techniques: a complicated system of layered jumpers, closing off parts of her small house, using cooking as heating, and longer hours in bed. A 10 per cent rise in fuel bills? That’s what she’s talking about. And for pensioners, read workers who are experiencing wage stagnation or freezes.
Job insecurity, zero hours contracts, A&E closures, the fear of interest rate rises, petrol prices, the absolute mess that is our education system and the prospect of fare increases – this is what people are talking about, and that’s what the next general election will really be about, not privacy or scare stories about immigrants or spies.
Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live