The Sketch: He is right that cynicism has infected public life - but wrong about where the blame for this lies

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The Independent Online

I've edited this for space, but there in the Reuters lecture theatre the Prime Minister described the assembled media to themselves as feral, cynical, over-excited, mob-minded harlots. We all agreed with him. At least, the cynical, mob-minded parts of us did. But you see, he'd said it so politely that no one minded. And in fact, he edited out the word "harlots" from Stanley Baldwin's famous quote.

He's so fastidious. He even avoided splitting infinitives: "a disaster from which they have yet to recover" he said, careful not to conclude with a preposition.

It's true he also singled out this newspaper as a metaphor for modern journalism, calling it "well-edited" and "lively" and "avowedly a viewspaper not merely a newspaper". Perhaps the ad agency can use it: "The Independent. Not merely a newspaper - Tony Blair". But the Sketch is not to be flattered into acquiescence.

There were quite a number of questionable assertions in his argument. This cynicism, for instance, where does that come from? The media? Or from politicians themselves? Fiddled statistics, waste, partisan abuse, mutual blame, twisting of facts and quotes, deceptions, disasters and dishonesties. That's what they say about each other in any representative day in Parliament.

And why is Parliament not considered more important, he asked. His answer: because of "the way it is reported. Or not reported". There are many reasons why Parliament is not considered more important, but reporting is not one of them. If he were right, the Parliament channel would attract more viewers than the 68 misfits and obsessives who tune in to it.

For 90 per cent of the time they are open for business, the debating chambers of the Commons are 90 per cent empty. MPs aren't interested in what goes on in Parliament; isn't that more significant than how the media present it? And why are they not interested? Maybe it's the junk legislation that fills the days and nights in the House. So many laws pass through like sewage through the system in order to "send a message" to society (a novel interpretation of what laws are).

Then again, British law comes as much from Brussels as from Westminster.

Very little of it appears in public, almost none of it gets voted on in any meaningful way. The technicalities and complexities are such that they insulate the political class from contact with the world below. It's just not possible to keep up.

But reporters and MPs alike are interested in Parliament when something happens there. Alas, the proceedings are so heavily whipped, so guillotined, so stacked one way or the other that very little of interest ever looks like happening. We know that they know that power is the exciting thing. Power is only apparent when it is challenged. MPs rarely have that power.

And when they are given a chance to vote power to themselves (in the matter of select committee chairs and composition) the snivelling wretches vote against it! If I may permit myself one cynical suggestion: all this is going to get worse, much worse, and is very unlikely ever to get better.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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