Saturday, 14 September 2013

The politics of trivia and the triumph of gossip


The little frisson of silliness that was a stray tweet from a Newsnight editor about Rachel Reeves reminds us that the trivial is more important than the substantive in politics. As Marbury reminds us:

It's a tiny, trivial thing, a bit of fluff. It should have been brushed off with a joke: a little self-deprecation, or a punchy retort. It should have been forgotten about within 24 hours. But no. Syria burns, the British economy makes its joyless progress, the Royal Mail is privatised. Meanwhile, here is one of the most senior members of the Labour Party's front bench whining on about her hurt feelings on the front page of a national newspaper, four days after this non-event, ensuring that this nothingy story - this story about her, and her magnificently sensitive ego - runs across the weekend. Yes, here is a serious person. Here is a person ready for government.

I didn't see the offending programme. Indeed probably 99% of the British public didn't see the offending programme (and many of those who did will have been half asleep anyway). So why the sensitivity? Or is this a case of using faux offence to get onto the front page of the Guardian, to milk the sensibilities of that sympathetic audience?

All this - much as is the case with opinion polls of councillors asking whether they like their party leader - is simply the dumbing down of politics, continuing its transition from a serious business to something akin to a second rate soap opera. Rather than discussions of the things that matter - war, wealth and health - we get endless dissection of the minutiae of politics, which politician is up, which one down, who said what to whom and what effect something someone said will have on elections, polls or the opinion of party members.

We are treat to 'star' interviewers who are more important than their guests. And who resort of interruption, endless 'when did you stop beating your wife' questions and snide asides rather than doing the real job of the interviewer. This is followed by the intonations of some bloke stood outside Number 10 and who is treated like some shaman or soothsayer - an expert rather than just another journalist. A man who doesn't talk about the issues but in a bizarre post-modern way, of the effect some decision, event or argument might have on how the prime minister (or some other leader) is perceived at some unspecified future election or poll.

We are in the age of the trivial and politicians have figured this out. Hence Rachel reeves being 'oh so upset' about a mildly critical comment from a BBC producer. This is a story in the way that the Labour Party's policies on banking, finance or pig farming simply aren't.

Gossip has triumphed!


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