The change in the way we consume our news has lead inexorably to a political fatigue that challenges politicans, says MP Simon Hoare
In a few short weeks I shall be serving under my fourth Prime Minister in seven years. Of itself, that is quite a statement. Political stability has been something of a hallmark of the UK over the years. A steady-as-she-goes approach.
This got me wondering whether or not this is an exceptional period that proves the rule or a new set of rules which will govern and shape politics.
Of course, there have been two seismic changes in the UK. The 2016 EU Referendum was momentous by any definition. It would change how politics was done, alter business models and challenge personal political affiliations across the country (see Red Wall election results of 2019 as firsthand proof). No sooner was that general election over, my party returned with an incredibly commanding majority and normal service resumed, than Covid hoved into view with all of the health and economic impacts that we know so well. As a result of both of these, and other events, I cannot think of a time when politics has been less sure of itself and when the electorate has been in such a state of fluidity when it comes to its thinking. These twin challenges will continue for a while yet.
Newspapers aren’t news
As well as the (hopefully) one-off events mentioned above, there are other major influences on politics; one in particular which has permanently changed us. Not that long ago we sourced our news and information from newspapers, radio and TV. The news was broadcast at around 1pm, 6pm and 10pm. The Today Programme and Newsnight bookended the daily news menu. Not so now. Newspapers aren’t news any more – they are commentary pages on what happened yesterday, trying to add interpretative value to stuff you already know.
And how do you know it? A 24-hour news cycle and social media feeding us with an unremitting stream of news and views as and when it happens – now rather than yesterday’s news. So hungry for talking heads has this news-hydra become that almost anyone can become an expert. Virtually everyone has the potential to secure Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. Twitter, Facebook and others provide a hugely important outlet for commentary. Just reflect on how many times a day the BBC and others will read out or have on screen the Tweet of a politician or opinion former. I still remain slightly staggered when, on a few occasions, I see a Tweet I posted on an issue flash up on the TV screen. And social media is having an effect on how politics is done. It is a rolling opinion poll – one wrong word and the pack are on you. One poor interview and you’re social media fair game for a cycle or two. And then of course we have to overlay the pernicious ‘fake news’ or ‘biased media’ narrative of the shameless populists and their acolytes.
‘I don’t know who to believe any more’ is an increasing refrain. The challenge for politicians of all stripes is to answer that challenge – to be serious in our endeavours, respectful of each other and honest with the country. If this is achieved then we can, I believe, deliver the political stability of which I spoke at the top of this column, notwithstanding the impact of major events and the ever-growing demands for news, comment and opinion. I think there is an element of political fatigue across the country – serious government for serious times will restore our energy levels.