Monday 1 December 2008

The Mark Oaten Problem

I have frequently suggested that our so-called democracy is often manipulated deliberately by the press.
I have suggested that events by the Falklands War were deliberately used to ensure that an unknown party did not win a UK election.

What I think is pretty shocking is the way in more recent history, the outcome of elections has been scandalously manipulated by the Media. And people are so used to it, they're blind to it.
It really is like the bit in 1984 where the speaker is denouncing Eurasia and during his speech gets a message, then immediately starts denouncing Eastasia.

And what we have seen over the last few years- last two decades actually, is a pretty unpleasant phenomenon.

Now, the fact is, I never really took this seriously at one time. But I first became aware of the way the Media operates some years ago.
Before the 1997 election, when I was quite political active, in fact I was a fairly Thatcherite Vice-Chairman of the Aberystwyth Conservative Students, I happened to be sitting next to a journalist at a dinner. No one major, he worked for a paper based in York.
I said I expected the Tories to lose, but was hoping that Michael Portillo would be the new leader after Major had departed.
He smiled and told me it wouldn't happen. Because the press knew things about Portillo.
In other words, there was some story the press had. And were saving. They'd only publish it right in the middle of a leadership contest, basically.
Because the press wouldn't want Portillo to become Conservative party leader.

At the time I pondered what the story could be.
Of course, we all found out. Because Portillo- fair play to him- beat the press. When he returned to politics after losing his Southgate constituency, when he went to seek election for the most stodgy constituency in the UK, Kensington and Chelsea, he came out with it.
He had experimented with gay sex in his youth.

And it changed a lot of things. Because everyone said 'So? No big deal.'
And it changed the Tory party.
People forget, up till then, being gay and being a Tory MP didn't happen. Or it did, but very, very quietly.

Portillo has always been one of those politicians who has never lost my respect. I have a sneaking suspicion he and I could have sensible discussions on most topics. All the time I was a Conservative party member (up until 2003), I considered myself a 'Portillista'.

He beat the press. As far as anyone can.
But he had the stature to.

Nevertheless, it's only the tip of the iceberg of something very worrying.

One of the main things that brought down the Major government was the 'Back to Basics' saga.
In a sense, the government was hoisted by it's own petard, but in fact, that is less true than first meets the eye.
The Media portrayed the slogan as referring to returning to some kind of wholesome, Victorian, family values morality- which I suppose was part of it- but I think in practice Major was referring to returning to older British values generally. It was a load of crap of course, but that doesn't mean it wasn't deliberately misrepresented by a Media who had decided Major must go.

I don't think for one moment that the incidence of Tory MPs cheating on their wives with researchers, going to gay clubs, being caught with oranges in their mouths wearing tights went up dramatically during this period. Or that they were statistically more likely to be up to these things than members of any other political party. But with 'Back to Basics' as the backdrop, any story about sex and Tory Ministers/MPs made good news. It made a laughing stock of the Tories.

And the message was 'Do you trust these idiots to run you? They're buggering up the country and all they come up with is, life will be better if we stop shagging so much, and they can't keep to it themselves!'

I notice many Tory bloggers accuse the Media of being biased towards Labour now.

They WERE, yes.

But a usual sure sign of who the Media want to win, is whose scandals do they publicise.
Don't tell me that NO ONE in ANY party was up to anything lurid in Blair's first term.
And don't tell me that Labour ministers only started sleeping around after the war in Iraq.
And that now, for some reason, all Tory MPs are choirboys.
It ain't so.

But a startling proof of the Media intervening to ensure the outcome of the next election, happened in 2006.

In 2006, the political landscape was interesting. It looked like something very unusual was going to happen at the next election.
The Tories now had a leader adopting a more centrist position.

It already then seemed certain that Labour couldn't win next time.

But the Liberal Democrats under Kennedy seemed to be going from strength to strength.

The most likely outcome of the next election really did seem to be a hung parliament. With either Labour OR the Tories able to form a government, depending on going into coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

Uncharted territory. Especially bearing in mind what was happening in the Liberal Democrats.
A lot of people don't get what happened in 2006.
Quite why Charles Kennedy was pushed as Liberal Democrat leader.

The reason was, the Liberal Democrats were changing. Market Liberals were in the ascendant. Old school, Adam Smith, Free Trade liberals. The type of Liberal Churchill used to be, in his Liberal days. And they could see the chance to hold offices of State.
And they knew that the answer wasn't by going into coalition with a government that has just lost it's majority.
They knew that the party needed to be led by somebody who fought the next election, being prepared to bring the Liberal Democrats into a coalition with the Tories afterwards.
And Kennedy had ruled against ever working with the Tories.

Kennedy's drinking habits were a mere excuse; it was a coup by market liberals to get a leader who would do business with the Tories. A leader who would work with the Tories against the common enemy and bring about a coalition government containing the first ever Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers.

And those observers who could see what was happening thought as soon as Mark Oaten stepped forward 'It'll be Oaten. The man is going to be Foreign secretary in 2010. In a Cameron-Oaten government'.
The other one to come forward was Simon Hughes, representing the social liberals. However, Hughes has never been an idiot. More of a pragmatist than Kennedy, it was quite possible to see him accepting office in a coalition with Cameron.

The result of the next election looked guaranteed.


Within a week, two stories had come out.
One involved Mark Oaten and a rent boy.

The other involved Hughes and a gay lover back in the eighties. That wasn't so bad, except it was in the context of the fact he won his seat in the first place because his opponent was the gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell. And now it was alleged his supporters had smeared Tatchell to win Hughes the seat by making sexuality the issue, when in fact Hughes himself had a gay lover all along! What a hypocrite!

Both candidates pulled out.

And the Lib Dems ended up with the useless Sir Menzies Campbell. Who ruled out ever working with the Tories.
Who presided over the decline of his party to be just the third party of British politics. A minor irrelevance that only interests people when they really can't find ANYTHING good about EITHER of the other two.

Cameron will win the next election, and have a solid majority. I'm sure of that. But I'd have preferred a coalition, that's for sure. I actually think a Tory/Liberal Democrat government would have been quite liberal in it's agenda, perhaps the most GENUINELY liberal government we'd have seen in recent years. Precisely BECAUSE it was composed of two parties who had to compromise with eachother.

But clearly the people that control the Media- and ultimately therefore decides who govern us- weren't keen on the idea.
The Media decided that they wanted one or other of the two traditional parties running the show, and since the red lot were hated now, it had to be the blue lot. The yellow lot were a bit unpredictable. If they don't have to be brought into the picture, no need to bring them in.

Myself, I found the whole thing pretty shocking. It simply confirmed for me that the Media really do sit on these stories for years, bringing them out only when it suits them.
They only show us our politicians are human beings at the exact moment that it hurts them most to be human.
I'm sure Tony Blair wasn't a Messiah in 1994 and only became a dickhead after declaring war on Iraq.

It could be that right now a journalist is showing his editor close up photos of David Cameron in bed with Sol Campbell.
And his editor is locking those pictures away.
Till the day it is decided in a smoke filled room somewhere that Cameron's government has to go- time to make that nice David Milliband the man of tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Hmm... interesting points raised there. It's not really surprising that stories are sat on until they're useful. It's kind of like how propaganda works, except slightly more subtle. I have a vague memory of a quote by Napoleon, and how control over newspapers was more powerful than an army... or something along the lines of that.

The manipulation of the press probably occurs in every country. Chinese students (mostly long term exchange students), had a protest against the portrayal of the Chinese government and their treatment of the Tibetan people by the Australian media. When the point was raised that the Chinese media is heavily manipulated, the students responded that at least they were aware of it, unlike Australians living in a so called democracy.

I don't think we're completely blind here. I don't know what it's like in the UK, but at school, we were taught about how the media is used to manipulate the truth. I think that's probably the only useful thing I learnt from English this year =]

Anonymous said...

Crushed, You present this like it is some sort of sinister grand conspiracy, with the ”establishment” illuminati pulling our strings at the perfect moment to keep the new liberal consensus forming.

I figure you may be right the other parties hang on to juicy stuff to trot out when the time is right and release it to the press.

A bit like my brothers and I, when we were kids we used to keep the lid on useful titbits concerning minor misdemeanours. Sort of knowing where the bodies are buried leverage, balanced against mutual assured destruction. Kid brothers don’t always think things through so good. We had some MAD every now again ^_^

I guess the press also hang onto stuff too, but not as part of a conspiracy. Just because the value and usefulness of info changes.

It can go from “So What?” to “Holy S#%t!”, depending on the circumstances. Also If they just trot out stuff about an MP dabbling in his youth then they would probably be criticised and maybe sued unless they can make a case for it being in the public interest. If the person might be a party leader then they can get much better sales with less risk.

I bet it is more to do with that.

Hey, the truth is out there… just watch that tendency to want to believe ^_^

Anonymous said...

The media has alot of power, and they know it, but it doesn't always mean they win I think. and like you pointed out, individuals can overcome it at times.

Anonymous said...

How can you suggest that the media would manipulate the truth in order to engineer public perception!

That's like suggesting that politicians manipulate perception in order to protect their careers.

Or that churches manipulate perception in order to control communities.

Or that corporations manipulate perception in order to make more money.

Or that people manipulate perception in order to doctor their reputations.

What are you suggesting? That we live in a society mired in illusions!

Oh, I forgot. That's me.

Anonymous said...

Akai- Pretty much, yes.
You should read 'House of Cards' by Michael Dobbs. It's a novel, but written by a political insider.

That's a good point you make about the difference between China and Australia, yes.
Australia, like us pretends to be free of such manipulation, so I guess the point being made was that such a claim is hollow.

Moggs- Not an Illuminati, more vested interests full stop.
Government is largely a compromise between the interests of the corporations.

Yes, I think me and my brother did that.
Though to be fair, we were utter shits to eachother.

I suppose, yes, selling papers plays a role. But I also think newspapers, like all Media, has an agenda. They same people who payfor the adverts that appear between News Bulletins, fund the parties.

It's really just a ganme of mass manipulation by those in control of the means of production and distribution.

Fusion- They can, in the sense they can redeem themselves as individuals.
But ultimately, they're pretty much all tools and pawns.

FWG- Pretty much, yes :)

But I think the truth is there, for those who choose to see it.

Anonymous said...

Crushed, I still figure it's mostly just random stuff mixed up with individual agendas, you don't need a conspiracy.

Like with the Princess Diana crash. Shit just happens, you know? I know we like to think we are important, especially people like Fayed. "Can't just be random.. Right?" they think.

We look for patterns, that's how we think, and it often pays dividends.

But sometimes we see patterns in clouds, or snow in trees, that our heads just put together out of nothing.