So as the dust settles on the seismic shift in politics, congratulations and recriminations are dished out in equal measure. Inevitably names are tossed around for a successor to occupy the vacuum of leadership at the top. But who is in the frame: Neil, Marr, and Paxman? Yes that’s right, the power position of Head Political TV Honcho is now up for grabs after legendary David Dimbleby announced that he is leaving the election stage.
Many young people do not see their own views, concerns and ambitions reflected in the current crop of political faces on TV. In most cases those being interviewed are considerably younger than their interviewers. Young people are also less likely to be registered to vote and less likely to participate at elections than older people. According to the Electoral Commission it’s estimated that only 44% of people aged 18-24 voted in the 2010 general election, compared with 75% of people aged over 55.
It is no surprise to read that almost two thirds of young people have little or no trust in politicians. Three quarters of those surveyed also said political parties didn’t keep promises once they were elected. Almost two thirds of those surveyed (64%) said political parties weren’t interested in things that mattered to young people. What is more worrying perhaps is that most young voters are turning away from the traditional media news of TV and radio and finding their own information via Twitter, Facebook and some of the campaigning websites such as 38 Degrees.
After a wholesale clear-out of party leaders, Miliband, Clegg and Farage, can we really face the next five years with the white, middle-class, privately educated males as the bland interchangeable faces of politics ruling the airwaves? Viewers labelled the BBC’s coverage “dreadful”, “amateurish” and “ponderous guff”, while praising Sky News for being “clearer” and “much better”. The BBC’s was an over the top Dr. Strangelove approach.
Despite a decisive win by David Cameron’s Conservatives (predicted by my alter ego ToryBoy The Movie), the big question remains of how to engage young people. With politics occupying more TV hours than ever, we are stuck in the musical chairs routine with the knackered out presenting styles of:
Andrew Neil the bullish Scot and his rotation of the same comfortable Daily Politics contributors. He nods to the “yoof” contingent with frequent Owen Jones appearances. That left wing jack-in-the-box cum union lobbyist has become the unofficial Labour spokesperson on socialist whining, much to Labour HQ’s consternation.
Or perhaps Andrew Marr the bullish Scot and his rotation of the same comfortable Sunday Politics contributors…..not to mention his hypocritical super-injunction stance of allowing his programme to berate celebrities and football stars for engaging in this form of legal gag whilst hiding his own under his argyle jumper.
Or Jeremy Paxman who put noses out of joint at Channel Four News when he was parachuted into the election debates, then acted like a bully at the private school tuck shop in his slouched “I don’t give a sh*t” style which was more to do with his preening and coiffured hair than the issues at hand. Why not just dust down his old Spitting Image puppet instead?
BBC3 and Channel Four did try to create more youth-friendly zones this time round but this in itself creates a larger problem in terms of viewers’ perceptions. There should not be segregation within politics, but an integration of younger interests in the main programmes and scheduling throughout the year. To take the current commissioning process to its logical conclusion, would you have separate programmes for women’s issues or those on gender and race? The body politic operates as one large and cumbersome self: to try to sub-divide it makes the process of bringing the audience together almost impossible.
Whilst it is true that the online world is where most young people engage with politics, it can be tricky territory for party leaders, as Ed Miliband found to his cost when he cosied up to Russell Brand for a late-night chin wag in his flat. It doesn’t have to be like this. Many young people’s views will not be challenged by the content they find online as they will often seek out views that align with their own and the big set pieces of PMQs and party conference don’t get a look in.
When there is a big news event such as a Royal Wedding, sports event or even the general election results, television remains the first point of access for the population at large. A mistake made by many focus groups when questioning the viewing habits of young people was the assumption that the switch to online was at the expense of terrestrial media. In fact a more detailed look at the analysis showed that many young people are multi-viewing, with TV on in the background, whilst they surf the web and chat online or comment about their viewing experience.
So what’s the alternative if the big broadcasters refuse to allow politics that engages a younger audience onto the airwaves? When my film ToryBoy The Movie went back into cinemas last month it played mostly to a 18 to 30 year-old audience. They queued and paid their money to get a slice of investigative, authored politics that television seems unable to provide.
Dan Snow’s unique approach was Unelection. A live, independent, crowdsourced election night coverage that gave a new perspective. Dan’s natural and personable approach made the case for a credible alternative to the weekday lunchtime and Sunday morning Prozac approach. Try watching any of the current TV interviews with the big beasts of Westminster with the volume down and you can still follow the argument, you can even add your own voices. I have to declare an interest as I appeared with Dan on his programme Unelection.
Under the terms of the BBC Agreement, the BBC Trust is required to “conduct reviews of BBC services once every five years and whenever the Trust considers that the public interest demands it”. Maybe now might be a good time? We cannot allow the next scramble for young viewers of television politics to be on the eve of the next election in May 2020.
With a combined aged of 185 years for Messrs Neil, Marr and Paxman this is not a promising start to the next five years of coverage. Can we now have another triple resignation please?
I quite enjoyed the last ones.