A Hostile Media? 'Twas Ever Thus
Another argument frequently cited in defence of the “progressive” effects of the Internet as opposed to traditional media is that the latter consists of an ageing population which doesn’t use new media and has no idea how to. Apart from being downright insulting (this is being written by a 59-year-old) it’s plainly wrong. Both the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph websites rank among the top 25 visited in the UK. Indeed, at 14th, the Mail is ranked below only the BBC (7th) in UK media and is ahead of sites many people use frequently on a daily basis such as Paypal. The Telegraph is 23rd, behind the leading ‘left’ website, The Guardian, at 17th. The next newspaper website, The Independent, comes in as low as 55th, behind a swathe of banks, online supermarkets and porn sites. The only other newspaper website in the top 100 is The Mirror at 63rd. Neither The Times nor The Sun appear as both are behind pay walls. Again, I doubt whether anyone is subscribing to The Sun in order to read Tom Newton-Dunn – even if they decided to put his column on page three!
There are other aspects of American political life which should be scrutinised carefully not just for indicators of the way ahead but to be wary of potential pitfalls en route. The Labour strategist John McTernan wrote an article shortly after the US Presidential election in 1992 entitled ‘CLINTONISE OR DIE.’ It did not, needless to say, go down well at the time, but McTernan didn’t make his name by being nice to everyone. At that time John Smith was Labour leader, John Major’s Tory government was deeply unpopular, mired in sleaze and – most damaging of all for any government, but especially for a Tory one – demonstrably economically incompetent following black Wednesday when Britain crashed spectacularly out of the ERM, the preparatory framework for the introduction of the Euro. To this day the amount lost to the Treasury remains incalculable but it’s not within the remit of this article to examine it. The point is that with a Smith-led Labour preparing for “one last heave” to avoid a fifth successive election defeat, the concept of Blairism didn’t exist – except in the minds of McTernan and a few others. Within a few years it became New Labour orthodoxy, following the sudden and tragic death of John Smith in 1994.
So what is it that helps the comparative left in the US to success where the UK lags behind, with Blair the only successful Labour leader in over forty years, the one winner of six Labour leaders (Smith never fought an election as leader) in that time? They too need to put together a coalition of many disparate interests, just as we do here, and in many ways, it’s even harder given America’s position as a (the?) global superpower, something a Democratic President must uphold even though it’s not one many of his followers are comfortable with.
But there is a downside to thinking that the continuing existence of the two-party system is the chief reason for American success. For they have problems with registration of voters which makes complaints about the UK system seem minuscule.
But this is also where between elections activism kicks in. The ‘Kosacks’ don’t wait till a month before an election to encourage voters to register. They do it almost perpetually. It is something which they are aware of and try to do something about all the time. It simply doesn’t happen here. We pay lip service then dash around at the last minute trying to get people to register. We should be doing it all the time. Yes, in areas with large transient populations, voter registration will always be a problem but in others less so and here the experience of the Scottish independence referendum is instructive.