Showdown in the air between elected politicians and the media

BBC NEWS | Politics | Guardian ‘could support Lib Dems’

So, the Guardian could support the Liberal-Democrats. The Guardian! Actually, I always had the impression that the Guardian tried not to sell its soul to any party. Never mind. This of course follows the (to newish Labour) rather more alarming prospect of the Express switching back to the Tories. BBC NEWS | Politics | Express switches after Euro shift.

It’s a well-known – or at least, frequently asserted – fact that it was the Sun (and friends) wot won it for New Labour in 1997 and 2001. In 1997 The Guardian, The Mirror, the Sun, the Independent and the Daily Star all supported New Labour. Only The Daily Express, the Telegraph and the Times stood against them. By 2001 both the Times and the Express had climbed into Labour’s bed.

But another perspective is that Labour was going to win in 1997 and 2001 anyway, and the papers were savvy enough to go with the winner.

Which leaves us with the question, how powerful are the media really when it comes to influencing elections? We are still facing the repurcussions of Mohammed Karzai’s media-propelled victory in Afghanistan. Are we really in the same position with the print media in Britain?

Let’s hope not. But perhaps this time we will actually find out.

Why Israel is back on the right track, despite the prevailing mood

BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Knesset votes to back Gaza plan

We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We don’t negotiate with terrorists… In these days of internet MPEG downloads, there has to be a new metaphore for what used to be called a broken record.

Sharon’s opponents – previously his allies – have argued forcibly that to pull out of Gaza would be to give the terrorists what they want. It would prove that Israel was weak. That Israel could be worn down.

The mood of the moment is to be tough on the terrorists. War on terror, as George W has put it.

Haven’t we been paying attention for the last two hundred years? As Buffy the Vampire Slayer put it, ‘Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them in summer school.’

We all recognise that no-one yet has the right answer to terrorism. But we should at least have learned what some of the wrong answers are. In any community that feels itself oppressed, there are a range of opinions. Some people want to make the best of the world they are in. Some want to work to improve the lot of all the oppressed. Some will want to protest peacefully. Some will resort to direct action. Some may resort to terror.

‘Getting tough on terror’ sounds fine in principle, but it usually results in getting tough on the whole population. ‘Surgical’ strikes kill more bystanders than they do terrorists. War on terror solidifies opinion. It pushes the whole population towards resistance, direct action, terror.

‘Getting tough on terrorr’ sounds fine in principle. But it is the wrong answer. And, knowing this, it is time that we realise that we need to peal off moderate elements, encourage them, negotiate with them.

This is a hard thing to do if you have taught your population to believe that they are all terrorists.

Sharon has taken a brave step. His allies – formerly his enemies – have done well to put the past behind to support him.

We can all learn from his example.

Caught between Kerry and Buttiglione?

This week the European Parliament is split over the prospect of Rocco Buttiglione taking on the role of Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security after his remarks about homosexuals and single mothers. Everyone except Buttiglione seems to agree that he should never have said what he did, but the answer to the underlying question is more troublesome. At the same time, theologians are discussing the position of another Roman Catholic who is running for a rather higher office. John Kerry’s position on abortion has caused some scratching of the head in Vatican circles. During the presidential campaign, both Bush and Kerry have pushed their Christian credentials. Meanwhile, in the UK, Tony Blair, a man who has also made a lot of his faith (although he has denied rumours that he is about to become a Roman Catholic), is preparing a new set of gambling laws which have been denounced by many church leaders.

Let me say that I’m not a Roman Catholic. But as a committed Christian, the issues do concern me.

In apologising to European Commission president Barroso, Buttiglione closed by saying: “The only thing I cannot do is to change my principles against my conscience for political convenience.” The Italian press do not share his conviction. Rome’s right wing Il Messaggero said: “It is a mistake to mix religion and politics. Europe does not want to hear about this mixture of State and Church, which is part of our history.”

At the same time, across the wide water, Kerry is under fire for failing to adequately combine his faith with his politics.

In the Spring I took part in a debate with Evan Harris MP on the subject: “Does faith belong in politics?” Evan, a dedicated secularist, of course put forward the case that it does not. I took the opposite view.

It seems to me that the dilemma caused by trying to separate faith from politics is greater than that of trying to combine them. In fact, fundamentally I believe that that dilemma is irresolvable. Separating them means the institutionalising of a kind of hypocrisy – a politician may appeal to his faith when standing for election, but cannot be held to it when making policy. The dilemma is no less resolvable for someone who arrives in public life with a secular philosophy.

Which is a long way from saying that I have much sympathy with Buttiglione.

When I first heard about his remarks I was forcibly reminded of the words of Jesus: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | European press review: “Buttiglione”

Martin Turner is Chair of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum

Apologies all round for the Tories?

In the same week as Boris Johnson’s ill-fated journey to Liverpool, Jonathan Sayeed MP has been forced to apologise to Trevor MacDonald for suggesting that he got where he is because of positive discrimination.

Is apology the flavour of the month? A quick glance at the BBC News headlines tells us: No Harry apology to photographer, Mrs Kerry sorry for Mrs Bush slur, Buttiglione regrets slur on gays, Slapped Nigerian senator forgives, Papers cheered by sorry Boris, Tory apologises to ITN’s Trevor, Church wants gay bishop apology.

In real life, of course, an apology proffered without excuses can do a lot to repair a damaged relationship. But the spate of public apologies – or demands for them – carries with it a whiff of something not altogether wholesome. Are they really apologising for something they now feel bad about, or, ultimately, are they expressing regret for getting caught?

Back to Top