Sunday, February 03, 2008

An establishment turning in on itself

It was almost with a sense of panic that, in the small hours of this morning, I trawled through the internet news sources looking for something newsworthy and interesting (not necessarily the same thing) to park on the blog as our overnight story – or "Horlicks" as we have come to call it.

That we ended up with something fairly lame, if marginally interesting, is a measure of how far the European Union has drifted down the media agenda. That alone makes yesterday's Telegraph leader all the more prescient when it remarked that, "There should have been only one story in Parliament this week: the ratification of the European Constitution, now called the Lisbon Treaty."

Yet, scan today's newspapers for all you are worth and the best on offer relating to the EU is a story in The Sunday Times about how Geoff Hoon, the government chief whip, last week carpeted Gisela Stuart, Frank Field and Kate Hoey over their support for the "I Want a Referendum" campaign.

In a week, therefore, that Parliament is going through the motions of giving a huge tranche of power to the European Union, via the Lisbon treaty, the media have completely abandoned their job and instead devoted all their efforts to the MPs' expenses story, milking the Conway affair for all it is worth.

The same goes for media coverage of the rest of Parliamentary activity. Compare and contrast the exceptionally detailed analysis of the MoD's PR failings by Ann Winterton in her Westminster Hall debate last week, with the treatment in the Mail on Sunday today. The one is ignored while the other – basically a non-story – boasts no less than five reporters on the by-line: Simon Walters; Glen Owen; Dennis Rice; Brendon Carlin and Jason Lewis.

That just about tells you everything you need to know about the state of the media, but it also tells you a great deal about the way our once great nation is going.

In an otherwise lacklustre piece, Charles Moore in The Daily Telegraph yesterday noted of Conway that he made his name as a particularly bullying whip when he helped force Tory MPs to vote for the extension of EU authority in the Maastricht treaty in the 1990s. He used his power of the moment, writes Moore, to extinguish his and his colleagues' power in future.

This decline of Parliament's authority, he adds, "also explains much of the bad behaviour: the grabbing of larger offices and allowances, and jobs and bonuses for Rabbit's Friends and Relations, is a sort of compensation for powerlessness. When people really believe in their institution, they do not fuss much about facilities and perks."

For "people", though, read the media, which is devoting extraordinary energy to this issue. But this is also an institution that no longer believes in itself. Unable or unwilling to do its job, reporting on the salient and important issues of the day, it has retreated into trivia, gossip-mongering and tat, turning on the very establishment that sustains it, of which it is still part. In a very graphic sense, we are seeing Saturn devouring its children.

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