Saturday, October 04, 2008

What is worse than scum?

By common accord, we are going through the worst economic crisis of a generation. How bad it is no one knows. Opinion is sharply split, some suggesting that the storm will blow over soon, others predicting Armageddon.

That uncertainty itself creates fear and, make no bones about it, people out there in the real world are scared. Whether it is the archetypal little old lady wondering whether her few thousand quid in the building society – aka bank – is safe, to the hundreds of thousands of people, either retired or coming up to retirement wondering whether they still have a pension, they have read the headlines in the newspapers or seen the news on TV. They are not experts – they do not know the ins and outs, and they are scared. Hell, I'm scared.

Anyone with the slenderest grasp of the situation, however, does know that this is an international crisis. Some may know that there is a European dimension to it and that, apart from any national measures taken, much will also depend on action taken by Brussels and the 27 member states.

Therefore, when the prime minister announces that he is going to Paris this weekend for an emergency summit, to meet the president of France in his role as president of the EU and sundry others including the chairman of the ECB, it is important. This is not a little bit of techie detail for the nerds to pour over. By any account, by any measure, it is important.

What is equally important is what these "European leaders" are going to talk about – their agenda, what plans they have, what the timescale of any measures might be and what might be the outcome of the talks. Again, this is not some techie detail – this is stuff that concerns us all. It is stuff which might actually decide whether we still have money in our pockets in a few months time, whether there is food on the table, whether we still have jobs and whether we (those that have them) can pay our mortgages.

Thus, when the prime minister calls a press conference in No 10 on the economic situation, with the chancellor of the exchequer standing beside him, and announces he is going to go to Paris, and tells the media that he intends to put forward his proposals "about how a stability programme can work for each country", you might just have thought that some of the assembled journalists – or even one – might on our behalf be just a little interested in what those proposals were, what the reception might be and sundry other details.

But no! This is our media we are talking about. First off in the questioning was that dreadful Nick Robinson, oozing with self-importance. He launches into a question about Brown's personal relations with Mandelson and why he picked him for a job in the cabinet. Brown answers the question only to get Robinson put a detailed supplementary, on exactly the same issue.

For once you can empathise with Brown. He looks at Robinson and says: "It's incredible how big decisions about the economy are reduced to just a question about one or two personalities …".

But that is what our hacks are reduced to. No longer able to deal with real politics, they immerse themselves in the trivia, the tat and the theatre. They indulge their own obsessions oblivious to the fact that, out there in the real world – without the comfortable salary, the job security and the guaranteed pension – there are people who really desperately want to know what is going on.

You will not get that from Robinson though – nor any of the other mainstream hacks on that day. They only had one thing on their tiny, pathetic little minds, the Mandelson soap opera.

We saw something of this in August when a bunch of political hacks were flown out at great expense to Afghanistan, and then escorted at some risk to the capital Kabul for a press conference with Gordon Brown.

But, wrote BBC hackette Jo Coburn at the time, "if Gordon Brown had thought he would be asked about the future cooperation between the two countries then he was sorely disappointed." She drooled on:

All of us wanted to press him on the future of his leadership. Did he accept his strategy up until now had been wrong? What were his relations like with his foreign secretary, David Miliband, amid tales of political plotting?
Oddly enough, two years previously - almost to the day - I had written a piece about journalists, headed: "The scum that they really are". And scum they really, really were. Only they have got even worse.

What is worse than scum?