The job of policy makers . . . - RSA

The job of policy makers . . .

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I try to avoid political current affairs commentary on my blog - it is not as if there is a shortage of it. But I can't resist commenting on my old Boss's speech about the media.

I think it is brave - partly because he recognises the impact of New Labour's spin machine but more so because any criticism of the media is bound to be met with fury by the media.

I agree with almost everything Tony Blair says, but I think he misses one important point.

He says that the big shifts that have made the relationship with politics worse are to do with the impact on the media of technology and the market, more specifically the emergence of real-time news, the explosion of new TV, radio and internet channels and the consequent fragmentation of the market.

This is true but the problem is not just to do with the media and the political classes, it is also to do with the nature of modern society.

When I went to work in Downing Street, I hoped to find out which of the classic views of the state that I had grown up with would prove to be true.

Would it be the Marxian view that the state in a capitalist society ends up serving the interests of the ruling class, or the new right view that a combination of public choice and producer capture means the state will see every challenge as an opportunity to extend its own size and power?

Or the liberal pluralist view of the state as holding the ring while competing interests in society battle it out for supremacy?

Rarely a day passed without compelling evidence for all three views. And I noticed something else, not just politicians trying to reconcile interests in different groups but also confronting conflicting interests within the same people.

This is nothing new; voters have long expressed a simultaneous preference for lower taxes and better resourced public services. But, as the world has become more complex and as we have become less deferential, the need for us to acknowledge the tensions between our interests and desires has arguably become more acute.

In more and more areas it can feel like people demand incompatible outcomes: cheap flights and action against climate change; affordable housing and protecting every inch of countryside; low inflation and enough service workers but a crack down on immigration; less centralisation of power and guarantees of uniform service standards; tough action against security threats and the extension of human rights.

It is the job of policy makers and politicians to find ways through these dichotomies but this can only be done if citizens are posing problems which they are willing to see solved.

It is in this more challenging context that the destructive relationship described by Blair becomes so much more damaging.

The media help people deny that these are real dilemmas and that their resolution is as much a matter of our own behaviour as it is of the skills of politicians.

Instead the media has become a disorganised conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage.

At a time when new challenges in our world and our lives mean politicians and citizens need a richer relationship than ever before the nature of the modern media help to ensure that it is more impoverished.

This is why a grown up discussion with the media and the development of new, more balanced and discursive online forums is an important part of a pro-social strategy.

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  • You're surely right that voters often demand incompatible outcomes. But should it be the task of politicians alone to solve this problem? Or should it instead be their job to describe properly the costs and benefits of voters' demands, and then devise institutions (eg demand revealing referenda) that allow voters to make an informed choice?
    Think of an analogy with restaurants. It's not the job of a chef to give customers what he thinks is good for them. It's his job to provide an attractive menu, with proper costs attached, which gives customers a choice. And then it's his job to deliver as well as possible what the customers choose .

  • ... but if all they want is 'junk' ...?

    Politicians get the electorate they deserve. They were warned decades ago regards alcohol - now - what an absolute mess in terms of policy and the streets.

    'Customers' need to be capable of making informed choices, to think critically. Everyone is different I realise that, but why does it have to be that we must 'cater' for the lowest denominator especially in the media: TV = 'terminal vacuity'?

    Set the bar higher - the 21st Century demands many forms of literacy: 3Rs, info, visual, political, social, emotional and of course restaurant menus.

    The site and blog introduced below may be of interest Matthew?

    A way to engage the public and politicians!


    Originally created in the UK by Brian E Hodges (Ret.) at Manchester Metropolitan
    University -

    Hodges' Health Career - Care Domains - Model [h2cm]

    - can help map health, social care and OTHER issues, problems and solutions. The model takes a situated and multi-contextual view across four knowledge domains:

    * Interpersonal;
    * Sociological;
    * Empirical;
    * Political.

    Our links pages cover each care (knowledge) domain e.g. INTERPERSONAL:


    Thank you for your time and best wishes with your plans.

    Peter Jones
    Hodges' Health Career - Care Domains - Model
    h2cm: help 2C more - help 2 listen - help 2 care

  • I don't buy newspapers but I often see the headlines in shops, garage forecourts etc. It often amazes me as to why newspaper editors are not more often hauled up in front of the courts for incitement to violence, be that actual violence or more subtly the violence they inculcate into peoples thought patterns. I cringe sometimes at the headlines I read and their blatent and often vicious misuse of language simply to sell a product.

    In that way I agree with you. Much of the media (and I agree not all) seem hell bent on not improving our understanding, our awareness and thus our ability to make informed decisions on important issues but rather to exploit those issues for corporate gain.

  • Your conclusion neatly rounds off your starting proposition that you support Blair's views about the media; "the media has become a disorganised conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage." Rage is also a feature of contemporary life where the democractic process has been eroded, corporatisation of civil governance has become burocratic to a Dickensian degree and intervention through countless reforms and legislation conspire to make the citizen feel impotent. The media may well be charged with encouraging such rage, but might it is also be reflecting the sentiments of the public?

  • Rage and twisted information. You have to wonder if the relationship between 'the media' and the real world can ever be saved. When can news be reported as just that and not distorted and hyped to shock readers into buying papers? I was reminded of this by the nurse at our local clinic. I commented that I had read in the Sunday Times about the 'cons' of taking statins to reduce cholesterol. She said that if I was going to read about medicines I should read the Lancet or some medical journal. She reminded me that a generation of children are not protected against measles, mumps and rubella because of unsubstantiated media hype about the vague possibility of a child being brain damaged as a result of the MMR vaccination.

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