Friday, April 24, 2009

MPs and communication - the problem!

A fascinating article by Aeron Davis in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations highlights an important issue at the heart of the British democratic system. His research shows, using the Habermas' latter (1996) conception of the public sphere as a conceptual framework, that "the UK parliament is very much oriented around public sphere ideals in both its institutional formation and the cultural norms and values adopted by politicians" (p. 289). This may seem to be an odd assertion, but this is based on a study of the way the committee system works in terms of deliberation and the inclusion of public and expert opinion as well as the fact that MPs will not only be led by their constituency when seeking issues to focus on but also use the constituency as a bellwether for public opinion. So the question thus is why do the public have such a negative perception of parliamentarians?

The answer is simple, this activity is conducted below the radar of the media and the link between an MPs work, individually or collectively, and that of the executive is at best opaque. So the executive lose these links and instead rely on the bureaucracy and not constituents, while the media focus on the actions of the top players. it reminds me of a comment made to me by an MP I interviewed about his communication strategy "the only way I would get into the papers is if I drop my trousers". Davis thus calls for less power to the executive and a broader focus to discussion of politics by the media; I think many MPs (beyond those he interviewed) would agree wholeheartedly. His discussion links to ongoing critiques of government in the UK as becoming too presidential and personality drive and of the media both feeding that while also focusing on politics as a game played out between the party leaders. A fascinating contribution to debates and one that should perhaps be read by those at the heart of government and who make editorial decisions in the main media organisations.

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