Friday, May 07, 2010

Power, politics and PR

click photo to enlarge
A long time ago I heard Tony Benn, a Labour MP, remark that in politics it should be policies, not personalities, that are important. As the UK's general election campaign has followed its course over the past few weeks that thought has resounded in my head more than once.

The US-style TV "debates" featuring the leaders of the three largest parties have, in my view, been an unmitigated disaster for British politics. They have trivialised it in an entirely predictable way. The news media's headlines after each of the three events were all the same,"Who won last night's debate?" Why any rational, intelligent person should think that a matter of any importance is beyond me. The qualities necessary to make a presentation and to answer questions on TV are not those required by people whose job it is to formulate and implement policies that will take a country forward. There are those who believe that the character of the person leading a country is important. It is, but we are never going to know very much at all about the true character of our leaders. On TV and elsewhere we will only see that which the PR people, "handlers", managers and others show us (gaffes excepted). One would think that the example of Winston Churchill would resonate for the British. He has been variously described by biographers and historians as a drunkard, a mysoginist, a racist and much more. He was excellent with a prepared speech, but would have found a TV debate much more difficult. Yet, for all his failings, he clearly had the personal and political qualities necessary to steer the country in its darkest hour.

It seems to me that too many of the voting and non-voting public come to their decisions on the basis of flim-flam - "it's time for a change", "I don't like what this government has done for the last 5 years", " I like the sound of him". How many, one wonders, have read the election manifestos of the contending parties? How many have compared the policy proposals? How many realise that the best we can ever do is cast our vote for the least worst option! Perhaps my condemnation of these debates is excessive. As I write this piece most of the votes have been counted, and the party of the person widely judged to have done best on TV hasn't improved its standing. Maybe the British public treated them like "The X Factor" except that they didn't flock to the stores and buy the records!

What has any of this to do with my photograph of a London office block? The answer is "power." Looking at the image it reminded me of the cinematic cliche whereby a director wishing to emphasise the powerful, aloof nature of characters in business or politics, has the camera swing upwards to a gleaming, sun-lit office block with a grid of faceless windows. "But", you might be saying, "this block is in shadows". Yes it is, but that reflects my downcast demeanour at the probable outcome of the election. They say that people get the government they deserve. Well, I'm not aware of having done anything so awful that I deserve a government led by an ex-PR man who appears to be a political naif, and so lightweight as to be in danger of floating away in a cloud of his own hot air.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On