Strange 'political' sources at The Times

By Jonathan Bartley
February 27, 2010

There have been some very sweeping and unattributed political claims reported by lovely Ruth Gledhill recently. She of course needs to protect her sources, although it is not clear why they wouldn't want to be identified. But it would be interesting to know where these sources are coming from, because whoever they are, they don’t seem to know what they are talking about.

For example just three days ago an article about the Archbishop of York she reports: “The consensus among 'people who know' seems to be that it is pretty much all over for Gordon Brown”. Whoever these “people who know” are, they clearly aren’t pollsters, and probably aren't very politically aware. The don't seem to "know" very accurately. They certainly don’t seem to have registered Labour’s steady poll progress over the last few weeks to within five points of the Tories.

Then today, she reports in an otherwise very informative article about the Catholic Church’s plans for the election: “Senior sources in politics and the Church believe that the Catholic vote could be pivotal to the outcome of the election.” Again, who are these 'senior' people? They should probably be demoted.

A very informative survey recently by the ‘public theology thinktank’ Theos (which doesn’t seem to do much theology, but the opinion polls they commission are always very interesting) revealed that actually religious voters don’t really behave very differently to others.

When I started work in the House of Commons in the early Ninetees, most political people didn't take the churches very seriously. Steve Chalke's Faithworks campaign amongst others, has since done a lot to bring religious people to the attention of policy makers, which has been important work.

The churches are for their part, now very keen to emphasise their 'importance', at a time when they are often feeling marginalised. They would like to think they might sway an election. However, it would be a huge mistake for the churches to get a puffed up idea of their own import. And by making wild generalisations and setting themselves up as political commentators 'in the know' they rather leave themselves exposed to charges of naivety, from which they have in the past, greatly suffered.

[Update 9.10am Sunday 28 Feb. The Sunday Times has come out this morning with a new poll suggesting a possible Labour win, and just two points behind the Tories. I have tweeted Ruth to ask if her "sources" still stand by their belief that it is "all over for Gordon". The BBC Radio 4 Sunday Programme this morning also seemed to have been successfully spun the line that the religious vote is crucial at this election, despite the fact the evidence just doesn't bear this out. ]

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