A failure of political journalism?

By Bernadette Meaden
January 6, 2016

Last night, (5 January) the Housing and Planning Bill was debated in the House of Commons, though anybody who wasn't personally involved, or relies on broadcast media for their news, could be forgiven for not knowing about it.

In an excellent article in the Guardian yesterday, Aditya Chakrabortty delivered a searing critique of the Bill, which he said 'will harm millions of people, while making one of the gravest crises facing our country even worse.' After correctly predicting that the Bill would get very little media coverage, he concluded,

'This isn’t a serious housing policy. It represents nothing less than a death blow to council housing in central London, and a full-throttle attack on tenants in social housing everywhere. It will hand to big developers tens of billions in taxpayers’ money – for building “affordable” housing that most Britons simply cannot afford. This is ideology at its purest: the thinnest of rhetoric draped around a naked transfer of money and resources from the poor to the rich.'

And yet, in the perhaps the clearest manifestation yet of the Westminster Bubble in action, political journalists spent all day obsessing about Jeremy Corbyn's reshuffle, an event which will have minimal impact on people's lives, whilst ignoring a debate which will have a massive impact on millions of people. Political journalism has never seemed so detached from the real world and the lives of the people who live in it. It is as if the majority of the population is being robbed, and the media has no interest in reporting the crime.

On Twitter the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) issued a cascade of tweets ranging from speculation "Blimey.. a whisper that Benn might be sacked after all", to trivia  "Hot reshuffle news ... Jeremy Corbyn left, and now returned to his office with a takeaway". Meanwhile, not a single mention of the Housing and Planning Bill.

Of course other journalists from other news outlets followed the same pattern. But shouldn't we expect a public service broadcaster that we all fund to give at least equal weight to government policies that will affect all of us, directly or indirectly?

People often say they don't vote, or don't take an interest in politics, because it has nothing to do with their lives. Sadly, yesterday's events in Westminster showed that real politics has everything to do with the most basic details of their lives, but the version of politics presented to us by many political journalists is more akin to celebrity gossip.

This absence of scrutiny and complete lack of challenge to government policy has brought us to a situation where the Prime Minister, who has an estimated family wealth of £30 million, can say (presumably with a straight face) that he is worried about whether his own children will be able to get on to the property ladder. The government is taking us for fools, and so is much of the media.

© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.