Thursday, November 07, 2013

Clegg Attacks 'Sneering' Paxman

Nick Clegg often seems to be the whipping boy of British politics.  Leader of the junior coalition partner, no powerful press or media to support him or his party, lambasted on all sides because he can't deliver a full Lib Dem manifesto list.  You do wonder what he could do to achieve any sort of positive press, and I remain impressed at the man's ability to simply keep going.  His latest comments on his LBC radio show are meanwhile unlikely to endear him to one powerful media presence.  He decided to take aim at none other than Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman, the Grand Inquisitor of British politics.

Paxman recently soft-balled Russell Brand in an interview and subsequently went on to echo Brand's comments about being disengaged from politics and not voting in an election.  It is easy to understand Mr. Paxman's frustration with many of the politicians he interviews - and much of it provides very good political theatre - but it seems somehow out of kilter for him to give frankly parasitical millionaire celebs an easy ride while skewering those poor politicos who do at least bother to put their head above the parapet and engage in public service.  This was also the crux of Clegg's comments today, and to be honest, I think he had it right.  Clegg observed that our politicians are far from perfect - well, they're human for a start - but that it was possible for people who opposed them to get their hands dirty and become involved themselves.  The problem with the Paxman/Brand view of politics - delivered from the lofty eyries of well rewarded celebrities who have eschewed responsibility themselves - is that it is contributing to an unhealthy anti-politics ethos in our society.

We have managed to create such a toxic atmosphere towards politicians that the very process has become one which it is almost preferable to steer clear of.  This is hardly going to contribute to the well-being of  a democratic state.  Politics is about the way we live and the good life we seek.  It is about achieving the sort of society that somehow reflects the positive aspirations of its citizens, and in a democratic country it is a collective endeavour.  We get the politicians we deserve and we get the society we work for.  If we disengage from the political process and merely stand on the sidelines casting brickbats, then we have no business complaining about the state to which politics has descended.  There is also something amiss in a polity which rewards the commentators and interviewers so healthily, they who have abjured the unpleasant business of getting their own hands dirty, whilst insisting that the public servants we elect to do the job of governing and legislating  on our behalf should be worth so much less.

A vibrant, informed interrogation of politicians is an essential part of keeping a democracy healthy.  But so too is a positive attitude towards involvement in the political process, and somehow, somewhere, our pampered media elite have simply abdicated a responsibility on that one.  The much abused Mr. Clegg was right to make the sharp comments he did.  Perhaps Jeremy Paxman would care, next time he interviews him, to offer the same forbearance he gave to Mr. Brand?



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