POLITICS isn’t supposed to be this interesting (Can May cling on?, The National, November 10). Political speculation is fun. Not least because pretty much anybody gets to be an “expert”. Even David Torrance gets to put on his best sage and solemn countenance and have a wee rake about in the goat’s entrails. I rest my case.

The reality, of course, is that none of them has any special insight. As is clear, none of them has any more of a clue about what’s going on than any of the rest of us.

When asked what politicians most feared, Harold Macmillan is supposed to have replied, “Events, dear boy! Events!”. This certainly seems to be the assumption behind most of the speculation around the likelihood, or otherwise, of Theresa May being evicted from No 10. This event makes it more likely that she will be ousted. That event makes it less likely. Betimes, the same event makes May’s departure from office both more and less likely depending on which expert is asked.

From the perspective of the individual politician and party managers, events surely are the most important thing. They must handle situations as they arise. A case of financial misconduct here. An instance of sexual impropriety there. Gaffes, rebellions and back-stabbings. All the events which, at a certain frequency and amplitude, make politics so much more interesting than it ought to be.

But are events the appropriate feed-stock of speculation? Or “analysis” as its practitioners would doubtless prefer to call it. The very fact that the same events can be weighted so differently suggests that they are not at all reliable indicators. Politics is surely better understood in terms of the sweeping historical processes on which human affairs are carried along like a great game of Poohsticks.

So why are our “experts” so focused on events? Why so little interest in those processes? I’d suggest it’s because that’s the way we’ve all been conditioned by the mass media. I’m fairly sure there was a time when newspapers and those parts of the broadcast media with a public service remit, acknowledged a duty inform the public. I may be fooling myself, but I seem to recall that journalists would offer competing analyses of political developments that went some way beneath the events floating on the surface.

Maybe it’s just the cynicism that comes with age and experience, but the whole purpose of journalism appears to have changed. Radio, and later TV, would feature lengthy broadcasts consisting of nothing more than people talking, seriously and politely, as they considered the issues of the day in the context of history. The word was king – spoken or printed.

Now, the role of the journalist has been reduced to that of a prospector panning for nuggets of public attention which can be polished and sold to advertisers. The prize is no longer the well-crafted paragraph which illuminate, but the gobbets of tawdry titillation and fleeting sensation which may capture attention long enough for it to be bent to some commercial purpose.

Real politics is boring. The broad, deep, sluggish river of historical process is monotonous to observe and tedious to describe. It only becomes interesting when it breaks its banks. Or when somebody falls in. Even political scandals tend to come along with metronomic regularity. It suits the purposes of both the media and politicians to have us regard politics as a series of discrete events, the meaning and portents of which can then be explained to us, in a suitable dramatic manner, by a priesthood of experts. Therein lies the power to control attention, manipulate perceptions and shape attitudes.
Peter A Bell
via thenational.scot