These results show the absolute importance for politicians to feature in the media, TV in particular, however the fact that the media reaches so many potential voters, and supplies them with the knowledge they need to make their decisions is not always a good thing, as many politicians have found out to their peril, when the media latched on to a negative aspect of a certain politicians life.
Whether it's their private life, or their professional life, every politician is under constant scrutiny by the media, and has to be extremely careful with both in order to avoid public humiliation, and risk losing public confidence for both themselves and for the party that they stand for. However what the media tends to focus on is exactly what the politicians are trying to avoid, because that's what keeps the public interested. Is the negative media justified, and is it doing a good job?
Although the amount of negative press that the government, and specific MPs in general get is noticeably high, the question as to whether they deserve it to be publicized in this way is very relevant. The answer is almost certainly yes, as the people deserve to know the facts about the people who their taxes are paying for, just as the people deserve to know about those who commit crimes, and those who commit benefit fraud in particular, which is another big paper seller.
The media takes the view that if the officials decide to act in this way on the public's money, then the public have the right to know, but this utter bombardment of reports into sex scandals, money for honours, and more recently the abuse of expenses, could be considered to be the main cause of the loss in faith. However, even though the media does exploit politicians on a regular basis, it has to be said that they only print stories which are backed up by facts and figures, and cannot simply make up stories based on rumours, which the American press seems to do quite frequently.
This is mainly down to the legal system, but either way it gives the media a sense of brutal honesty and an air of trust to those who read, listen, or watch what is being said. In this respect, the media is doing a very good job in keeping the people up to date with the day to day behaviour of our governors, as when one politician is singled out for a certain piece of corruption, all the other MPs are usually investigated in more detail in order to bring any other perpetrators out into the open.
An example of this is the very recent events surrounding the actions of Mr Derek Conway, a Conservative MP, who was shamed for allegedly employing his two sons, one of which was at University, despite evidence of any actual work being completed. 4Robert Winnett, Deputy Political Editor of the Telegraph found that since this affair has been brought to light, more than 150 MPs also admitted to employing family on the tax-payers money, and 50 of them have also sacked staff, which indicates that they too may have been employing family without any evidence of any work being carried out.
This subject was one of huge national importance which sparked a lot of criticism by the public over what the government officials are actually doing with our money. 5BBC Radio 4s programme, Today in parliament, researched this further and found that the Standards and Privileges committee has now taken action in order to ensure that the problem of MPs paying staff does not happen again by introducing new guidelines which all MPs will be forced to comply with by August 2008, Sir George Young, the committees chairman, warned of severe consequences if these new rules were not followed.
From this August the names, jobs, and family relationships to the MP must be logged in the register of family interests, in order for any future employment of family. Also any MPs who wish to employ family members must justify why that person is correct for the job by explaining how they are qualified, and how the public costs are reasonable. The chairman stated that these new regulations are an important step to rebuild public confidence in Parliament, as well as the importance of showing those who have lost faith, that the government can listen to and act on issues in a very short space of time.
The sudden change in the way that MPs will have to conduct their business caused an outcry of mixed emotions by many politicians, some of whom tried to oppose the decision, however a voluntary scheme has been almost immediately introduced, coming into effect on the 1st of April 2008, which is certainly a positive step in the right direction, providing the MPs don't think that these plans to monitor and restrict their expenses account isn't just some elaborate April fools prank.
What other issues may affect the loss of faith? Apart from the lack of education about the subject of UK government, and the scandalous behaviour which features so frequently in the media, what other issues can be blamed for the reduction in interest?
Another theory is that the sheer amount of legislation that is passed through parliament each year is not only getting rather tiresome, but is just not working in the way that it should, and it seems that the rushed decisions which are allowed to be pushed through so quickly, mainly because of the 'organic' constitution that we live by, are not always seen to be answers to the very troubles that the government set out to achieve in the first place.
6 Radio 4 interviewed Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons, on Friday the 28th March 2008, after she recently put an idea forward that would try to combat this topic of concern, post legislative scrutiny, suggesting that the department responsible for the legislation in the outset were then appointed to look back at legislation which had been passed three to five years previously, create a memorandum, and to make checks on whether it was working in the was that parliament had intended, checking any negative points about them, and gaining positive results if possible to silence any criticisms that may have been brought to light since the laws had been made operational. She recognises that the public are getting tired of the amount of new laws which don't seem to be working in the way that they should and has designed this plan of action to remedy this. However there were two quite valid points raised in the interview which forced some interesting answers.
The first was that the re-raising the issues of the original cause of concern might spark up the emotions and debate that were prominent when the act was passed, the interviewer used the example of fox-hunting, which was banned in 2003, to which the deputy leader of the labour party responded by assuring that this idea of scrutinising the acts was not to revive the original debate or to discovers whether the act was right or wrong, but to check whether or not it has remedied the issues which it was designed to resolve. The next point that she was questioned about was the ability of the select committees who will have to look at all the old legislations and memorandums produced by the relevant departments, as well as trying to keep up with all the new legislation thrown at them, basically asking whether she thinks that they have time to do everything twice. She once again had a reasonable argument for this question also, stating that the committees will be able to choose which acts they wish to pursue, and if a certain act seems to be working then there is little reason to scrutinize it.
Her proposal seems to be a good solution at first; however when I started to think about the answers that she'd given in more detail I began to wonder. If the scrutinizing of the acts is not with the view to change them, but just to see if they are working or not, then why do it at all? Perhaps she was avoiding the issue with a hasty argument, because it appears ludicrous to waste all that extra time and money to re-examine the bills if no action will be taken to amend them. However I did also consider another theory, that this whole idea is simply another rushed decision by a politician in yet another attempt to win the attention and interest of the public again. This subject also remains to be seen.
How do the negative factors mentioned affect politics? Well the obvious effects seen by these problems are the votes given to each political party when a general election is called, which decides who remains or becomes the executive of the country, and by how many seats, giving an indication of exactly how safe their position is. However a much more worrying problem that these issues affect is the election turnout, which is basically the percentage of the people who have the right to vote that actually use their vote. 7Below is a table created by a parliament department, with some staggering results that illustrate the changes to the voter turnout for general elections from 1945-2005.