We are five weeks away from the UK General Election. That’s right, five weeks.
A shock, given that we have yet to see any real debate or discussion from our future leaders on any of the things that actually matter to people’s lives. Or have we?
I decided to test this hunch. I reviewed the media coverage from the past week to uncover whether the key parties bothered to say anything of real substance and interest on the big issues that matter to the electorate. Or have they just spent the week joshing and jockeying between themselves for kicks. Let’s see shall we.
> So what matters to the electorate?
First, the election issues. According to the latest poll by ComRes/ITV, the big issues people care about are: the NHS, immigration, the economy, and welfare/benefits — in that order. That list broadly matches a BBC/Populus survey from January, which showed that the issues the electorate most want the media to cover are: NHS, the economy, immigration, welfare/benefits/pensions, and jobs and pay. I decided to go with ComRes as it’s more up to date. And shorter.
> How do we know if politicians have said anything substantive on these issues?
A quick and dirty method. I reviewed the front pages of three newspapers — The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Sun — for the week 17 March – 24 March — to see if an announcement had made the headlines. Big thanks to Nick Sutton’s Tomorrow’s Papers Today tumblr…it was surprisingly hard to find an archive of front pages.
To be honest, I didn’t have time to review articles beyond the front page, but I figured that if the party/politician is announcing something of real substance, it should make it onto the front page. (Admittedly, there are many arguments that challenge this assumption. Having been a government press officer for a time I know first hand just how much news from government totally fails to get media pick-up. But that’s another blog.)
Anyway. To get a bit more 24/7 coverage in the sample and to make up for my front page bias, I also reviewed the Facebook feeds for C4 News, ITV News and BBC News for the same period. What I was looking for was any policy announcement-led news from any party on any one of these big issues over the past week.
> Here are the results.
Hot issue number 1 – the NHS (number of pieces of coverage: 4)
There was nothing at all from any party on any of these media channels until today. This evening, Channel 4 made a valiant effort to get the parties to say something of interest on healthcare. They invited both the health secretary, Lid Dem Health minister and shadow health minister on the show for a ‘#YourNHS debate’. They served three Facebook posts on the matter over the course of this evening (as well as an earlier post on Cameron being shouted at at an Age UK event.) There was some discussion between the parties on how to meet the £8billion shortfall in the NHS budget by 2020. Few clear differences emerged however, with Jeremy Hunt and Andy Burnham largely agreeing with each other that treating cancer is ‘a good thing’. Thank god.
But aside from that moment on Channel 4 today, a deafening silence from the politicians on the NHS.
Hot issue number two – immigration (number of pieces of coverage: 0)
Nothing at all from the politicians on these chosen media channels all week. The Guardian is however running its own special report on the benefits of immigration, presumably in the absence of anyone else making a cogent argument on the matter. But putting aside this media-led reporting, none of the major parties have tackled immigration in any way this week. Probably this is a good thing – at least it keeps Farage off our screens for a little longer. So let’s not complain too much on this one.
Hot issue numbers three and four, the economy and welfare (number of pieces of coverage: 24)
The budget announcement on Thursday managed to put a big tick in the ‘Economy’ box, and a bit of a pencil mark in the ‘Welfare’ box. Well done George — front page and Facebook news points across all outlets for a pile of measures including cutting income tax rates, ISA benefits, some changes to pension pots and extra funding for mental health services.
Admittedly, this a bit of a cheat, as the budget isn’t strictly a manifesto pledge from a potential new government. But still; I was becoming a bit depressed by they sheer lack of announcements on the issues (without the budget we would have been on zero again). So I’m including it. Policies were announced and plans were made, all on issues that people actually care about, and in a substantial enough way to make it onto all three front pages. The Sun’s effort was particularly entertaining. (It’s worth noting this was the ONLY political story to make The Sun front page all week. Zayn Malik’s hiatus from 1D has been much bigger news in their world.)
And what about all the general leadership / coalition / candidate based shenanigans? (number of pieces of coverage: 14)
Setting aside the coverage on the budget, it’s here that we see the biggest overall volume of front page and FB news across all media outlets. Whether it’s Boris pretending to look flattered that Cameron has named him a potential successor; Salmond boasting about all the power-broking he will be able to do in a Labour-SNP voting bloc; or Cameron finally acquiescing to a 7-way TV debate, these ‘news stories’ made the front page of all but The Sun (of course. see above.), and into the newsfeeds of all three TV stations.
What does this tell us?
Nothing good. But maybe they just haven’t really gotten started yet? Here’s hoping.