All entries for Monday 21 April 2008

April 21, 2008

London, Not The World

Firstly, this is not a dig at recent entries on WB. I know a lot of Warwick students and graduates are Londoners and so are really quite within their rights to talk about the mayoral elections. Hell, it’s good to see they are! This is more a general query about the media’s response to the London mayoral elections.

Firstly London is a fairly major part of the country. It’s got somewhere around 15% of the total population of the United Kingdom, and has most of the big jobs, major institutions and media. But it’s not everything. Not that you’d know from the media, of course. When even my copy of the Free Northern Centre Left Subtle Propaganda Sheet (or the Manchester Evening News as it’s better known) contains more on the bloody London mayoral elections than it does on the council elections in my city*, then I know there’s something going on.

But what is it?

Realistically there’s one of two things going on. Either the media is completely obsessed with London to a degree which is narcissistic and unhelpful, or London really does represent a litmus test and a microcosm of the rest of the nation. Or possibly something between the two. But to take that third option would be a balanced, subtle and nuanced essay, and I’m more in the mood to write a rant.

To be honest ranting about the media’s Londoncentric nature is easy, predictable and has been done before. But can a convincing case be made for London being a litmus test for the rest of the country? On the surface it must be possible. Die hard Tory and Labour areas must exist side-by-side, like the virtually Tory free zone of Manchester (which I think has a single Conservative councillor, a recent defector) and the “no commies here” stretches of Cheshire where voting Lib Dem will still have some locals wondering if you’re a spy from Moscow. I can think of Kensington for the Cheshire set (with nearly as many oversized off road vehicles… in Cheshire) and the multicultural working class/lower middle class areas for the Manchester/Liverpool comparisons. Except obviously the north has more European Cups.

But does the comparison really bare out? Can you use a London mayoral election, a very much personality influenced debate, to predict the rest of the country’s political inclinations and thereby justify the stifling amount of coverage? London has no independence movements which instantly makes the likes of the SNP and Plaid Cymru unrepresented. Also there is, as far as a I know, nothing comparable to the madness of Northern Irish politics where a bunch of murderers, a minister stuck in the 1750s yelling “no” at everyone, and some exasperated middle ground occupiers make up the political landscape. Maybe we could combine the Kray twins (not dead in this version), that nutjob with the hooks and the West Ham Utd fan club to recreate it? Or is that unfair on NI?

A lot of concerns of Londoners don’t register outside of the M25. Whilst the denizens fret over whether or not there’ll be some bendy buses or traditional Routemasters taking them places, in a lot of the country the very idea of a bus is laughable. Oyster cards aren’t that exciting a thought when you’re stuck in Northwich town centre because there’s no way to get back to the stupid little village you actually live in and it’s only 10.30pm. Likewise your concerns about the Olympics are a little less concerning to, say, Manchester which put the Commonwealth games together with considerably less fuss, despite having considerably fewer Polish builders to get the job done!

But if the mayoral elections get treated as a sign for the rest of the country by enough people (in the media) does that make them a sign? A self fulfilling prophecy? Does the sheer force of the media’s will make what happens in London matter in Loughborough? Can events in Pimlico be relevant in Plymouth? Does Stratford mirror Stratford… or Stretford… or Stafford?

I don’t think the answer is to ignore London, obviously. But it’s really not the world, it isn’t even most of this country. The media needs to calm down a little and realise some people aren’t even aware of elections in their, non London, locality, before gobbing off about who’s a better choice out of a tired old Bolshy, a preposterous Tory and that Lib Dem who no one will vote for because they don’t understand the voting system.

I wouldn’t expect someone in Ipsrwich to be as upset about the death of Gwyneth Dunwoody MP as many round here were. Maybe I’d expect them read she’d gone and maybe a bit about her life, but not days of articles. Not that she got that. She was MP for Crewe and Nantwich, after all. Neither of those is in London.

*Seriously. I don’t even know who’s running in my ward except that the Tories stand no chance so it’s Lab vs Lib… like everywhere in Manchester.

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