Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I'll begin. Today's story is a special story, because it's all about story-tellers. Yes, Tarquin, that does make it tediously meta, but bear with me for a moment. Now children, when I tell you stories, it's a good thing, because I'm making important life-lessons simple and easily memorable. Lessons like "It's cheaper to outsource" or "Never give in to your wife's whining". Or "If success depends on your keeping your name secret, don't prance around a fire yelling it at the top of your voice, you dozy prat."

But there are some people who tell stories for bad reasons - to make you like them, or to make you not like someone else, or because they're too lazy to do their goddam job properly. Some of these people are called Politicians and some are called Journalists, but for our purposes there's no real difference.

Listen and attend, then, for here is a Story by one Storyteller about the Stories other Storytellers will soon be Telling. Yes, Tarquin, I know and I'm sorry. Here is the story Mr Freedland wants to tell us:

Little Red Ken is fighting Big Blue Boris. Next year, Big Brown Gordon will fight Aquamarine Dave. Little Red Ken is just like Big Brown Gordon, in every way. Big Blue Boris may as well be a facsimile of Aquamarine Dave. So whoever wins tomorrow, his bosom pal and soulmate will win next year. Isn't that a great story? No? Well, why not?

Yes, Tarquin, Ken isn't all that like Gordon. And he did win his first fight all by himself, yes, very good. Against Gordon's buddy, that's right. What's that Guinevere? Ken's been desparately avoiding any links with Gordon and all his friends? That's true, I suppose. What about Boris and Dave? One's a blundering, mumbling one-trick pony and the other's a slick, duplicitous soap and flannel merchant? All right, don't all shout at once children. Anything else? "The idea that Londoners in any way form a microcosm of the UK population, or that London's issues are national issues, or that non-Londoners don't have their own issues, is so moronically simplistic as to be laughable." Well, Tarquin, I rather think you've blown this tedious classroom imagery out of the water with that one, but you've got a point.

The thesis is so untenable, Freedland contradicts himself in the space of three sentences:

Similarly, if the new, modernised Tories can't win in the south-east, in a city with disproportionate numbers of high-income voters, then how can they hope to win the country?
A Ken victory will embolden Labour in its conflict with the Conservatives, to be sure, but it will also have a profound effect on the continuing struggle within the party. For if Livingstone manages to defy a national trend, winning when Labour was losing everywhere else it will tip the scales in what has, until now, been an evenly matched argument.
If Labour is losing everywhere but London, it seems that Conservatives can hope to win hte country fairly easily. So why stretch the facts so much to make this particular story? From a journalistic, if not a civic, point of view, isn't Ken v Boris enough to be going on with? No, because it's over soon. So much better to tie it into a wider narrative about the future of the country and make yourself look visionary. No doubt Freedland is right when he says that Labour politicos want to see Ken win so that they can start telling this story. But that's no excuse for him to tell it too. It's a given that politicians tell stories. But as Charlie Brooker points out, this somewhat toxic practice only works because the media let it. Wouldn't it be great - I mean wouldn't it be fantastic - if rather than telling stories about what next year's stories will be, journalists concentrated on telling us what was actually happening?

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