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A note on populism and Today

The Today listeners chose a populist, "right-wing" law to promote as their own (in a game show involving a tame MP, who would have known better if he'd been older-fashioned).

I'm pleased because it might help Today see that it ought to be elitist, not populist.

Today disingenuously affects to have no partisanship, and yet any broadcaster has to have a bias - the question is: is it transparent and interesting?

Today ought to have a "Reithian" interest in the health of the basic institutions of the nation. It is part of one of them, after all. Its heart ought to lie with the political parties, parliament, the Cabinet, the Courts. These are the antithesis of the populism of polls, readers' e-mails. (And also of the campaigning NGOs, who are much more parasitic than supposed.)

These solid institutions are the vehicle - the machinery - which members of parliament are mandated to work with. They are also to a large extent the fabric of our society. They are the means by which the mass choose an elite to spare themselves the mistakes of mob-rule.

A complicated readjustment is taking place, it's true. All our institutions are facing quite traumatic change.

And it is also easy to see why Today and parliament are at loggerheads: they both seek to be the venue of the nation's debate. Both want to be the main Government conduit (especially with a Government which temporarily has little need of schmoozing parliament). Indeed, perhaps it is the dependency of Today on politicians which dictates a "bite-the-hand" tendency.

Today probably also believes it is part of a new openness in government. But accountability would better flow through institutions mandated by formally democratic channels. Today often feels as though it is trying to finesse that - to make "power" directly accountable to "the people", with NGOs as its whippers-in.

The mind-set of Today is to massively overstate the role of the interrogatory media. That's to say: it implies with every breath that it is only Today which keeps the process honest. Actually, British institutions have been staggeringly honest for centuries. (Indeed, the "Spin Culture" is the first serious intrusion of untruthfulness into the scene, and it arises as a response to the media.)

A proper re-orientation would make "the blame culture", the NGOs, and all the other institution-bashers the proper natural targets of Today.

This would be awkward for the casually liberal dissidents who queue up to be journalists.

Of course, journalists have to apply scepticism to all-comers. But how interesting it would be if Today could realise - could actually feel - that is was good news when the Western allies, and their armies and courts and history and instincts, their prejudices - turn out to be right, and when casually-oppositional and dissident NGOs and professional iconoclasts and nay-sayers turn out to be wrong.


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