Monday, May 07, 2012

Broadcasters need to play fair on mayoral elections

One encouraging aspect of Thursday's elections was the widespread rejection of the mayoral system of local government.

Enthusiasm for that system is a hangover from Blairite heyday, when supporters of debate and discussion just did not get it and Richard Branson was expected to become the first elected mayor of London. The fact that David Cameron still shares that enthusiasm reminds us how much he has modelled his act on Tony Blair's and makes us suspect that, deep down, he is equally shallow.

But the mayoral system is here to stay, in London and a few other cities. And that means the broadcasters have to come to terms with it.

In the recent London campaign, the broadcasters decided that there were four significant candidates: Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, Brian Paddick and Jenny Jones. Sure enough, they finished in the first four places in the voting - though, sadly, not in that order.

You could take this as confirmation of the broadcasters' good judgement, but the danger is that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Had Siobhan Benita, for instance, been granted equal airtime with the big four it is quite possible that she would have finished third. And the sort of people who work for the BBC are likely to feel warmer about the Greens than they do about UKIP, whatever the parties' objective prospects in a particular contest.

Mayoral politics has for me an irredeemable anti-democratic taint - the desire for a strong leader who will get things done without wasting time on talk. But I presume that one of the reasons its supporters like the system is because it bypasses political parties and allows new figures to break through.

For that to happen, those new figures need to be treated on a more equitable basis. And in an increasingly multi-party system the broadcasters must stop trying to pick winners and leave that to the electorate.

The rule must be equal airtime for all mayoral candidates.


Simon Titley said...

"Had Siobhan Benita... been granted equal airtime with the big four, it is quite possible that she would have finished third."

Really? Greater exposure can work both ways.

Had Siobhan Benita been granted equal airtime, more people would have discovered that, far from being a political outsider, she was in fact a senior civil servant and therefore part of the permanent governing class.

Mark said...

Logically extending your argument would give equal airtime to the BNP, Monster Raving Loony Party, plus any other fringe nutcase who has a few grand to burn and wants (considerably more than) 15 minutes of fame.