OPINION: Superficiality leaves me brassed off

After seven years, this is my last weekly column. It is perhaps as

well. You need a new, less discordant commentator, a columnist more in

tune with - and optimistic about - what I consider to be decadent times.

The function of this column is not to depress you. PR people need

inspiring. So, by way of valediction, I propose to try to do that in a

roundabout way.

The source of my woe is not a Labour government per se. I have not been

a member of any political party since 1967, though I have never hidden

my views since I left the civil service in 1990. There is, indeed,

something to be said for a Labour government that has converted to sound

economics, if that proves to be the case, and for real competition for

the right to govern us. A fairly regular change of governing party makes

for better, more realistic politicians. They regularly discover the

limits of power.

Instead, I am utterly brassed off by the superficiality of life, the

massage mentality, the soundbite syndrome and the avoidance of


The election campaign has been a disgrace - and all the more so for Tony

Blair denouncing the media's dumbing down of debate when he has done,

and wishes to do, nothing to raise it. There is only one end to this:

contempt for our political system, which a low turnout in next week's

election may suggest. Mr Blair seems likely to be re-elected on a wave

of disillusionment compounded by the lack of a convincing


At the heart of this disillusionment is a feeling by voters that serious

issues are not being discussed seriously. In other words, our political

leaders are not facing up to the challenges of our times. Let me list

those ducked: Britain's place in a modern world and its future in (or

out of) Europe; how we cope with a world seeking to migrate to a better

'ole; how best to make Britain more prosperous and how much of the

wealth we create should we retain and give up in tax for public

spending; how can we secure a healthier, better educated and more

law-abiding nation less dependent on public welfare and able to travel

more freely and reliably across it; and, absolutely basic, how should we

provide the energy to power Britain more cleanly.

Some of these issues have not even been mentioned. Instead, slogans and

insults have been chucked around. We've had tawdry PR campaigns winning

brownie points for slickness not substance. If all that comes to be

expected of PR is a beautiful fix, a box of tactical tricks, our trade

will be diminished. The 21st century requires more of us: nothing less

than the exposition of complicated issues in an inspiring way. Our

democracy depends on you. Feeling inspired? God, I hope so.

Charlie Whelan's regular column begins next week.

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