Opinion: Media charter at odds with electorate

With every election opinion poll we also get a list of issues that the voters think are most important. Health, education and the economy usually top the list. But guess which subject the media cover most? The election process itself of course.

A survey by Loughborough University shows that, so far, a massive 50 per cent of all TV and press coverage this time around is on the election process, 39 per cent being a discussion of campaign strategies.

Now this is excellent news for people like me, who enjoy banging on about these things, but it does prove a point often made by Alastair Campbell that the media are overobsessed with process at the expense of issues.

Ironically it was Campbell who helped create this imbalance, although since a talking to from Tony Blair early in the campaign he has kept himself hidden away this time.

The actual issue covered most by the media - with a measly 7.3 per cent - is taxation, although this comes way down the list of concerns of the electorate. Wealthy media types have always pushed this issue more than they should. I will never forget looking on as Westminster hacks sat around following the infamous John Smith shadow budget in 1992, working out how much tax they would pay under Labour's proposals. They were, of course, all in the top 20 per cent pay bracket that would have paid more.

Although Labour strategists would be delighted that next on the coverage list was the economy (7.2 per cent), the Tories should be pleased that asylum and immigration came next (6.8 per cent). They know they need to push this harder but face the accusation of being racist by the media.

A way round this is the use of targeted leaflets, a strategy used by US Republicans to play on voters' fears and prejudices. Conservative Central Office is even using the same computer software as the Bush team to identify potential Tory voters. The only problem being that Labour is using very similar tactics.

Indeed, much of the hard work now being carried out by the political parties is lost on the London chattering classes who only see the campaign as endless press conferences and media stunts. No wonder they all say it is so boring. Yet in the battleground seats huge efforts are being made to get the vote out.

The polls as usual are miles apart. Much better to listen to the bookies, who always get the result right. William Hill, which has a much sharper PR machine than the pollsters, is already giving odds on the next Tory leader. Political betting is big business for the bookies, but don't think you can make a fortune out of it; Labour is currently 1-12 to win.

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