ã cartoon Philip Berkin & New Alliance, 1998

Shocked by the low 2001 General Election turnout, the BBC invited research agency TRBI to provide reasons why. The under-publicised survey specifically looked at the 16-44 age group and comments from different family generations.

Richard Sambrook, Director of BBC News, said that the BBC should increase "people's engagement in the political process and democratic debate".

What lessons should the anti-EU movement (and the BBC) take from the survey, 'Beyond the Soundbite'?

The full set of results can be seen on: www.bbc.co.uk/info/bbc/politics.shtml


Politicians were seen as 'crooks'... 'out for themselves' - only 16% trusted them to put their country first.

Many voters felt unrepresented - party politicians had little real difference - "We might as well have one party" - & reacted against petty point-scoring.

They felt MPs lacked (relevant) experience of life and had 'lost touch'. There was a lack of political 'heroes' who were not party-bound and could speak their mind with conviction. People who could actually solve their and society's problems.

However, the public were far from 'depoliticised' - many non-voters were active on single issue campaigns.



The media was seen as 'not objective or independent enough' - 'part of the political establishment' - also "over- concerned with scandal & trivia".

Since 1993, there has been a 25% drop in the under-45 age group tuning into the BBC for news. [NB this could reduce BBC influence in a Euro referendum!!!]. Sian Kevill, Head of the 'BBC New Politics Initiative' set up to address broadcasting admitted that the BBC "hadn't kept in step with the issues that matter". [We know!]



This could explain why the sample felt Westminster was 'outdated' and were disenchanted with 'tired institutions'.

The interviewers traced changes over 30 years (i.e. before we joined the EEC). Interviewees then identified with three worlds - family, community and nation which were 'felt to work simply'. They felt reassurance, identity, and a sense of self .

Two dimensions have been added: Europe and 'global'. Their strongest connection made was of a 'Metric Martyr' greengrocer being prosecuted.

Power had now 'shifted away from the people' - they felt that they were affected by a one-way process, which imposed on them from beyond the nation's border. They felt powerless, unable to make a difference and thus 'disconnected'.

Apart from 'being isolated from the political process' and mistrusting politicians, interviewees questioned who was really in control, and feared loss of identity.

They felt that national politics were 'a bit more relevant' and as community politics were in decline, that they had to fend for themselves. (The decline in the role of the State was also quoted as making people more self-reliant).

They wanted their representatives to represent them fairly; to be properly accountable, to tell them the truth and respect them. Last but not least - they wanted to be given a real choice. Some 51% felt a duty to vote - much lower than in past generations - but with some reluctance or frustration!

There was support for 'alternatives' such as referendums for deciding single issue matters.

TRBI noted the rise of 'consumerist' attitudes, where people shop around for 'brands'. People buy brands that meet their needs and aspirations, and successful products contribute to an individual's identity and 'sense of self'.



The BBC loftily implies that it is 'redemocratizing democracy' (!). Expect more programmes aimed at the under-45s, "more localised" political reporting, new approaches such as drama for "explaining politics", and "humanising politicians", through more informality or humour.

TRBI suggest bringing audiences "up to speed" on issues by covering "all sides of the debate". Also trying to relate their impact to our everyday lives and providing a trail of 'evidence' that viewers can follow. And while allowing politics to become "emotive" not trivialising/scandalising politicians who are apparently not "celebrities" but "servants of the people".

But will they really break tradition on the sacred cow of the EU, and let the public decide "Who governs Britain?" We can only be vigilant and keep up the pressure in the wider media. At least we now have evidence that, unlike much of the BBC, we are in tune with the Great British public.


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This page compiled: 1 September 2002