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Conservative Voters - What Were You Thinking?

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Behind the fever of the current political crisis there is something depressing about the way revelations concerning self-serving MPs and corporate collusion have been reported as 'news'. The past few weeks have shown that power, corruption and lies (aka the blindingly obvious) need to be illuminated in neon lights before the majority of the public take notice.

The result is a poll that has the Conservatives on 29%. It's easy to see why David Cameron, George Osborne and friends have fallen so low in the public's estimation. What is really incredible is how they were ever popular in the first place. That people felt they should elect this Conservative-led government is a national tragedy that is turning into a farce.

Many commentators on the left have been saying: "I told you so" about the Tories, and quite right too. But that does not explain why so many voters felt comfortable backing a clique who were so obviously driven by entitled arrogance and the influence of corporations seeking to turn government policy to their advantage.

Phone hacking, police corruption, party funding, Leveson, ministers genuflecting before Rupert Murdoch, the dismantling of the public sector and the failure of austerity - they all share an important connection. They were all 'revealed' to an apparently ignorant public, who are now enraged and showing their disgust in the polls. For those who suspected the failings and unpleasantness of this government its current predicament is no surprise at all. But what about those who voted for them in 2010?

The lack of media dissent that so helped shore up Tory support over the past two years has been bordering on conspiratorial. But the old accusation that the media can influence voters by telling them what to think is misleading. It isn't what the papers say that wins elections - it's what they don't say.

The best example of this is, of course, over the economy. Scaremongering over the national debt and the 'deficit' (how many really knew what it meant, let alone how to make a judgement) turned austerity into an unquestionable orthodoxy. Only the media could have done this. But suddenly it's okay to talk about Barack Obama's infrastructure investment and Keynesian economics again. Where was all this two years ago?

The public outrage over the exposure of apparent corruption and economic incompetence suggests the surprise was genuine. But it also illustrates how uninformed so many people have become. This current unravelling was precipitated by the right-wing media's (reluctant) acceptance that Conservative mistakes and scandals could not be ignored. In a sense, the phone hacking exposé was the genesis of the government's entire public relations catastrophe, but if the Daily Mail had not been forced to engage in the process it would have withered and died. What this shows is that our media is, in large part, responsible for the subjects and standards of national discourse and it has been the suppression of other voices that has done such long-term damage to the public's understanding of the issues and ability to engage in active political thought and discussion. Fundamentally, this is about how people decide who to vote for.

What really gives the game away about the relationship between public opinion and political control is the way the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph have turned on their former allies. If the media still backed the government they would not have fallen so low in the polls. But the right-wing press are now lancing the boil of ignorance and misinformation that they had been responsible for nurturing. Of course this change of heart is a business decision, just as it had been to attack opponents of the free market up to this point. They probably would still be backing the Conservatives had not the phone hacking scandal and the aftershocks of Leveson exposed the web strangling any hope of decency and honesty in the system.

There has never been a politician without some vested interest, but the dismemberment of the public sector for corporate vultures marks a new low for a brazen plutocracy whose only defence under questioning is to hide, delay or lie. Suddenly many Conservative voters sense that they backed an administration almost unique in its hollowness and lack of ideals.

For years the right-wing media - along with a centrist but brow-beaten BBC and populist ITV - have controlled the agenda. But now the agenda is controlling them. Leveson, or rather the ripples that emanate from Leveson, is doing to the Conservatives what Toto did to the Wizard of Oz. That the curtain has been torn down as time their economic policies are being discredited is a (un)fortunate coincidence, depending on your colours.

There are no prizes for guessing who has been the overarching figure of this starvation diet of ideas. Murdoch was given permission to control the agenda, the agenda was rigged, the politicians benefited from the agenda but then owed him something in return. It applies to Murdoch but also to every private power seeking influence.

Of course he was pursuing the interests of his company and as a businessman of genius he should not have to apologise for that. But perhaps we should all apologise for permitting this arrangement at the heart of modern politics for so long. It's one of the main reasons we find ourselves in this mess today.

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