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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Friday, 13 January 2006, 12:31 GMT
It's official - politics is a turn-on


By Peter Barron
Newsnight editor

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    A few weeks ago, a Lib Dem press officer wrote to me to complain that Newsnight had omitted his party from a debate about the Chancellor's pre-budget statement.

    Charles Kennedy
    All eyes have been on the Lib Dems since Kennedy's resignation
    By way of redress he asked for more prominent billing in the weeks ahead.

    He got it. Last week we made Newsnight history by leading the programme with the Lib Dems for four days in a row - it would have been six but Charles Kennedy resigned at the weekend.

    This was probably not what the press office had in mind.

    Aside from the personal tragedy of Charles Kennedy's resignation, politics is undoubtedly hot again - and Newsnight producers are jumping around like sugared-up kids on a bouncy castle.

    Apathy, who cares?

    Thanks to the emergence of David Cameron, politics has become exciting again and people are re-engaging
    I've never been one of those who wring their hands about the supposed apathy of the voters. You know the piece - what are we going to do about falling turn-out, mistrust of politicians is rising, should we learn the lessons of Pop Idol to rekindle interest in voting? Er, I don't think so.

    In his intriguing book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki argues that large groups of people are smarter than the elite few at coming to wise decisions, even at predicting the future. Could it be that for a few years there, voters - without taking a close interest in politics - somehow knew collectively there wasn't much point in getting too excited, despite the experts jumping up and down?

    Now that's all changing. Thanks to the emergence of David Cameron, politics has become exciting again and people are re-engaging. In my own highly unscientific barometer of the public mood, three taxi drivers have within the last week engaged me in unsolicited speculation about the outcome of the next general election. Something must be up.

    Big audience, respect

    Tony Blair

    Tony Blair of course won't be a candidate at that election. But he's been busy since the New Year working on what is now described as his legacy.

    On Tuesday he took part in a Newsnight special on his respect agenda - explaining to a group of voters in Swindon how he plans to crack down on anti-social behaviour and revive a culture of respect.

    The programme was watched by 1.6m viewers, Newsnight's biggest audience for many months. No phone-in vote required.

    Gordon Brown, on the other hand, has hardly been seen at all. As David Cameron slashes and burns the baggage of recent Conservative history in a series of eye-catching announcements on health, education and crime, the man who will almost certainly face him at the next election watches and waits.

    Gordon Brown

    On Newsnight, we scratched our heads about how to deal with the Gordon Brown story in 2006. How do you measure how successful his strategy is, especially when a key part of that strategy is to say nothing?

    Our answer, launched this week, is GorDaq, an index of the fortunes of the Chancellor which should be able to tell us over the course of the year how Mr Brown is getting on in his quest to be Prime Minister.

    As of today the index stands at 100 points - but where will it go next?

    On the run

    Sir Menzies Campbell
    Come back Ming - we miss you!
    But perhaps the most extraordinary development of all in the new politics is the newly elusive nature of Sir Menzies Campbell, the acting leader of the Lib Dems. If you watch Newsnight at all you'll have seen Sir Ming, often. In fact I've never known him not to be available for interview, until now.

    We've bid for him almost every day in 2006 - before, during and after Charles Kennedy's demise - but so far to no avail. Surely another Lib Dem-related first.

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