REMEMBER clap for carers? People applauding the above and beyond efforts of NHS staff during the pandemic? There should be a similar tribute paid one evening to Michael Spicer for saving the sanity of millions in these turbulent, exasperating times.

No, not that Michael Spicer, the former MP who was chair of the 1922 Committee before Sir Graham Brady, but “the room next door man”, famed on Twitter for video skits in which he plays an adviser feeding lines to some clueless politician.

In his latest video he takes the role of a political reporter with a notebook full of anonymous quotes from Tory MPs calling for the Prime Minister’s departure. “An MP said to me earlier,” says Spicer the reporter, “‘I backed Liz in the beginning but now she has to go. She’s a balled-up apron of disappointment and regret’.” Another anonymous MP hopes she is “chased out of Downing Street by wolves”.

There has been a lot of anonymous quoting in politics reporting recently. It was once relatively rare, with trainees told it should be used in exceptional circumstances: to protect a whistleblower, say, or when important information might otherwise not make it into the public domain.

Now every Tom, Dick and Harriet, live from Downing Street or College Green, is at it. Like sprinkles on a Bake-Off cake, no story is complete without a generous helping of “one MP said this” or “I understand that”.

It has not gone unnoticed by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, that titan of political reporting (feel free to add your own description) who tweeted this week: “I am as gripped by the Westminster soap opera as anyone but could I make a plea to those providing & reporting on the endless supply of anonymous quotes about changing PM for the 4th time in 6 years to recognise that there's something rather important at stake here.” To which he added the hashtag “not a game”.

Ooh, get him, eh? Who hid the pea under his mattress?

I’m going to have to agree with Nick in having a sense of humour failure about the way some political reporting, particularly of the broadcast variety, has been going lately. As with the Conservatives, the rot has been setting in for years. Unlike the Conservatives, this is something to care about.

Trouble was brewing long before broadcasters took to reading out anonymous quotes in lieu of finding and reporting actual news. How far back to go, however?

Some may long for the day when chaps of a certain age and class spoke unto other chaps of a certain age and class. As one of the many millions excluded from those conversations, I don’t. One of the best things to happen to politics reporting is the widening of the pool from which reporters are drawn. It has taken an age to realise and there is a long way to go, but credit where it is due.

What some might miss from the early days of political broadcasting is the serious way the subject was treated. There has always been a place for humour, stretching back to Sketches by Boz, and cartoonists have never held back, thank God (or Steven Camley as we like to call him), from mocking the powerful and skewering the pompous.

What modern political reporting suffers from is the general trivialisation of politics itself. Partly that is down to the calibre of those elected, but the media has to take some of the blame, too.

The tabloid press was first to see politics as just another branch of the entertainment industry. The broadsheets followed, then television and radio. Politics was presented as a year-round pantomime in which everything was reduced to the basics, there were heroes to cheer and villains to boo, and personalities always mattered more than policy.

Just before the point of peak trivialisation, along came 24-hour rolling news. Suddenly, there were seemingly endless minutes and hours to fill. Reporters had to keep talking, talking, talking between “events” that were not really events but hey ho, got to feed the machine.

Talking became waffling and soon everybody seemed to be reading from the same cliche-peppered script, the one in which politics was a game, a sport, something most of us observed at a distance.

If politics is entertainment then audiences must never be bored. Keep bringing out those twists and turns, call it breaking news and run it at the bottom of the screen to make things even more exciting. If it is a choice between a quick and easy story (MPs plot to oust Truss), or a long, complicated one that will take time and cost a lot (where did all the dosh for PPE go during the pandemic?) take the simple, cheap option.

But really, what does any of this matter? As long as people are kept informed there is no harm done. Well, for a start, it is annoying. The other day I heard a presenter in the studio ask a politics reporter what was going to happen next in the Truss saga. “That’s the $64,000 question,” he replied, before waffling himself to an eventual stop. I might as well have asked the dog.

Lest we forget, Nick Robinson has played his part in bringing about the kind of frothy, hyper-excited, over-caffeinated, go-bold-or-go-home political journalism he seems to criticise today.

But he is nevertheless right in his insistence that politics, and the reporting of it, is too important to be treated as a game. This is not some caper in which nothing is at stake and no-one suffers consequences if they are on the losing side. What happens at Westminster, all that silly House of Cards stuff, translates into real people losing homes and jobs, making real choices between feeding their families or turning the heating on.

And none of this started with Liz Truss, as hopeless as she is. With a lull now and then it has been going on for as far back as I can remember, and certainly from the Thatcher era. Politics as a pastime for the chattering and reporting classes.

It is a dangerous game, too. The more people are made to feel that the news is not about their lives, that democracy and its institutions don’t matter, the more likely it is that these things vanish over time. There they will go, up in a puff of smoke, and there will be few around, save for some ex-Cabinet minister, to mourn the loss. Anonymously, of course.

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