What Total Politics’ advertisers tell us about political lobbying.
I remember being delighted when Iain Dale launched Total Politics Magazine a few years ago. A politics magazine that covered Whitehall and Westminster from a non-partisan perspective, that could bring in the detailed interviews that went beyond the ‘lines to take’. I normally buy a copy when on a train journey longer than Cambridge-London, or when I am having a day when I just want to spend most of it inside a coffee shop reading stuff. One where I’ll spend £20 on magazines and chomp my way through text. It’s not the perfect magazine by any means – there’s no such thing. Personally I’d like to see the print being bigger for a start – it’s painful for my eyes to read at times.
This month’s edition is a bumper conference edition – one I imagine that will lead to a boost in sales and possibly some new long term readers. They’ve done a number of interesting things – not least the policy head-to-heads on a number of different issues interviewing the party policy leads. There have also been a number of things where I’ve thought. “Hmm…that doesn’t work for me (i.e. the fashion shoot of clothes with political faces on them)” to some hilarious lines which I’m trying to work out were deadpan spoof or for real – e.g. one by Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Norwich (And dragon-fairy-watcher) Jess Asato.
Total Politics: “Are you just another professional politician?”
Jess Asato: “Absolutely not. I’ve spent most of my working life coming up with new ideas for policy that will make our country a better place.”
There’s the bit where I agree with her:
“Politics is not a career, it is a calling, and we need to regain the public’s trust in what we’re doing”
The question is how. Then there are the classic political put-downs, such as:
“Chloe Smith is perfectly able to demonstrate her own incompetence without me having to point it out”
Perhaps that was in response to the Newsnight Interview that I profiled (and sort of defended Chloe over – but only because George Osborne had dropped her in it big time). Jess and Chloe will be going head-to-head in Norwich – but expect a notable Green presence given the number of councillors they have in the city.
Yeah Poofles, enough of the sales pitch, what about the lobbying?
Look at the advertisers and ‘advertorials’.
What sparked this blogpost was this article re-tweeted by dragon-fairy-watching MP Robert Halfon of Harlow. It reminded me of the advertorial by the National Casino Industry Forum. Have you heard of them? Probably not. They have the nice glitzy glamourous photos of casinos, along with the profile photo of one of their directors. What you don’t see on the before or after sides is the counter-point, or a view from an organisation that might take a different view – such as a gambling charity.
That’s not to say charities cannot afford to advertise or choose not to – they do. Several of the big names are there, not only making their case but stating where they will be and what events they will be hosting at the various conferences. Total Politics isn’t the only politics-related magazine that this sort of advertising happens in. The Spectator on the right and New Statesman on the left have similar – the advertising pounds weighing in greater on whichever party is in power I would assume. (I wonder what the data says about advertising revenue over the past say 5-10 years for each publication.)
I’m also not criticising Total Politics magazine – or any other politics-related magazine for having advertisers in. The current state of party politics and the print media means that current affairs magazines have very low circulation compared to the importance of the issues that they cover. Lobbyists and big business recognise this and advertise in the circles that are likely to ‘raise awareness’ of their issues in a manner that will have the most influence. This is the softer side if you like. There are advertisers that make me wonder why they are advertising in there, but I’m sure they have their reasons. It would be nice to know what they are – what does a previously unheard of energy firm, or Britain’s biggest arms traders get out of advertising in politics’ magazines? It’s not as if I’m going to buy a tank! Or is this the softer side at work?
So if you’re wandering past the news stands, have a flick through the current affairs magazines and ask yourself what the advertisers tell you about lobbying, and the influencing of Whitehall and Westminster by big powerful interests.