TV news is too celebrity led says Kenneth Clarke

Europhile politician suggests TV (and print) news let the public down when covering the European Referendum debate

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Kenneth Clarke, the former Tory Cabinet Minister, has said that TV news focuses too much on personalities and celebrity culture.

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Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Clarke suggested that TV news reporting let the public down with its heavy reliance on the personalities of politicians during the European Referendum campaign.

He said: “It was a celebrity culture debate as far as the national media was concerned, it was the Boris and Dave show.

“The media reporting only covered very few people on both sides. No serious argument from either side was given very wide circulation. I think Downing Street and the campaign didn’t want people like [Michael] Heseltine and me. They were trying to win the argument by maintaining a friendly Eurosceptic tone which I think was a mistake.”

He added that he tried to resist the call to focus on personalities when he made national TV appearances during the campaign.

“When I got pressed on radio or television on the personalities I tried to duck it. I don’t like insulting my opponents if I can avoid it. But I got wide coverage when I got dragged into it and someone asked me what would happen if [Cameron]  loses and I said ‘he won’t last 30 seconds’ and that went wide. I was wrong. It was four hours.

“Another time I said ‘at least Boris was a nicer person that Donald Trump’. But any arguments I used about the benefits… of being in the European Union, well [the response is] ‘our listeners aren’t interested in that’.”

Asked by RadioTimes.com whether he thought that could be a solution to this, he suggested not.

“You have social media complicating things even more so. Which to an old cove like me, means conspiracy theories which are much over-represented in my view.

“How anyone can survive in the media by focusing on serious political debate? How any politician can arrive in this age of celebrity culture and cynicism and disbelief and actually inspire people with a coherent body of opinion, I am not sure.”

After the Referendum vote, Clark was caught on camera making indiscreet remarks about Theresa May. Speaking to former colleague Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Clarke said a number of things that he probably presumed were not for public consumption.

He expressed pleasure that Boris Johnson was no longer a candidate for Prime Minister, said Michael Gove was too right wing to be Prime Minister and called then leadership hopeful May a “bloody difficult woman”.

Sir Malcolm, meanwhile, said he wanted Gove to come third and Clarke added that if Gove became Prime Minister we would “go to war with three countries at once”.

Asked by RadioTimes.com if he regretted the incident, Clarke said: “That was after the referendum. It was us chatting, which was pretty stupid of Malcolm and myself. And it’s quite easy for them to switch the camera on to us.”

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Clever politician that he is, he ducked our question about whether he thought Sky was wrong to leak the footage….