Richard North, 06/01/2020  
 


Yesterday's blogpost certainly sparked an interesting discussion on an issue which deserves greater attention than it usually gets. The special interest is that this is an area of public policy dominated by the European Union.

But this is part of what should be a wider debate which should currently be centre stage in the period before Brexit, especially if Johnson is determined to return regulatory autonomy to the UK – not that he will have much success in so doing.

What will complicate issues like waste management, though, is that the legislation is EEA relevant, meaning that it is part of the Single Market acquis - one of the so-called flanking policies. Should we have gone for the Efta/EEA option, there would be no point in having a debate. The UK would be committed to keeping the waste rules on the book.

The thing is, though, we are not going to get a public debate anyway, not of any significance – not on this or any other of a myriad of issues. We could talk, for instance, about water, about the Post Office, rail privatisation or other such matters. Maybe the readers of this blog will, but they are rare exceptions, able to embrace more than one issue at the time and able to break free of legacy media agenda setting.

As much to the point, the media has largely become a single-issue talking point factory, where dealing with one story at a time tends to be the most they can handle. For a couple of weeks, it's been the Australian bush fires, but they have been relegated to a poor second place, as Iran dominates the headlines and the attention of the commentariat.

In good time, this issue will either escalate – possibly with revenge attacks by Iranian forces or their proxies – in which case it will stay on the front pages, or it will be displaced by the next hystérie du jour, with a succession of obsessive headlines which drive out all that came before.

It was not always like this. I recall studying copies of the Observer from 1940, week-by-week, when the front pages alone averaged 32 news stories – more reports than can be found in the entire editions of contemporary newspapers. The tunnel vision is a relatively new phenomenon.

What goes for the legacy media applies in spades with social media which tends to be even more obsessive about single issues. Twitter is a particular example, which has fragmented into a self-referential echo chamber, becoming valueless as a discussion forum.

As we come to the end of the Christmas period, when everyone will be back at work after the prolonged break, we face the House of Commons resuming  its labours. Tomorrow it will be sitting on the committee stage of the Withdrawal Bill, but don't expect any meaningful debate.

So, as politics pick up again, we're none the wiser and with little expectations of anything different, unless you want to take an interest in the coming Labour leadership contest. Otherwise, we're running on empty and there is no petrol station for miles.






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