Is Our Political Discourse Really That Much Different?

Since the terrible shooting of Gabrielle Giffiords at the weekend, much attention has – rightly – been focused on the rhetoric of the Tea Party in the US, and particularly Sarah Palin.

We have now seen the cross-hairs in the target, listened to Palin’s inane talk of ‘blood libel’ and – rather smugly – told ourselves that things are different here in Britain. That our politicians – and political discourse – does not use the same emotive, divisive language as the US.

But is this really the case?

Increasingly it seems that politics in this country is being played out on an emotional, rather than a rational, register and the extreme language of the US is infecting debate here. If you don’t believe me check out much of what passes for political debate on a lot of Twitter feeds, or read James Delingpole’s blog about Michael Gove’s appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live in the Telegraph today. Too often the voices of our commentators are starting to resemble the shrill witterings of US shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh rather than articulating reasoned political analysis.

At the Netroots UK conference in London last weekend, just hours before the shooting in Tuscon, Ari Rabib-Havt, from Media Matters, described in detail how Fox News has eviscerated political debate in the US and how it could do the same here. One questioner suggested this ‘could never happen here’ but Britain is ‘too smart’ but is this really true? It’s easy to believe that extremism – in political discourse and opinion – is an American disease, but if we’re not careful it’ll start spreading on this side of the pond, too.

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