The press like to say they report news, but too often they create problems for politicians be misrepresenting facts, creating mistrust, and then publish details about how the people no longer trust politicians.
Take, for example today's news story about MP's getting four more days of holiday a year. This is probably the grossest misrepresentation possible of the reality of events. I have done lots of voluntary work with Norman Lamb, Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk, and know just how unfair it is to label days away from Westminster as holiday. Non sitting Fridays, when MP are not in Parliament, are taken up with constituency work, visiting constituents, holding surgeries, writing letters, in short, doing all the important things that an MP should be doing. An MP's job is not to simply sit in pointless and meaningless debates that have no relevance to the MP's constituency. A good MP can often achieve much more by being away from Westminster than the press realise.
The problem is that the London centric press fail to understand that there is a world of politics away from Westminster. The number of people in North Norfolk who have told me that they have been amazed to find their MP knocking on their door, canvassing but asking about their problems, not just in election years but throught a parliamentary term, actually shows that people appreciate this much more than seeing their MP sat slumped on the green benches on TV for 2 minutes.
The press have got form in this area of misrepresenting MP's in other areas too. What about when the press refer to MP's getting £130,000 a year. Of course the press never ever explain that this amount is to pay staff, cover office costs, stationary and a range of other things.
Take this quote from the BBC website "The 2005/06 payments - about £131,000 per MP - come on top of a basic salary of about £60,000 and a pension."
This quotation could not be more misleading.
Then what do the press report next "Voters don't trust MP's as they are paid too much and have too many holidays".
We have seen it recently with Ming Campbell. Yes, I have had my concerns and yes, I wanted to see a change in leadership. However, Ming's inability to have a relationship with the press which was positive in terms of news about him meant that the news agenda was dominated with negative news stories. The press often, as has been revealed, wrote negative stories in advance of events with little interest being shown in the facts.
The reason people don't trust politicians is nothing to do with our politicians being lazy or underpaid. In relative terms, out MP's are not grossly overpaid considering the hours they work and the responsibilities they have. Neither are MP's any more lazy than MP's in previous generations. Indeed, my experience of MP's (admittedly with hardworking Lib Dem's) has been that they work their socks off, rarely take any holidays and are not in any way shape or form lazy.
It's about time the press started reporting stories accurately and stopped misrepresenting the work MP's do. Perhaps then the press could play a part in building the reputation of parliament, politics and helping boost turnout in elections at the same time.