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Who are the masters now?

Elite led representative democracy is giving way to a media driven plebiscitary democracy. Britain's conversation with itself has become more open but less considered. The politicians are set to rebel against the constraints of the new populism

By David Goodhart   May 1997

The British election campaign has been, so far, an oddly muted affair. One of the loudest background noises has been a nagging complaint about “dumbing down,” about the shrinkage of debate, about the tyranny of the soundbite-a nostalgia for a slower, more reflective, political culture. Part of the complaint is justified and part of the explanation is familiar enough: the growth in the power and aggression of the mass media in most western countries.

This was summed up in the New Yorker a few months ago by Adam Gopnik. He compared the deferential press treatment of the Roosevelts in the…

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