With the election looming and pre-election broadcasts airing increasingly frequently one could be forgiven for thinking that voters are less concerned about the policies and leadership qualities of the rival party leaders, than their ability to pick up their dirty socks and cook spag bol for the kids. As ever these nauseating displays of (often faux) domestic bliss have caused many to lament the break down of the public/private divide. Why can't we be more like the French who don't seem to care at all if their public figures lead less than orthodox private lives as long as they can still competently preform the task for which they were elected?!
I have a certain amount of sympathy with this position. Prying into the private lives of politicians for the sake of juicy tit bits of freakery serves only gossip columnists and their celebrity obsessed, politically uninterested readership. Contrary to the arguments of some (Daily Fail i'm looking at you), knowing the sordid details of someones sex life isn't a good indication of what kind of professional life they might lead and is not necessary for the healthy functioning of an open democracy.
However, as Geoff Hoon, Patricia Hewitt and Stephen Byers have recently shown, we hardly live in a well functioning transparent democracy at the moment. Government is characterised by back room deals, bribery and corruption and the entire system is purposefully murky to avoid most of this skulduggery from making into out into the open. Thus the electorate is information starved. We really don't know how good a job our politicians are doing as they spin and cover up 90% of what . Instinct rightly tells us that they can't all be equally bad but we really have very little way of knowing which deserve praise and re-election and which should be locked up.
Into this vacuum come the scandal hunters and photographers with long lens cameras. They are doing a bad job of informing us but i would argue that their net effect is still positive. If the price we pay for the occasional corruption scandal being brought to light is non-stop low level gossip 'revalations' then i for one will pay that price.
Of course, in an ideal world our system would be reformed to be perfectly transparent and there would be no need to pry and probe into private lives. In the process plenty of highly capable individuals who would love to serve the public, but who currently can't because of their swinging S&M fetish, would come to the fore and the competency and decency of our government would sky rocket.
Sadly there's too much money to be made by keeping things nice and murky and so we're left with this hugely imperfect but necessary system of monitoring.