'So sex is the new politics, is it?' The voice on the phone was an old friend of mine who works for an American news network. He'd just seen a picture of our new political editor Tom Bradby standing shoulder to shoulder with our new chief political correspondent Daisy Sampson. He was not the first to suggest that I was now in possession of the best- looking Westminster bureau in British broadcasting, and that's just fine. To be frank, though, Tom and Daisy could look like a pair of natterjack toads for all I care as long as they deliver.
Losing our previous political editor Nick Robinson to the BBC was a bitter blow. But when I stopped hurling heavy objects at the wall and the red mist cleared, it dawned on me that Nick's departure presented me with an opportunity to re-think how we do politics on ITV News.
As the depressingly low turnout at the last two general elections has illustrated, our democracy is in trouble. Despite the laudable efforts of many hard-working parliamentarians, the political process is haemorrhaging relevance. Far too many Britons are volunteering for disenfranchisement. The charge now facing the leadership of our major political parties is that they have damaged democracy.
New Labour has not been without its successes these past seven years. Yet many people across the United Kingdom who felt a surge of optimism when Tony Blair came to power now feel disillusioned, mistrustful, let down. Michael Howard's finger-jabbing, accusatory style simply didn't work and the Liberal Democrats blew their biggest opportunity for a generation " bumbling through the campaign like the cast of Dad's Army.
No wonder we in the media struggled to sex up the campaign. No wonder the public turned away, particularly those from the lower socio-economic groups. But let us not get this wrong. It is politicians that people are tired of, not politics. Try this next time you are in the St Anne's district of Nottingham or St Paul's in Bristol or Maryhill or Moss Side: try asking whether the ordinary, decent and magnificently multicultural people of Britain care about violence, crime, health, education, housing, racism. I can tell you that they care to the point of sleepless anxiety, but they have stopped believing that politicians can help. They have lost faith. They are drifting hopelessly away from a democratic system that is supposed to provide choice, hope and a better future. It may be more perception than fact, but the perception has become the fact. It has to be dealt with.
So what can we do? How can I, as the boss of a television news organisation, help to repair the damage? Indeed, is it even my job to try?
It is important that we don't get above our station. We are an important delivery system. We have the power to reach millions of British people every day. We are required by law and regulation to be 'fair and balanced' and, over the years we have earned the trust of our viewers. …