GE2015: Three Hours Past Midnight – Watching The Telly Watch The Election

As everyone knows by now, the pre-election polls were disastrously wrong, and the actual outcome on the night was crushingly terrible. The Tory vote didn’t fall, which looked inevitable beforehand. It rose. And the Labour vote didn’t recover, even to the piddling extent that was widely predicted beforehand. It fell. The polls said no party would win a majority, the result being another hung parliament, and another coalition government of one kind or other.

If you’ve always harboured a Luddite suspicion of ‘polls’ and hated the all-prevailing political obsession with them, last night might have been very satisfying if the real-world implications weren’t catastrophic, socially, economically, morally and ecologically.

By about 3am, it was clear that the Tories were doing far better than expected, and Labour were doing far worse. The Lib Dems were being annihilated. The SNP were clearly on course to win the vast majority of seats in Scotland.

The end result was a Conservative majority government. Unfathomably, we’re now faced with a worse situation than the one we found ourselves in 2010 – more of the same nation-plundering, majority-disdaining austerity agenda, but this time shorn of the erratic, smidgen of moral conscience that the Lib Dems brought to the table.

Clegg’s party has certainly earned its near-obliteration, given its complicity in bringing about five years of upwards wealth redistribution via social vandalism. But it was very hard to derive any pleasure from it. The Lib Dems couldn’t even cease to exist without disastrous consequences. Their vote evaporated, but the Tories were overwhelmingly the beneficiaries.

If that wasn’t sufficient to see you making your laptop cable into a noose and looking for a sturdy light fitting, the way the news covered election night may well have done. It certainly provided an insight into how 24% of the voting-age population were willing to re-elect the kind of people who, in a just world, would spend their lives making tea in Job Centres at gunpoint.

Kinky Boots

The election coverage was universally terrible – even Channel 4’s flimsy attempts at being ‘alternative’. You could just about keep your dinner down if you watched one channel for about ten minutes, then flicked to the next one, then did the same, and kept cycling through them with occasional sanity-bolstering breathers with BBC 2’s screening of Kinky Boots.

“News is a procession of the powerful” Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group wrote. “Watch it on TV, listen to the Today programme and marvel at the orthodoxy of views and the lack of critical voices”.  That was in 2008. He could just have easily been watching election night BBC One, where establishmentarian granddad David Dimbleby and his coterie of Westminster-Whitehall insiders had a right laugh unfurling the doom that awaited us over twelve-plus agonising hours.

Come the morning, when the extent of the devastation was clear, the pundits dragged out to comment were largely made up of Telegraph and Times journalists, Tories and old-guard Blairites – who inevitably chorused that Labour lost because it was too left-wing and, in various vague, euphemistic, round-about ways, that it needs to go back to Blairism to become electable again.

In doing so, the news nicely illustrated the range of opinions it’s willing to regularly broadcast. When the BBC wanted a Labour MP to comment on the disastrous results, they went straight for Simon Danczuk, possibly the most unapologetically right-wing member of the Parliamentary Labour Party. When the news wants a Labour voice beyond the front bench, they always seem to reach for a vocal right-winger, or someone from the party’s morass of floating lickspittles who support whoever’s got wind in their sails. They’ll happily publicise figures from the rightmost fringes of the Tory Party like John Redwood – but they’ll hardly ever spotlight anyone equivalently left-wing, like socialist MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, or even someone far more centrist but a bit politically unorthodox like Jon Cruddas.

It was down to Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee to provide the left-most bookend to the BBC’s coverage. She turned up to endorse welfare-vilifying Rachel ‘We Are Not The Party Of People On Benefits’ Reeves as Miliband’s replacement. ITV had Owen Jones, but given a few tokenistic minutes, even a principled socialist couldn’t fit in much more than some fairly anodyne soundbites about Britain needing a ‘politics of hope’.

Labour lost because it alienated Scotland, the Lib Dems collapsed in places where the only alternative was the Tories, and because a scandalously impartial corporate press owned and run by six billionaires enthusiastically ran with Cameron’s dog-whistle assertion that a Labour government would place England at the mercy of the SNP (having already done everything in its power to smear Ed Miliband for the last five years). But the mainstream election coverage left you with the impression it was because Labour – a feeble, elite-pandering diet Tory Party since 1994 – was too radical for the voters to stomach.

Ideological confinement

The establishment media warps the truth to favour the elite-serving neoliberal status quo. We’ve known that for about forty years. But it seems to be getting worse, unfortunately. “I spent 15 years in Italy under Berlusconi”, said Italian author-activist Federico Campagna, “but I’ve never before seen such a complete right-wing monopoly over the mainstream media … BBC One’s coverage of the elections makes [Berlusconi-owned Italian TV] look like beacons of democracy … A banana republic without the tropical climate”.

At the time of writing, anti-austerity activists have been protesting outside Downing Street. The news media ignored it as long as it could get away with it, then ran reports radically downplaying the number of attendees and heavily focusing on the superlative PR decision one protestor made to spray-paint “fuck the Tories” on a war memorial on VE day.

Jonathan Cook is a Nazareth-based dissident journalist hardly anyone has ever heard of. To end, his assessment of our predicament, and the most promising route out of it.

“The revolution that we need in Britain and the US has to start with a disengagement from the mainstream media’s representation of events. We have to discard their narratives … We need independent journalists, and we need to demand a new funding model for the media. And we need to do all this while the mainstream media entirely controls the narrative about what a free media is.”

“It is a huge challenge – and one that reflects the extent of our own ideological confinement. Just like the political parties, we have been captured by the 1%. We cannot imagine a different world, a different economic system, a different media landscape, because our intellectual horizons have been so totally restricted ….We are so imaginatively confined we cannot even see the narrow walls within which our minds are allowed to wander.”

“As long as the media represent the span of interests of the 1% – from the psychopathic Murdoch empire to the capitalism with a little heart of the Guardian Media Group – our politicians will range from the Blue Tories of the Conservative party to the Red Tories of the Labour party.”

Or in short, stop watching and reading The News, and get your information from elsewhere. More election stuff to come.