Who’d have thought the UK election campaign would turn out to be so interesting? Sure, there was always a suspicion that the Conservatives hadn’t quite sealed the deal and might fall short, but the Cleggmania phenomenon has completely shifted the centre of gravity. As Shane Hegarty pointed out yesterday, it’s ironic that at a time when every election sees pundits predicting that the electoral process is about to be revolutionised by New Media, it’s the very Old Media construct of a staged TV debate which has changed the game. The instantaneous reaction of thousands of people on Twitter and Facebook may have added a little to that, but only a little.
Here in Ireland. we’re so saturated by and familiar with the British way of doing things that we tend to forget how odd their system is. Not just the bonkers outcomes which first-past-the-post can deliver, but the fact that they must be one of the last countries in the Western world to finally accept that a televised debate between political leaders might be a good thing. The irrational exuberance which followed the first of the three leaders’ debates seemed like a release of pent-up energy, out of proportion to anything that had actually happened.
The shenanigans in the (largely pro-Tory) British press since the Yellow Peril emerged have also been interesting. I look forward to the anecdotes which are sure to emerge from the newsrooms of the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph about what the reaction was when they realised the real enemy wasn’t boring old Gordon, after all. The real threat to their power doesn’t come from anything in the economic programmes of the competing parties, but from the prospect of real electoral reform, and its inevitable corollary, the end of single-party government.
Former Sun editor David Yelland’s piece in the Guardian last week laid bare the attitude of British newspapers to the Lib Dems (a party which, we should remember, regularly gets one out of evry five votes cast in the UK, far more than the Labour Party gets in Ireland and a multiple of anything the Greens, PDs or Sinn Fein have achieved here):
‘They are the invisible party, purposely edged off the paper’s pages and ignored. But it is worse than that, because it is not just the Murdoch press that is guilty of this. The fact is that much of the print press in this country is entirely partisan and always has been. All proprietors and editors are part of the “great game”. The trick is to ally yourself with the winner and win influence or at least the ear of the prime minister.
The consequence of this has been that the middle party has been ignored, simply because it was assumed it would never win power. After all, why court a powerless party?
So, as the pendulum swings from red to blue and back to red, the newspapers, or many of them, swing with it – sometimes ahead of the game and sometimes behind.’
Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s biographer Michael Wolf suggests Rupert may be feeling unhappy that he allowed his son and heir James to persuade him that Cameron was the coming man:
‘… a reluctant Murdoch—telling everyone who would listen that Cameron was too slick by half—sourly went along.Now, Murdoch likes winners, even more than he likes Conservatives. One of the most famous headlines of his career appeared in the Sun after the Conservative victory in Britain 1992: “It’s The Sun Wot Won It.” Murdoch is still stewing over an ill-timed and inept endorsement of John McCain over Barack Obama (again, against his better judgment—Murdoch likes Obama and was convinced to back McCain by Roger Ailes and New York Post editor Col Allen).’
Roger Ailes, by the way, is the man responsible for the gift to democracy which is Fox News.