UK election: baffled media gets pumped up for the vote

Campaign has been marked by ‘Stur Wars’, Milifandom and a sprinkle of glitter

Britain "goes to the polls" today, and the media is "pumped up", just like David Cameron claims to be. Later, the broadcasters will be expressing their over-excitement via the usual swingometers, exit polls, polls of exit polls and – new for 2015 – floating hexagons, the clear winner in this election's graphic design side-contest.

The newspapers, which entered the campaign in mixed shape, are finishing it in desperation, with the Sun sticking it to Ed Miliband for failing to eat a bacon sandwich with what it implied was the correct amount of dignity for eating a bacon sandwich. It won't be the Sun wot won it.

The hung parliament headlines have been pre-written. We found out last time round just how suspicious the traditional UK media is of coalition politics, with professionally baffled pundits depicting multiparty governments as an inherently lose-lose state of affairs, even a crazy, make-believe one. During this 2015 sequel, the broad thrust of the media coverage has been to repeat the Conservative message that the Scottish National Party would be the most destabilising coalition partner of all, so don't even think about voting Labour.

Scotland, which used to win elections for Labour, now looks like costing it victory. The much remarked-upon regional variations of newspaper front pages are, however, the product of media empire business decisions, rather than a reflection of the widening political chasm between Scotland and Westminster.


Hatred of "Red Ed" is the glaring consistency at News UK, where Rupert Murdoch continues his curious political friendship with former SNP leader Alex Salmond. So while the Sun proclaimed "It's a Tory!" with a picture of a baby Cameron in Kate Middleton's arms – and even cited "stop SNP running the country" as a reason for its endorsement – the Scottish Sun went with "Stur Wars: A New Hope" and a fond mock-up of Sturgeon as Princess Leia.

The SamCam-obsessed Daily Telegraph is still Tory, of course, but it is otherwise much-changed on 2010. Time was that the agendas of broadsheets were couched in language that skewed reality rather than ignored it. The Telegraph in 2015 is no longer that smart. "Miliband flops" it screeched in the wake of a debate that some polls had the Labour leader as winning. No, that wasn't the one where he stumbled off the stage at the end.

The Guardian is backing Labour and hoping nobody remembers that five years ago, it flopped over to the Liberal Democrats. And in a rather sad development, the London Independent, aka the Indy, has muttered that the current Coalition should be given "another chance" – a statement that will have had its left-wing readership choking in cereal cafes. The Indy's owners, the Lebedevs, also publish the London Evening Standard, an enthusiastically right-wing paper in a city that will vote Labour.

None of this does anything to dispel the idea that the press is out of touch with its own readers, and certainly the wider electorate – a narrative advanced with ease by Labour’s media handlers. They have enjoyed a good election, helped by the fact that the monstering of Miliband was so over-the-top it was laughable even to casual observers. “Milifandom”, a phenomenon started by a teenage Labour supporter who sought to rehabilitate Ed by crushing on him (and his politics), was not as surreal as some made out. In 2015, “geek” is a badge of pride, not an insult, and anyone who claims otherwise is only exposing their ignorance.

Miliband didn't quite pretend to be down with the kids, but he did skip gamely into the YouTube den, arguing the toss not just with comedian-activist Russell Brand, but with YouTuber twins NikiNSammy ("Can we get a banter pose?") and beauty vlogger Louise Pentland, whose channel Sprinkle of Glitter has 2.1 million subscribers – double Brand's. Cameron lamely labelled the "Milibrand" interview "a joke", but it won't have escaped him that YouTube is no less mainstream these days than the partisan press.

Tonight, the Twitter feeds will be moving fast, and somebody somewhere will dub this the "Periscope election" (after the video broadcasting app). But technological democracy only goes so far. Much of the social media action as the results come in will be complementing, not usurping, the TV election extravaganzas. Sky News, as a breaking news operator, will have slickness on its side; Channel 4 has planned its usual comedy alternative, this time with Jeremy Paxman and a "bullshit buzzer", and the BBC will win the most viewers no matter what.

It’s almost as if elections are better for the media than the media is for elections.