Except for viewers in Scotland

Except for viewers in Scotland

This was meant to be a relatively quiet period in the campaign, wasn’t it? Thanks to Nicola Sturgeon doing moderately well in the leaders’ debate on Thursday, it seems the right-wing press have gone back to their 2010 election manuals and begun monstering her the same way they did with Nick Clegg. This time around, it seems that the whole thing hasn’t yet launched #nicolasturgeonsfault into the forefront of Twitter’s global trending topics, but the advances in social media have meant that a whole story was rebutted and the reporters were on the back foot trying to defend it before the paper itself had even published.

Of course, there weren’t legions of cybernats in 2010 either, so there wasn’t anyone there to attribute the whole thing to an MI5 plot and as proof of the establishment’s desire to crush the dreams of an independent Scotland. In that spirit, I would therefore point out that the obvious beneficiaries of this are the purely Scottish newspapers, as it will likely drive down sales of the Telegraph north of the border. Yes, instigating a potentially international crisis in order to drive newspaper sales is the stuff of a more ridiculous Bond movie, but I’m pretty sure I could get at least one of the papers to believe that the SNP want rid of Trident to give them a base in which to store Alex Salmond’s stealth boat. Then again, we’ve yet to hear the sages of English High Toryism weigh in on this yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Simon Heffer blaming it on a Scottish-French plot, meaning England must be prepared to defend itself from a revival of the Auld Alliance.

More seriously, a lot of people are wondering who benefits from this story, and the more general attacks on Sturgeon and the SNP, but I think it shouldn’t be looked at on its own. The Tories are trying to spread a message – it’s in a lot of their leaflets, and David Cameron uses it the phrase almost as often as ‘long term economic plan’ – that the only alternative to single party rule is a ‘coalition of chaos’. Anything that gets people confused about just what one of the other parties wants or might do is, in this view, good for the Tories. It’s also why they won’t talk about any of their own potential coalition partners, because they want to distance themselves as far as possible from any coalition talk. We can expect a lot more of this over the next few weeks, and we haven’t even got to the rerun of 2010’s ‘a hung Parliament would be a disaster’ theme yet. There’ll likely be another concerted attack on the Greens at some point soon, followed by a ton of hyperbole about the vast ideological chasms that divide Liberal Democrats and how Vince Cable and Tim Farron will undermine any future coalition with the Tories. By the last week of the campaign, we’ll likely be back to the ‘vote Tory, or the country gets it‘ messaging they were using last time.

One other thought that comes from this is that we were to get a Tory majority, we’d be treated to the spectacle of David Cameron attempting to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU against a background of an increasingly unhinged and Europhobic right-wing press. Cameron himself has shown he has no problems with insulting those he would hope to negotiate with, but given that the press is now being used to leak details of private meetings with ambassadors, what could we expect to see while he’s trying to negotiate with other countries? Trying to do something as complex as renegotiating EU membership is going to be a complex process, and doing it against a cacophonous soundtrack of Johnny Foreigner bashing orchestrated by press barons who would be quite happy to see a British EU exit would add even more complexity to it. To be honest, it feels like a surefire recipe for absolute chaos and something certain to derail any long term economic plan in a short-term mess of bickering and xenophobia.

So, having thought I’d be short of material for the weekend, I can boot writing about the Why Vote books to tomorrow, but rest assured that the one I’ve already finished has given me plenty of material. If you want to read about ill-though-out policy proposals in the meantime, may I direct you to the post I wrote this morning?

And finally, two of the more amusing bits of election news of the day. First, George Galloway managed to get into a spat on Twitter with a brewery after he took offense to a fairly innocuous message from them. Unfortunately, Courage is already trademarked by another brewery, but I would hope that we can all soon get to sample their Strength and Indefatigability ales alongside it.

Alongside that, we learn of another UKIP candidate standing down close to the election. For once, this isn’t because he’s done or said anything wrong, but because he’s got a new job. Congratulations to him, and let’s all wish him well and hope there’s no version of UKIP in the country he’s going to work in who’ll accuse him of taking a job from a citizen of that country.

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Opinion poll commentary, too

Opinion poll commentary, too

Some really shocking news to start the election today, as the Telegraph does huge amounts of original research gets an email from Tory HQ and reveals the news that rich businesspeople, some of whom are Tory members of the House of Lords, think we should all vote Tory. My only shock is that someone at the Telegraph thought April 1st was the best day to lead with this as a headline, and also that the Tories are going for the ‘vote for us or the economy will collapse’ message this early in the campaign. We’re normally at least a couple of weeks into the campaign before they hit the panic button, but maybe this is just the start, and by the last week of the campaign we’ll be learning that only David Cameron can protect us from Imperial Overlord G’Thxnvarrr and his army of alien ravagers, while if Ed Miliband is elected he’ll invent time travel and go back to give the world the bubonic plague.

Meanwhile on the Tory battlebus:

Meanwhile, someone at Lib Dem HQ decided ‘film it like the scenes in Casualty just before the week’s big accident’ would be an appropriate style for a party election broadcast. The general response to it seems to have been that it happened, and now let’s move on to something else.

We’re now less than twenty-four hours from the Invasion Of The Giant Floating Heads Of Debate Doom.
debateheads
However, there’s still no confirmation that the debate’s host will be Sylvester Stewart.

At some point in the future, we may well have the first virtual reality avatar debate, with all the possibilities that gives for the news graphics people to go completely over the top. Come to think of it, can we find some MPs who’ll admit to having played World Of Warcraft and get them to face off in an online debate battle there? Though now I’ve suggested that, it’ll no doubt be picked up by someone, filtered through eight hundred other suggestions at a pitch meeting and end up with a segment on This Week featuring a cheap animation of Michael Portillo as a barbarian warrior. So it goes.

Meanwhile, we learn that for UKIP a referendum is only a real referendum if they get to decide who votes in it. They’ll likely back down on that demand later, though, when they realise that it’s much easier to let everyone vote but in the spirit of European football competitions all ‘No’ votes will be treated as away goals and count double.

Thanks to our local Gazette, I’ve found out some more about our Christian People’s Alliance candidate, but mostly that he doesn’t like to do video interviews. If elected, he promises that he “will uphold Christian principles, as happens in many other European countries”, which is the sort of view that could lead to interesting clashes with the UKIP candidate at any hustings debates.

It still feels to me like the campaign’s stuttering and not really started yet. Maybe it’s because everybody’s expecting to wind down for Easter weekend, or maybe we need the big seven-way shoutathon that tomorrow’s debate will no doubt turn into to fire us all up. Or perhaps you’re all crazed with election fever and I’m insulated from it thanks to spending lots of time in the library on a very quiet university campus at the moment. However, that did give me this graph (from Paul Whiteley’s Political Participation in Britain) which should give you something to think about when discussing polls.
sharesgraph

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After it flared up into media prominence over the last week, the Telegraph today eagerly covered the news that the Green Party won’t be including Citizens Income as a policy in their General Election manifesto.

However, there seems to be a problem with that news: it’s not true. Reading an account from a Green Party member, it seems that the party’s conference has insisted that the policy is included in the manifesto, and the Telegraph’s report is merely extrapolating wildly from some comments by Caroline Lucas. The member’s account suggests that she has opposed the inclusion of it in the manifesto, but even with that news, the Telegraph appears to be stretching her words. It reports that she said:

“The citizens’ income is not going to be in the 2015 general election manifesto as something to be introduced on May 8th. It is a longer term aspiration; we are still working on it,”

The key point they’re not factoring into their story is ‘as something to be introduced on May 8th’, instead focusing on the first part of the sentence. Let’s be honest, I don’t think even the most hardened support of a basic income scheme thinks it could be introduced quickly, and it helps to show the ignorance of reporters who believe that is the case.

However, I think this comes back to the point I made a couple of weeks ago about how journalists don’t understand how policy making within parties actually works. As someone with experience of seeing similar things in the Lib Dems, it’s almost pleasant to see another party being similarly misunderstood. Journalists like to believe that all political parties are run from the top down, not the bottom up, and of course ‘senior party figures’ are always happy to encourage this impression. So, when Caroline Lucas says something (and it’s misheard) it’s easy for them to leap to ‘the party has changed its policy!’ rather than ‘hmm, better check that for accuracy.’

It does make me think about the Iron Law of Oligarchy – the idea that all political organisations will progress from democracy to oligarchy over time – and whether the media have a role in encouraging and fostering that process. Could one even argue that social pressures and the expectation that an organisation will be run from the top are as much a pressure making it happen as the role of bureaucracy concentrating power in the organisation? Something else to add to the list of things I need to think about and write about some more…

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How to be a leading political commentator

Dan Hodges writes on the Telegraph website today:

Ukip are not a political force, but a political curiosity. In years to come many a pub quiz trophy will be won by those who can correctly answer the question: “What was the name of the guy who ran the anti-EU party? Begins with an N.”
In life there are rules. What goes up will come down. The Earth rotates around the Sun, not vice versa. And come election time, minor British political parties get squeezed out of existence.
It may not be fair. It may not be healthy. But them’s the facts. And unfortunately, they are immutable.
Of course, come Sunday 5 May, 2013, when next year’s European votes are counted, there’s going to be a whole lot of muting going on. Ukip will be in the process of recording their greatest ever election triumph. The Tories will have been beaten into a humiliating third place. Eurosceptic MPs will be fanning out across the airways demanding action and the summary execution of Ken Clarke.

So far, so generic. But hold on, what’s this?

Sunday 5 May, 2013, when next year’s European votes are counted

I know ‘vote early, vote often’ is an oft-used saying, but a whole year early? That’s either real dedication to the cause, or someone who’s supposed to understand politics and commentate on it not knowing basic facts like when elections take place. And these are elections that take place in London too, so the media are allowed to notice they’re happening.

But who needs to bother with facts when they can get in the way of giving your opinion?

(The Telegraph have now slightly corrected the error, though the page now reads ‘come June 2014, when next year’s European votes are counted’ which implies a vote next year and then a delay of several months before they’re counted. A screengrab of the original page is here, just to confirm)

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