Daily Archives: December 7, 2019


The Truth About this Election

UPDATE Andrew Marr seemed to have a moment of contrition, much too late. In the “paper review” agenda-setting section at the start of his programme, he actually pointed out that the large majority of the papers are Conservative supporting, the first time I have heard this noted on the BBC. He then promised that today the paper review would be “balanced” by a look at social media.

This balance turned out to be a 15 second reference to the billionaire owned Huffington Post, the rabidly neo-con internet “news” site which is NOT social media. The content of this “balance” was rabidly anti-Corbyn Brexiteer ex-Labour MP Gloria Del Piero (who was herself the BBC “balance” to the Daily Mail’s ultra-Tory Brexiteer Sarah Vine, wife of Michael Gove), praising Angela Rayner for saying to the Huffington Post she understood why so many Labour voters were leaving the Labour Party.

Read the rest of this article, written yesterday, to understand why this is so stunning:

This is the most vital fact to understand what has happened so far in this election. There is a striking consistency across the opinion polls that the Tories have stabilised around 42%. That is just less than they achieved at the 2017 election.

So how can the Tories be slightly below their 2017 vote, when every single news and current affairs programme on TV and radio for the last three weeks has included vox pops or audience members switching from Labour to Conservative over Brexit?

The undeniable truth is that almost precisely as many voters have deserted the Tories as have switched to them. Hence they are on the same percentage. As the media have lovingly documented, and as is the accepted narrative of the election repeated to us ad nauseam, there are a substantial number of working class Leave voters switching from Labour to Tory over Brexit. They tend (and it is a simple matter of fact) to be less educated, older, and from deprived areas that have suffered most from a finance sector led economic policy.

But an equal number of voters have deserted the Tory Party. They are mostly pro-EU, better educated, more liberal and horrified by the change of the Tories to a hardline far right populist party. Their existence is hardly a secret, and they have an extremely impressive, ultra high profile leadership in John Major, Michael Heseltine, Kenneth Clarke, Phil Hammond, Dominic Grieve etc. Yet the liberal Tories abandoning the party in droves have been almost completely unrepresented in broadcast media coverage.

Here is the zinger. I have been keeping a tally of vox pops and audience members declaring they are abandoning their allegiance on broadcast media.
I have tallied 57 vox pop/audience members saying they are deserting Labour, because of Brexit/Corbyn. I have tallied 1 – yes ONE – audience member (and zero vox pop) saying they are abandoning the Tories over Brexit/Johnson.

Even though, with the Tory vote stable, we know in the real world both groups are the same size, and Major/Heseltine/Clarke/Hammond/Grieve are not friendless and uninfluential.

Now this is not a count of the entire coverage, but of those news and current affairs programmes I have watched during the campaign. It is weighted towards the BBC with less of Sky and ITN, and very little radio apart from the Today programme. But is is a pretty good sample, and while I would welcome a more scientific study I do not expect it would show anything significantly different. I don’t think anybody reading this can claim their own experience of the coverage is different.

How is this achieved? Mainly, of course, because the media pre-set the narrative that this election would be about Labour voters in the North switching to Brexit, having been heavily briefed to that effect by No. 10. They then concentrated almost exclusively on this narrative. Deliberately choosing vox pop locations to suit the narrative has been a key part. Dudley, Hartlepool and Grimsby; not Putney, Bath and Bristol. There is also then editorial choice of who is selected to speak.

What is undoubtedly true is that the broadcasters have colluded, by massive, repeated and deliberate acts, in pushing and reinforcing the No.10 strategy of seeking working class Leave votes, in an effort to normalise the idea that working class northern English communities can vote Tory. And it is undeniably true that they have massively under-reported the equal movement of liberal Tory voters – and former Cabinet ministers – deserting their party.

Nowhere has this been more obvious than in the comparative treatment of Ian Austin and John Major.

Austin was a Labour Parliamentary Private Secretary, the most junior of all ministerial ranks, for just eight months. When he urged people to vote Tory, it was the first headline on every BBC News broadcast all day. Austin had 15 minutes unchallenged on the Today programme to spill out bile against the Labour Party, before going on to eight minutes unchallenged on BBC Breakfast TV, and a similar appearance on Good Morning Britain, all of which from the timings and travel must have been pre-organised, especially as he left from there to a pre-prepared giant poster launch, carried by all the print media.

But Austin was a comparative nobody. Yesterday John Major, seven year Tory Prime Minister, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary, urged people not to give the dangerous Johnson a Tory majority. He was backed up by former Tory Deputy PM Michael Heseltine and former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke. On any rational measure, this is a far, far bigger story than Ian “nobody” Austin giving the opposite message.

Yet unlike Austin, Major was not the lead story on any major news channel. He did not get 10% of the total broadcast time devoted to Austin. Because the narrative of moderate Tories not voting for Johnson is comparatively suppressed; to the extent that the only possible explanation is the active connivance of broadcasters in securing a Tory government.

So who do we vote for?

The Tories are stuck around 42%. That means tactical voting is essential to knock them back. You need to look very, very carefully at who can beat them in your own constituency.

In Scotland, it makes no sense to vote anything other than SNP. There are no Labour/Tory marginals. There is nowhere that a SNP vote risks letting the Tories in. There are however plenty of constituencies where voting Labour risks letting the Tories in. In Scotland do not overthink, just vote SNP.

In England and Wales, it is complicated. Firstly you need to research who can best beat the Tories locally. Then you may have to hold your nose and support a near-Tory Lib Dem or, and there are still a good few of them as Labour candidates, an even-nearer Tory Blairite. The majority of people who need to abandon their natural choice and vote tactically against the Tories are Lib Dems. I urge you to do what needs to be done, because we have to work within the stupid electoral system we have at present. In probably 85% of English and Welsh constituencies the answer is to vote Labour. Elsewhere, Lib Dem, Plaid Cymru, Green or Independent. Please check carefully.

In Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, I urge people to vote for Dominic Grieve. He was chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee and treated me extremely well in enabling me to give my evidence on torture and extraordinary rendition and reflecting it in the very fair – and damning – report. In Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy vote for Neale Hanvey, who has been badly treated.

In Northern Ireland I generally support Sinn Fein, but just this time in safely Republican areas I would prefer people to vote SDLP, as having votes available at Westminster may be vital.

That Tory strategy of going for right wing populism has changed the demographic of their vote in a way that has reduced its geographic concentration. That can be a disadvantage under First Past the Post and the Tories may end up losing seats in Scotland, London and parts of Southern England, and piling up votes in northern England, without achieving enough there to actually win the seats. This election is not a foregone conclusion by any means.

But to stop Johnson people sweeping the board on 42% people have to vote smart.

I do not condemn anyone who instead votes with their conscience for their preferred party. But I believe the country faces a lurch to the genuine far right, and just this once I urge you not to. Vote to stop Johnson, whatever it takes.

Note: This post very briefly said 87 not 57 due to my inability to read my own handwriting. A transposition error in para 2 has also been corrected.

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