Along The Watchtower

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

May loses gamble, media eats humble pie

HATS, crow and humble pie. These are what British political commentators, who got their forecasts on the June 8 snap general election utterly wrong, are eating these days.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party held a 17-seat majority in parliament when she took over the helm from David Cameron in July last year.

Cameron took a gamble in holding a referendum on whether the country should stay in the European Union or vote to leave, largely to silence critics within his own party. Shockingly, 52% of the voters made the historic decision in favour of Brexit.

When May moved into 10 Downing Street, she ruled out seeking a mandate for herself, stressing the need for stability until the next polls in 2020. But 10 months later, she made an abrupt U-turn and called for a snap election on June 8.

Although strengthening her hand in Brexit negotiations was cited as the main reason, as in the case of Cameron, it was a calculated gamble.

With opinion polls showing Conservatives 20 points ahead of the Labour Party, the chance of winning a landslide majority and boosting her image above that of “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher must have been too enticing.

After all, it was about letting Britons choose between her and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a man consistently denounced by the media as an inept, unelectable politician. From the relentless scorn and ridicule heaped on him, he looked a pushover.

Obviously, May’s team relied more on the caricature created by the media and did not have a clue about how people felt about him and the alternative he was offering.

Labour’s bold manifesto themed “For the many, not the few”, for example, tapped into the widespread frustrations among working class people and the younger generation.

Comparisons were made between Corbyn and US senator Bernie Sanders, who lost to Hillary Clinton in his bid to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.

Despite the barrage of negative media coverage, Corbyn, like Sanders, was seen as a principled politician who dared to go against the flow. Midway through the seven-week campaign, he succeeded in cutting May’s lead by half.

As Morning Star, the only socialist daily newspaper in Britain which unswervingly supported Corbyn’s policies described it, Corbyn bore no resemblance to the feeble-minded, incompetent extremist caricature sketched by the media and many disloyal Labour MPs.

While the Labour leader savoured the hustings and basked in the support of his largely youthful and eager fans, May’s campaign was dull and dreary, prompting a veteran journalist from the Conservative-supporting Daily Mail to describe her as a “glum bucket”.

She started out tough and resolute, offering voters a clear choice between her “strong and stable” leadership or a “coalition of chaos” comprising Labour, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrat Party to “prop up” Corbyn.

But her stage-managed gatherings soon lacked fervour and the repeating of her slogan to whatever question was asked resulted in mockery.

As her robotic performances led to critics calling her “Maybot”, Labour’s new slogan of “Let’s make June the end of May” went viral.

May also became a musical hit, although pejoratively.

Liar, liar, a re-hashed 2010 song by a London-based band made up of seven musicians, which criticises May and her government, became the highest new entry in the Official Singles Chart.

In between the terror attacks in Manchester and London, when campaigning was briefly suspended, a wave of anti-Conservative sentiment over the austerity measures, continuing decline in wages, cuts in welfare benefits and basic social services spread among the workers and youth.

The gamble ended disastrously for May on June 8 as voters returned a hung parliament. Instead of boosting her majority, she lost it completely. Her party won 318 of the 650 seats contested – eight short of the 326 needed for a simple majority – and lost 13 seats.

Labour garnered 262, an increase of 30, SNP won 35, a drop of 21, Liberal Democrats took 12, an increase of three, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) 10, two more than previously, while the Green party and other parties won the 13 other remaining seats.

To remain in power, lame duck May had no other choice but to reach out to the DUP for a simple majority.

The kingmaker party, however, has a tarnished image.

It was set up by preacher Ian Paisley who stoked the 30-year guerilla war in Northern Ireland, known as “The Troubles” during which armed groups brought terror to the streets of Belfast.

The DUP is also opposed to abortion and gay marriage and, like Donald Trump, does not believe in climate change.

May’s detractors sneered at her quick move to cohabit with DUP after smearing Corbyn as a “terrorist sympathiser” and added more salt to the wound by branding the link-up as “a weak and unstable coalition of chaos”.

The Prime Minister has since apologised to her backbenchers for the dismal election result, telling them that as she was the one who created the mess, she would get the party out of it.

For now, it has at the least bought her some time. The scheduled opening of parliament by the Queen has been postponed for at least another week. As in the case of the US presidential elections last year, the result came as an enormous shock to the media.

The outcome showed just how far the columnists and political commentators are distanced from the concerns of the ordinary people and how connected they are to their irrational group-think.

But unlike in the US, many of the writers who got the predictions wrong were gentlemanly enough to admit their errors. They ate their figurative hats, humble pies or as they say in the US, boiled crows.

This serves as a good lesson for media practitioners in all countries, including our own, as the 14th general election looms.

Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Charles Caleb Colton: The greatest friend of truth is time, her greatest enemy is prejudice, and her constant companion is humility.


Tags / Keywords: M Veera Pandiyan , columnist

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