The general view seems to be that, whatever the outcome, this has been a desultory election campaign. More lies, more half-truths, more evasion.
This is not intended as a party political point. They’ve all been at it, ducking out of interviews, promising the impossible and refusing to answer straight-forward questions.
There are some understandable – if not good – reasons for this:
First, and self-evidently, the traditional media is increasingly being supplanted by social media, as the primary source of ‘information’ for voters. Furthermore, the main interaction of many with traditional media is now through the prism of Twitter and Facebook clips which are highly partisan.
Second, the level of trust in politicians is so low that manifesto pledges come pre-discounted: the new test is not whether the politicians will deliver on their promises but whether one agrees with the sentiment behind them.
Third, the language of elections has become devalued: every time the leader of the party one supports appears on telly they “nail it”, while every interview by one’s opponents is deemed a “car crash”. The secondhand nature of reporting by partisan online champions means that the truth is no longer stretched but simply deemed irrelevant. The Lib Dems’ badly drawn bar charts are at least a version of the truth, but straight-forward lying – such as Zac Goldsmith’s claim that the Greens are standing aside for him in Richmond Park – is now å la mode.
Meanwhile, the profusion of tactical voting sites designed to prevent such cynical interventions, often generate more heat than light, with contradictory recommendations and the hint of political bias masquerading as advice.
Furthermore, the whole campaign now feels humourless. Even Momentum’s frustratingly comic tweets of 2017 seem to have dried up. Led by Donkeys’ billboards are more angry than funny, ‘Boris’ has been replaced for the duration by ‘PM Johnson’, and neither Corbyn nor Swinson have ever been known for their crack.
Add to this the dark mornings and early nightfalls and, quite literally, it’s an election which has been hard to get out of bed for.
This dismal tone may yet, I suspect, be reflected in a dismal turnout, which leaves the election result in doubt whatever the polls say: how do you predict who will actually make it to the polling stations on a dark, cold, rainy night in midwinter?
Nevertheless, whatever the outcome, the election campaign highlights a number of issues which any successful party will need to address to protect our democracy:
First, this must be the last UK election in which political social media advertising goes largely unregulated. While Twitter and Tik Tok may have banned political advertising – showing it is perfectly possible – Facebook remains effectively the Wild West, with political adverts exempt from bans on making false claims in the name of free speech. Bringing all political advertising under the auspices of the Advertising Standards Authority would provide protection against the worse excesses and subject claims to some external scrutiny. This is a must, whoever wins the election.
Second, the independent Electoral Commission needs to be given power to set the rules for broadcast leaders debates and interviews, with the force of law to compel parties that are seeking election to comply. The casual way in which Johnson has threatened both Channel Four and the BBC during the election means that, without independence in this area, whatever position the broadcasters take will eventually be compromised.
And third, First Past the Post has to go. The Labour party has understandably resisted changing an electoral system that appeared for much of the past century to give it a significant advantage as the main challenger to the Conservatives.
It looks likely, however, that, come Friday morning, it will be fifteen years since FPTP delivered a Labour majority. With the collapse of the party north of the border it is next to impossible to see a future path to Labour victory on its own. While there is no chance of the Conservatives coming round to electoral reform, the next Labour leader will be faced with a stark choice of either permanent opposition or working with the Lib Dems to deliver PR.
And listening to the rhetoric, in this they might find an unlikely ally in Nigel Farage. Together, Labour and the Lib Dems – bolstered by Farage’s ego and undoubted campaigning ability – might just unlock further fundamental system change in British politics … and this time for the better.
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