Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Archive for the ‘general election’ tag

A very British coup

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I speak not of Gordon Brown’s parting shot in the 2010 election – his pledge to resign to facilitate a deal between the Liberal Democrats and Labour – but of the extraordinary reaction by the Tory press to the news today.

If Brown thought he had endured the worst the assembled frothing, tweeded, spluttering, luv-a-duck rent-a-mob of assembled gobshites and nutcases had to throw at him, he was wrong.

Throughout the last couple of weeks, and through various twists and turns, one thing has become clear. The assembled weight of the media has been thrown well and truly behind Cameron and the Tories to almost unimaginable proportions.

The Tory press today suggested that no less than a coup was being perpetrated right under the noses of British subjects, and appears to be calling for its own in return.

What else to make of the claims that Brown is perpetuating a ‘sordid’ coup; or that Clegg has behaved ‘treacherously’?

Yesterday, says the Mail, was a ‘squalid day for democracy’. Inside, Richard Littlejohn railed against ‘nothing less than an attempted coup’, a ‘cynical putsch’ and a ‘naked power grab’.

He went on to state that Brown might as well have ‘ordered the tanks to roll down Whitehall and train their guns on the meeting of the Parliamentary Conservative Party’.

If he pulls off a Lib-Lab coalition, ‘democracy as we have known it in Britain will be shattered – possibly beyond repair’.

Astonishingly, Littlejohn even dares to have a pop at the ‘desperate Labour propaganda sheets’, while taking a pot-shot at the ‘the State broadcaster, the BBC’ for broadcasting lies about the Conservative party, the true hallmark of all swivel-eyed columnists.

To my mind, all of this goes well beyond anything the Tory press has managed before. The sheer brass neck, the hypocrisy, and the deliberate ignorance of parliamentary process. The right-wing press seems to have lost its grasp of the facts at hand.

The electoral system that they all back has produced a hung parliament, the mess that is responsible for all this back-room chicanery, but they want to keep it. (Note to Kay Burley: People did not ‘vote for a hung parliament’).

Brown, constitutionally, has the first right to try and form government, but allowed Clegg and Cameron to have the first shot at it, despite the resulting power vacuum.

The Conservative Party did not win the election. Combined, the Labour-Lib Dem share of the vote dwarfs the Tory share of the vote. Combined, Lib-Lab seats would eclipse Tory seats.

British politics in the 20th century is littered with unelected Prime Ministers, mostly Tory, as would be the case under a new Labour leader in a progressive coalition.

This is how hung parliaments work, this is how our electoral system works, this is how the constitution works. This is how politics works.

I’m personally dubious that a Lib-Lab coalition is the right result to come out of this election, but I’m not clear on what is the right result. No-one, to my mind, has a mandate. There is no victor.

But a Lib-Lab coalition would be perfectly constitutional and perfectly reasonable. It would be no more of a coup than a minority Tory government or a Lib-Con coalition, which is to say that it would be none at all.

The irony is, in complaining about Brown’s final act constituting nothing more than a ‘coup’- with all the talk about ‘treachery’ and ‘sordid’ politicking – the right-wing press appears to be calling for nothing less itself.

In a more fractious political, social or economic landscape, the language and tone deployed by tabloid editors and columnists across London screaming for Brown’s head could be explosive – and horribly irresponsible.

As it is, despite all the promises that the markets would not tolerate a hung parliament and that people would be burned to death on the streets, subsequently proved to be baseless, the press just looks like a spoiled child denied its way.

Brown may be affording himself a smile.

Election Day front pages: A predictable roll-call of shame

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As if there were ever any doubt. Today’s front pages from the right-wing newspapers manage to stretch credulity, taste, truth and decency.

It’s in every newspaper editor’s best interests to pick a winning candidate, to maintain the assumption that newspapers are important in deciding the outcome of elections. The option is to buck against that trend to my going off-kilter, like the Guardian this time around, or dig in with sheer bloody-mindedness, like the Daily Mirror.

As expected, there’s the usual roll call of shame from the right-wing tabloids – ranging from the sheer brass neck and wrong-headedness of the Sun’s Obama rip of Cameron to the implication on the front of the Daily Mail that not voting for David Cameron will mean people being burned to death on the streets of the UK.

The Sun’s is by far the most noteworthy, because whoever greenlit that one – presumably bizarre/Bizarre man Dominic Mohan, currently, baffling the editor – has got it so wrong it beggars belief.

Why? Because very few Sun readers will get the reference. Because even the staunchest Tory will not believe the an ideology-free zone like Cameron will really bring anything new to the table. Because the whole thing is an insult to politics, to design, to typography, to paper. It’s truly abysmal.

I expected a typical Sun piece of crap, like Brown’s face in a haggis and GORDON CLOWN wirtten across the top. The sort of childish rubbish we’re apparently all expected to think is hilarious. But the Sun wrongfooted me, by being even worse.

The Mail’s is more insidious, and says much more about the paper’s relationship with its readership. There’s a clear insinuation that unless Cameron gets a strong enough mandate and starts cutting the deficit we’ll all be going to Hell in a handbasket, which uses a picture of someone actually on fire to try and frighten people into following its line. Which pretty much sums up the Mail.

The Express is more prosaic, ramming its message into the sheep-like minds of its readers. Vote Cameron, Brown a disaster, hung parliament a disaster. It’s only a surprise there’s no mention of cancer or Diana in there somewhere. It can barely be thought of as a newspaper any more.

The Telegraph dutifully falls into line with the Tory ‘hope over fear’ nonsense.

The Times is, on the face of it, restrained. There’s even quite a good cartoon, and the whole thing smacks of gravitas. But we all know that the editorial line of the Times is fatally compromised.

The truth is, they’re all compromised. By the lines forced on them by proprietors, by the need to pander to readerships, by the need to achieve a pay-off on back-room deals with media moguls.

This election has been the worst I can remember as far as the right-wing press goes, through their naked partisanship and by neglecting their greater roles as educators and informers.

Things have come to such a head that popular protests against the press were held a week ago. Laura Oliver, on Journalism.co.uk argues that new media may need to fill the objective void left by a partisan media.

The Guardian and Indie have chosen a meek ‘need for PR’ line, which will probably serve well to split the vote. Only the Mirror has come out with any fire in its belly, with a picture of Cameron in his Bullingdon attire.

I think it’s a powerful front page, and there will be some interesting discussions as to where the rights to that image may lie in the future – public domain, public interest? – but it’s still the old tribal drum-beat.

I suppose that an editorial line borne of ideology isn’t really as offensive as one for naked commercial gain, but looking at the selection of paper this morning I just felt depressed.

Depressed that it’s come to this; depressed for the parlous state of journalism in the UK; depressed at the hate and fear-mongering.

The 2010 general election: A willfully stupid, mendacious and depressing election.

2010 – the stupid election

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I’ve watched all of the coverage in this general election through my fingers, as the whole thing is beyond cringe-worthy.

I mean this in several ways: David Cameron’s smug face; the media annihilation of Brown; the ghastly media commentators; the desperation of the Murdoch press in making sure their man gets in; and the self-congratulatory tone of the whole thing when the media thinks it’s done something clever like catching Brown out in an off-guarded moment today where he referred to a woman as ‘bigoted’.

It’s changed the whole tone and focus of the election into even more of a menagerie than it has been previously, with the pantomime of the TV debates and the absurd merry-go-round of opinion polls and predictions and tiresome echo chamber chatter that generates heat and no light whatsoever.

In an election campaign where there’s a crippling deficit caused by a near-depression hanging over the whole business, the dominating impressions will all be Brown’s gaffe, Clegg’s ascension and celebrity endorsements.

Today has been taken up with a million tedious Twitter updates tagged with #bigotgate; multi-spectral analysis of the audio clip from Brown’s car; political correspondents’ boring takes; shit advice from PRs and crisis management wonks trying desperately to sound like they have something important to say; and pompous, nay patronising, pieces on the great unwashed of the North.

The truth is, what Gillian Duffy had to say about immigrants was ill-informed and could be judged as bigoted. Another truth is, Brown made an off-the-cuff remark in the privacy of his car. Who’d’ve thunk? Politicians, like real people, say one thing in public and another in private.

A silly thing to say then, but one which will be a defining moment of the election campaign – if we believe what the media are telling us. This is not news; it’s what the TV, papers and websites are telling us is news. I expect we’ll hear all sort of things about how this was the moment the election exploded into life now, but that’s really total bollocks.

It’s the moment the story of election has exploded into life, because the three main political parties have been playing a relatively straight bat and talking about boring things like National Insurance. The media has had little to get its teeth into, and the Murdoch media has been ignoring the Lib Dems completely.

A hung parliament has been a hard sell from the point of view of a news editor, a political correspondent or a pundit. But it doesn’t really get any better than Brown attacking an old woman, with a side serving of immigration angst.

What opinion polls should be asking people in the UK at the moment is not ‘who will you vote for?’ or ‘Will Gordon Brown be the death of us all?’ or ‘Do you like Nick Clegg’s wife?’ – it should be ‘Have you really got the first fucking idea about politics?’

Because from where I’m standing this is the stupidest election I can remember. And when you look at the blank faces; the mumbling about immigration or the need for ‘change’; the despicable ‘Broken Britain’ refrain; or the witless scorn of poor, hapless Gordon Brown for his awkwardness and gaffes, don’t blame the people. Don’t even blame the politicians. Blame the media.

We’ll always have Murdoch and his papers that swing behind whoever has thrown the old tyrant a juicier bone; we’ll always have vested interests and ideologues and iconoclasts urging us to swing one way or the other.

The real culprit is the media as a whole, an entity that has lost sight of any idea of how to report politics without some kind of populist framing device; how to inform and educate without trying to entertain; how to report politics, fundamentally.

Watching this campaign has been like watching some sort of Chris Morris work of art. 15 years after The Day Today we finally have rolling news telling us absolutely fuck all, the silly graphics and the news networks setting their own empty agendas.

It’s politics repackaged as a ghastly reality TV show, never mind for the MTV generation, this is for the BBC3 and E4 and Sky One generation. It’s the election where the news just gave up and went to watch Glee, safe in the knowledge that people aren’t really that interested in deficits anyway.

Bill Clinton had a popular slogan in the 1992 Presidential election, designed to keep the issues forefront in the minds of voters; “Its the economy, stupid!”

2010? It’s the stupid, stupid.

Written by Robin Brown

April 28th, 2010 at 10:49 pm