Monday, 6 April 2015

British election: All change and no change


On the tenuous basis that Easter is a time for new beginnings, I’ve given this blog a minor facelift. The headline font is changed to orange which matches the book cover better. I’ve also updated my profile and the picture, much as I would like to remain forever youthful. Exciting times, but now back to the election.
I wrote in my last post that Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP was widely seen, including by me, as having been the best performer in the Leaders’ debate. She arrived back in Scotland to a rapturous reception. It is interesting to see the response to this from the British media, which has not attacked either Leanne Wood or Natalie Bennett who are not seen as a threat, but have gone to town on Sturgeon. Saturday’s Daily Telegraph led with a leaked story that Sturgeon secretly supported the Conservatives to win the election. This would, of course, be very damaging to her if true and she immediately issued a denial. The supposed leak is now being investigated.
Meanwhile in another right-wing paper, the Daily Mail, Sturgeon is depicted as “the most dangerous woman in British politics”, accompanied by a suitably scary picture in an article dripping with contempt and fear. The line of attack is two-fold. One is that she is a supposedly rabid left-winger (actually she is what in other European countries would be seen as a mainstream social democrat) who would try to “impose big-state socialism” on a Miliband government. It’s an odd accusation since the Mail has always depicted ‘Red Ed’ Miliband as a red of the deepest hue, not least in its despicable attack on his father, which I posted about at the time. Why, then, would Sturgeon need to “impose” such and agenda? The other prong of the attack is slightly stranger, but possibly more potent and we are likely to hear more of it if the current opinion polls hold. It is that it would be illegitimate for Scottish MPs to affect British politics against the wishes of the English, and were it to happen it would cause a crisis for the political system. But that does not begin to make sense. The political Right, including the Mail were all out against Scottish independence at last year’s referendum, insisting that Scotland should remain in the Union. How, then, can it be illegitimate for Scottish MPs to shape British politics? And, after all, Scotland in the 1980s had to accept Tory governments which had almost no electoral support in that country. Yet that was seen as perfectly legitimate: it was the overall national vote that counted, not the way it was composed as between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.
There’s no great surprise in any of this. The British press is for the most part relentlessly right-wing and has for decades launched vitriolic attacks and character assassinations on anyone remotely departing from the Conservative Party script (as with former Labour leaders Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock). In that way, I can understand the situation of those who I otherwise disagree with. New Labour’s courting of the mainstream media and UKIP’s resentment of it both make sense. But I wonder whether it any longer holds the power it once did. People now get their news from multiple sources, mainly from the internet. Even in the heyday of the print press it was said that the majority of Sun readers voted Labour, despite the paper’s anti-Labour editorial stance. Now, I would think that the print media is even less influential. And the Mail article, the opening sentence of which referred to Sturgeon's "stilettoes and new hairstyle", was curiously dated (gosh, she's, you know, one of those women) as was the patronizing follow-up on how she has become "sexier with age". At all events, the opinion polls seem to have been unaffected by the leaders’ debate and its aftermath.

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