ONE MORE LAST CHANCE SALOON

It does seem rather quaint now, a polite hangover from less violently polarised times; one can almost imagine Rupert Brooke incorporating it into his wistful celebration of Albion, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’. I’m talking about the fact that on the day the nation votes, the mainstream broadcasters don’t mention the War until the polls close. After weeks of bombarding viewers and listeners with wall-to-wall 24/7 General Election coverage and shoving the warnings and waffle of the party leaders down our throats, TV and radio suddenly instigate a surreal ceasefire. It’d be nice to picture the respective Tory and Labour frontbenches shaking hands and engaging in a friendly kick-about in No Man’s Land for the brief duration, but the cessation of hostilities has its limits. And, lest we forget, this temporary armistice isn’t recognised on the real battleground of 2019, social media.

I won’t say ‘out there’ in social media; ‘out here’ is more accurate. Like many of you reading this, I’ve probably followed the events of the past month closer online than on television, let alone the dear old print media, that aged grandparent regarded with fondness despite the senility that occasionally causes him to behave in a highly inappropriate manner. Mind you, at least he can blame his age on his behaviour. Out here in the Wild West of cyberspace, anything goes – and it regularly does. Yes, there are persuasive arguments for inconsistencies in the MSM’s ‘impartiality’ stance, and I’m sure we can all cite examples where favouritism is blatantly obvious; but when one is presented with the enforced restraints of balance during a campaign on TV, it can actually be a relief to wander over to Twitter or Facebook and spend a few hours in a partisan’s paradise.

Ironically, I tend to listen to voices emanating from both sides of the argument on social media too, almost as if I’m programmed to be automatically impartial. But the voices here are far more passionate in their vitriol than any you hear in the MSM, so whilst I’m exposed to polar points of view, I’m getting the full force of the arguments without any editorial interference. Maybe for me it’s also a side-effect of being utterly disillusioned with mainstream political parties – the compulsion to experience ‘Warburtons’ politics, i.e. opinions ‘wi’ nowt taken out’, as an alternative to the bland TV pontificating. Nobody has highlighted anti-Semitism within the Labour Party on television or radio with quite the same level of vociferous disgust as they have on Twitter, and the story of the sick child on the hospital floor that has dominated the campaign this week was Twitter reportage in a nutshell – becoming the defining symbol of the decline of the NHS under a decade of Tory stewardship from a Labour perspective in a matter of a few hours.

I have a feeling Boris Johnson wouldn’t have been able to get away with chickening out of a grilling from Andrew Neil had there been no social media; as it is, the whole Neil saga ended up as a minor footnote in Boris’s election adventure rather than being a crucial plot development. In a way, Bo-Jo’s no-show probably had no more impact on voting preferences than the silly ‘hiding in the fridge’ story that briefly hogged headlines yesterday. Even Jo Swinson’s ‘learning curve’ (as she herself put it) has arguably done less damage to the Lib Dems’ chances than the ill-advised pledge they made when the campaign had barely got going; that sealed their fate long before their new leader was shown up on TV as the amateur out of her depth that she really is.

There’s a distinct sense that TV interviews or debates during a campaign are now staged solely for the many millions in this country of a certain age who aren’t online; and chasing the older voter matters on account of the fact that this is one demographic all-but guaranteed to turn up at the polling station, whatever the weather or ‘inconvenient’ time of year. Perhaps twenty years from now, most leading politicians won’t even bother with television appearances to entice the electorate, and it won’t make the slightest bit of difference to their chances of re-election. They only do it now because they still have to; reduce TV’s power to the lowly level of influence now exercised by Fleet Street and don’t expect them to make any further concessions to viewers. But this campaign has been marked by few concessions, anyway, as the major parties have stuck to their perceived strengths; the PM hasn’t been the only one avoiding other issues.

When John Major staged his ‘standing on the soapbox in the market square’ stunt back in 1992, it was viewed as a novelty method of electioneering even then; but it’s interesting to contrast that approach with Jeremy Corbyn’s evident thrill in stating his case during one of his beloved outdoor rallies. This is undoubtedly Jezza’s comfort zone because such an environment was his political university; and he loves a school reunion. But to the wider electorate beyond the Corbyn faithful, I suspect it has the opposite effect to the one Major’s had. Whoever came up with the Tory PM’s gimmick during the ’92 General Election positioned the antiquated simplicity of the gesture against the slick Presidential campaign being run by Neil Kinnock, one that climaxed with the infamous Sheffield Arena event; it had the effect of making Major seem to be more in touch with the people than simply preaching to the converted. I get the feeling it’s the other way round with Corbyn; it gives the impression he can only truly be himself when facing a friendly audience; but it’s a hard habit for him to break.

Mind you, as a media commentator remarked yesterday, we appear to have been experiencing two parallel campaigns – a Brexit one from the Tories and an NHS one from Labour; there doesn’t seem to have been any common ground, leaving the electorate in a difficult position. Every Leaver doesn’t necessarily want to see another ‘crisis winter’ for the NHS, even though it’s an annual event; equally, every hospital worker doesn’t necessarily want us to remain in the EU. But the parties naturally like to present their messages in basic black-and-white, whether a vacuous ‘Get Brexit Done’ slogan or relentlessly promoting the dubious mantra that the Tories will have sold-off the NHS to Donald Trump by the middle of tomorrow afternoon.

I suppose one of the worst aspects of being utterly disillusioned with mainstream political parties is the ominous inevitability that you’ll end up voting for one of them come a General Election. Yes, you’ll hate yourself in the morning, but you’ll feel you were presented with a rotten choice courtesy of an electoral system that makes it almost impossible for a vote to really count unless it’s either Labour or Tory; you know the system’s f***ed when so much energy goes into encouraging the ultra-cynical practice of tactical voting. Throughout this campaign, I’ve felt like that Paul Whitehouse character from ‘The Fast Show’, the one who agrees with every conflicting opinion aired before him, swinging back and forth, unable to decide where he stands. In a way, being confronted by this (lack of) choice feels emblematic of my life, really; but I’ve done the deed now and I’ve no doubt I’ve made absolutely no difference to the overall outcome whatsoever. Ain’t democracy great!

© The Editor

4 thoughts on “ONE MORE LAST CHANCE SALOON

  1. I too have done the deed, mid-morning, when I was surprised to encounter a queue at the polling station, never seen that here before. It may be a local fluke, or they’d seen the weather forecast, or it may indicate some wider awakening of interest in the political process, it may or may not influence the result.

    It is a sad reality in our electoral system that very few individuals ever have any real effect on the local outcome, never mind the national one – basically if your MP gets a majority greater than 2, then your own vote didn’t really matter. Democracy’s not that great then, is it?

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    1. It was practically empty at the polling station when I went, late morning – just a few old biddies supping tea. The atmosphere was akin to a wake for someone who won’t really be missed; a metaphor for Corbyn’s Labour?

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      1. And now the dust has settled, do we think the rancid Remainers will finally get the message at the third time of telling? Probably not, they don’t like democracy, we’ve noticed.

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