Election 2019

This has certainly been one of the more interesting election campaigns in recent memory. By turns chaotic and mendacious, but nevertheless enthralling, I’m looking forward to an outcome on Friday morning which proves it (as well as to enjoying plenty of Portillo moments).

The last 24 hours has perhaps seen the worst of things as regards the dark arts with the beginning of the Tory advertising blitz via Facebook, coinciding with the re-generation of sock puppet accounts as a diversionary tactic to the horror of a boy lying on a hospital floor as there was no bed for him, and in the face of Johnson’s own dissembling and point blank refusal to look at the image when faced with it (now with 11m views…), coupled with a non-story about an adviser being punched.

From a policy point of view, there are two issues that need to be addressed here: firstly, the willing take-up of Dominic Cummings’s rouble-sourced bait by journalists who ought to know better; and secondly the dominance of the social media platforms, especially Facebook but also, albeit to a lesser extent, Twitter, in terms of the news we see and what, in a time-pressed world, we come to regard as truth.

Robert Peston and Laura Kuenssberg ought to know better, but rather than pin the blame on them in a conspiracy theory about the modern state of the BBC in the clutches of a vile government, I think the main problem lies with the failures of journalism under pressure of a 24-hour news cycle. Before t’internet came along, the time pressures where a journalist had a story to break would be somewhat less and publishing timetables tended to lend more time for fact checking in advance of publication or broadcast. Nowadays, journalists making their living in the field, and who have a story but fear being scooped, tend to report everything and then – occasionally – backtrack when proved wrong. Evidently, that’s often too late once tweets and posts have been shared and then amplified via individual networks.

Journalists need to be less afraid of being scooped and to take greater time to establish the facts before engaging with their social media accounts – or at least to qualify their messages with an acknowledgment that the situation is still being checked. I for one am quite happy if the news comes to me fact-checked and accurate, if a little slower; although I acknowledge that this understates the adrenaline rush realised by those among us who are the ‘first’ to tell us something. We also need to break the consensus that people spreading such stories are not ‘sources’ in the accepted journalistic sense and can be identified in the public interest. That might, however, need a little more solidarity between journalists if the cosy relationship between spinners and relayers is to be broken.

Secondly, James Mitchinson, Editor of the Yorkshire Post, got it spot-on yesterday in his response to one reader who took issue with his paper’s coverage of the story of what happened at Leeds General Infirmary. In a discombobulating world, when we do not know who to trust and when we have been led actively to distrust those institutions to which we formerly looked for honesty, it is very easy to be led astray. This is of course where Facebook – particularly – comes in since it has scooped up much of the local advertising revenues on which local journalism used to rely and whose loss has starved local papers of resources and journalists. The dispute over job cuts at the Herald has much to comment on this, also.

The genie can’t be put back in the bottle, but the unchecked abuse of its powers out in the wild can and should be better controlled, not least in terms of the potential for the manipulation of opinions during an election, as well as in terms of the stealing of identities and their use by/sale to hackers. When Facebook has such control but so little interest in exercising it responsibly – sock puppet accounts are as good as any other when it comes to the numbers proving continued growth to the investors – the only answer can be better regulation. Clearly it’s own – largely algorithm-based – actions to remove false accounts are not working and neither, does it seems, are its fraud reporting mechanisms (while Twitter’s are scarcely any better) while certainly it needs to have something in place which stops people impersonating and misrepresenting others and stealing data. This means that Facebook itself also has to put more of those advertising revenues into human intervention to ensure its user accounts are genuine.

(And the government needs to publish that Intelligence and Security Committee report into meddling in UK referendums and elections – it’s clearly already too late for this election, but there are lessons to be learned in respect of future ones.)

The Western Isles electoral seat – Scotland’s smallest, and a protected constituency under the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 – was held in the last parliament by the SNP, with a majority of about 1,000 votes over Labour in second (and the rest nowhere). In Alison MacCorquodale, we have a good candidate from North Uist (and an active trade unionist, to boot) highly capable of building on the efforts of Ealasaid MacDonald in 2017 in making this a two-way, non-Tory marginal. Touring this southern end of the constituency at the weekend, the equal matching of red and yellow lamp-post favours was highly encouraging. All of which means I can vote Labour with both my heart and my head. Only Labour has the manifesto committed to ending austerity, re-building the NHS (and keeping Trump’s hands off it) and achieving real change for people.

Other people don’t have that luxury where a Labour candidate is neither the sitting MP nor the nearest challenger. If that’s you, and especially in those narrow marginals which will make a substantial difference to the outcome on Thursday, do vote for the candidate best placed to eject the Tory. There is a plethora of tactical voting websites to help you make your mind up, the latest addition being the @ledbydonkeys campaign to GetJohnsonGone. Others include Best for Britain’s tactical voting site Get Voting.

Do consult at least one of them and, even if you do, for one reason or another, have to hold your nose while putting your ‘x’ in that box, ensure that we wake up on Friday morning with a series of ‘Were you up when…?’ exits, Johnson gone, advisers with egg all over their faces and a future awaiting us in which we can together start to put right the things that have gone so wrong in the last nine years. Vote for hope.

4 thoughts on “Election 2019

  1. Unfortunately in a world of insta-news it’s the lie that gets spread and takes hold before the rebuttal has time to be formulated. You just need to look over newspaper “retractions”, printed or published in minitype in a non-prominent place many months after the original disinformation.

    Of course the one-sided nature of the media (it’s the same in Australia) that now barely attempts to hide its lockstep with the conservatives doesn’t help, despite the other voices in social media. Truth is the groundwork for destabilising anyone deemed “left” always begins years before an election – whether it’s a “communist dad” or a “Russian” hat.

    As regards Brexit and it’s continuing disaster a lot of leavers just seem to want to not admit it’s a shitshow and would prefer to ignore it and hope it all just “goes away”, “done” is the phrase they like. Except it’s a long way from finished and it’s divisive effects will be felt for a long time to come.

    I would love to see change, and for the chaotic, destructive policies and ideology of the far right politicians to be knocked back. It doesn’t appear likely at this point, sadly.

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    1. Hello! How lovely to hear from you.

      I can’t ever remember the line between presenting facts and figures in the best possible light and lying to have been crossed so frequently as in this election. Aided by thoughtless (re-)tweeting and re-posting by people whose size of following, if nothing else to do with professional integrity, ought to lead them to think twice. The danger is, people end up interpreting that as partisanship and though it may not be, the more it carries on regardless of how many times it’s pointed out that this is how it looks, the more it will end up becoming partisan. Journalism is at a bit of a crossroads – which is why I was so pleased to see James Mitchinson at the Yorkshire Post taking the time to write a personal plea. Well worth a view, if you haven’t seen it already.

      Not a surprise, of course – this is the Vote Leave playbook and, as we know, they’re in charge, even if that famed ‘No. 10 source’ is supposed to have resigned his post once the election was called.

      All the more reason to get them gone tomorrow!

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  2. Great post, Calvin. Given the state of the Labour party (who would be comfortably ahead in the polls if they had a leader with broader appeal) I wish I could share your optimism but let’s see!

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    1. Thanks, Philip. And apologies for the general nature of the post which I know left out Northern Ireland.

      I think there’s good reasons for optimism, especially with recent polling evidence and the survey evidence on the number of young voters who say (q.v. tell the pollsters) they will turn out. And #fridgegate this morning is an absolute gift at this stage of the campaign, given the supposed focus on Johnson’s ‘energy’. Really interesting to compare his performance on camera yesterday, and his appearance, with that of Corbyn.

      Hoping for good weather across the country to maximise the turnout and so as to make the Tories history!

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