I suspect I’m not the only person in the country that kept a reasonable distance from the general election coverage. Don’t get me wrong I did follow events, but I refused to let myself drown in the television, radio and newspaper blitzkrieg. Nor was I ever accosted by canvassers offering to pay my mortgage or send me on a round the world luxury trip, if I voted for their candidate. Whether such an inducement would have influenced my decision is open to debate, but in the run up to polling day I maintained an aura of cool detachment while quite a few of my friends were getting more than just a little hot under the collar.
So when did my position of partial indifference swing to razor-sharp alertness? I can pinpoint the exact moment to when I dragged myself out of bed at 5.30am on Friday 7th May, the day after the polling stations closed. When I went to bed the night before, only a handful of results had been counted – five hours later I woke up to a hung parliament. Physically I didn’t feel any different but emotionally I was more revved up than a bull on speed. In fact I wasn’t the only one. I was on a Eurostar train en route to Paris with a group of friends, and hung parliaments were the only topic of conversation in all but one of the carriages. “How could this have happened?” they asked, “Where do we go from here?” “Do you think they’ll call another election?” By the time we reached Gare du Nord station we were no closer to finding the answer, nor were our French hosts, who were as amused by the situation as we were perplexed. As one of them succinctly put it democracy’s a great thing… except when nobody gets the result they’re looking for. C’est la vie!
One thing I certainly wasn’t looking for was the incredible backlash against the press. It always has been and always will be in the firing line of criticism, but this time there seemed to be more bullets flying around than usual. Thankfully I wasn’t involved in any of the actual coverage but it’s rather disconcerting when strangers accost you in the street and personally accuse you of bias because you happen to work in the media. I could probably deal with that if I really was guilty as charged, but since I’m not a political journalist, I think the accusation was rather unjust. Nevertheless I genuinely understand why a number of people were concerned about the press coverage. We’re intelligent enough to make up our own minds as to whom we should vote for, and we shouldn’t be railroaded into a decision by overt journalistic prejudice.
I’m all in favour of freedom of opinion, but that doesn’t include maliciously rubbishing one candidate over another or crucifying their reputation, because an editor dislikes their politics, their social background or the colour of their tie. You know you’re in trouble when spite masquerades as objectivity!
However there’s room for hope. The hung parliament predicted by the pollsters may have been bad news for Westminster, but it was good news for democracy because in the final analysis it was the will of the public rather than press opinion, that ultimately prevailed. That fact alone ought to give the media enough room for reflection, however there’s still always the possibility someone out there will use their position to try to manipulate us into voting a certain way. Old habits die-hard!