This, I promise, will be my final comment on the UK general election, which took place on Thursday. Thereafter, normal service will be resumed on Blood and Porridge. Yes, I will return to writing about my usual topics, which are James Bond, Father Ted, graveyards, obscure British horror movies and the sexy places I have visited.
During the campaign that preceded it and in the actual results it produced, this election has sucked and yet, perversely, it’s felt rather enjoyable too. Here are five reasons why it sucked; and five more reasons why, at the same time, I enjoyed it.
WHY IT SUCKED
One: social media.
The Twitter-sphere and Internet generally are infested with abuse-screaming bampots of all political persuasions. Vilely insulting other people who disagree with your political views, from a keyboard, at a safe and hidden distance, is abhorrent. It’s a practice, however, that’s best dealt with by ignoring it. Unfortunately, with Britain’s newspapers, we have a partisan traditional media that both mistrusts and misunderstands the nature of modern information technology; and treats it as an easy source of outrageous comments that can be held up and waved in your headlines as supposed proof that all your political opponents are foul-mouthed lunatics.
It possibly wasn’t a coincidence that the world best-loved and most fragrant lady novelist, J.K. Rowling, suddenly appeared in the Scottish – Labour Party-leaning – newspapers two days before the general election; where she talked about the online abuse she’d suffered last year at the hands, or tweets, of Scottish-independence supporters after she intervened in the independence debate and said it was a bad idea. Yes, I think the timing of these sudden J.K. ROWLING TALKS ABOUT LAST YEAR’S TWITTER ABUSE BY SCOTTISH NATIONALISTS headlines was a wee bit suspicious – they hit the newspapers at the exactly the same moment that the Scottish Labour Party was breaking the emergency glass and pulling out her old friend, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, to try to save the party’s skin in Scotland. (It didn’t work. Scottish Labour ended up losing 40 of its 41 seats to the Scottish National Party.)
Predictably, J.K. Rowling is now getting more abusive tweets from the SNP’s lunatic fringe – which makes her Twitter stream a surreal place, where messages like “J.K. Rowling, you’re a traitor to Scotland!” alternate with ones from schoolgirls in South Korea asking her what Hedwig the Owl’s favourite flavour of cheese is.
On the Internet, you’ll find psychotic SNP supporters, and psychotic Labour supporters, and psychotic Tories, and psychotic Greens. And psychotic Quakers, and psychotic Buddhists, and psychotic Jedi Knights, and psychotic Coldplay fans. If you’re going to use the new media that the communications revolution has spawned in the last 20 years, you have to accept the existence of such basket-cases as a sad inevitability and ignore them. Especially if you dare to offer anything resembling an opinion.
And journalists, please stop wading into this online mire searching for stories. Go into the real world and find some real stories instead.
Two: Russell Brand.
I don’t hate the hirsute and ubiquitous Russell Brand, even if I think he was a stupid dick a while ago to advise young people to disdain the democratic process and avoid voting. I don’t even think it was foolish of Labour leader – former Labour leader – Ed Miliband to talk to him shortly before this election and persuade him that voting is actually a sensible thing to do. In fact, Ed even persuaded Russ to endorse Labour.
What I find irritating is that after Ed had lost the election, Russell Brand immediately declared that he’d made his pro-voting (and pro-Labour) comments in the heat of the moment and hadn’t really meant what he’d said. Though as soon as he’d disassociated himself from poor Ed, the electoral loser, he then predicted five years of strife under the new Conservative government and urged his followers to behave with ‘compassion’.
Which makes it sound like Russell was not only trying to have his cake and eat it; but also to take that cake to bed, and subject it to sustained and vigorous foreplay, and grease it with lubricant and shove it up his arse.
(c) The Independent
Three: the mainstream press.
I’ve already written that the majority of Britain’s national newspapers are owned by a half-dozen super-rich, tax-dodging, far-right-wing gits, so I won’t mention that fact again. (Oops. I just have.) Correspondingly, most of these newspapers’ election coverage had to be taken with an amount of salt equivalent to the annual output of the world’s largest salt mine.
And as I’ve written before, the coverage of Scotland in the right-wing press before the election was depressingly shrill and xenophobic. Nor has it stopped during the three days since the Scottish voting public gave a huge mandate to the SNP. Bruce Anderson, for example, has raged in the Daily Telegraph about ‘half the population of Scotland’ being ‘in the grip of religious hysteria’. Meanwhile, Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir wrote a piece responding to the Scottish results with this charming headline: VILE BIGOTS HAVE MADE ME ASHAMED TO BE SCOTTISH.
You may remember that following the death of gay pop star Stephen Gately in 2009, Ms Moir wrote a homophobic column about him that resulted in 25,000 complaints being made to the British Press Complaints Commission. So funnily enough, the words Vile bigot has made me ashamed to be Scottish are precisely what appear in my head whenever I hear mention of Jan Moir.
To return to the Scottish Labour Party… Although I don’t support them, I have actually felt a bit sorry for them since their Thursday-night slaughter at the hands of the SNP. Particularly piteous have been the expressions of denial made by their (now nearly entirely unemployed) politicians: “It’s not our fault!” “The public didn’t listen to us, the fools!” And so on.
Mind-boggling rather than piteous, though, has been the reaction of their boss Jim Murphy. Despite losing his seat, and despite his party’s number of MPs going from 41 to one under his watch, Jim is still there. He maintains that he’s still the right man for the job of Scottish Labour Party leader. He reminds me of the black knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who insists on continuing to fight after having his arms and legs cut off: “I’ll do you for that! Come here! I’m invincible!” (King Arthur: “You’re a loony.”)
(c) The Daily Mail
(c) Michael White Productions
Mind you, J.K. Rowling did try to console poor Jim by making him an honorary member of the House of Gryffindor at Hogwarts. Though I have to say that if Jim Murphy had had any authority at Hogwarts at the time of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Lord Voldemort would now be ruling the entire universe.
Five: the Tories won.
Well, obviously. And bollocks! They’ve just brought back Michael Gove.
BUT… WHY I ENJOYED IT.
One: social media.
Yes, the social media aspect of this general election sucked but, paradoxically, it was brilliant too. I say that as someone who remembers how elections were in the olden days, when for your information you depended on supposedly-learned authorities penning pieces in the newspapers or pontificating on TV. Basically, it was a case of well-to-do Oxford / Cambridge-educated political pundits telling us, the plebs, how things were and what to do about it. And if you wanted to participate in the debate – well, you sat down and penned a letter and sent it off to a newspaper, in the dim hope that it might be published a few days later.
Compare that with now. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook… And probably a hundred other innovations that are too new and trendy for someone my age to even know about, let alone understand and use. Lord George Foulkes can say something pompous and stupid and 30 seconds later you can be in his Twitter stream taking him to task about it and calling him a tube. If that isn’t proper, participatory democracy, what is?
It also, incidentally, made this election incredibly funny. Political satire is now something the entire population can indulge in, immediately, rather than having to sit down passively and read Private Eye magazine or watch Have I Got News for You. Some of the jokes, quips, barbs and (courtesy of Photoshop) visual gags whizzing around the Internet have been brilliant. I particularly like the one about the sartorially eccentric George Galloway, recently deposed MP for Bradford West, now having time to start ‘his Victorian ghost-hunting psychic detective agency’.
(c) The Daily Star
Galloway was just one of many politicians who suffered defeats in this election. In fact, there were more heads left rolling in the dust than there were in several seasons of Game of Thrones. It felt like a particularly gory afternoon spent at the coliseum in Ancient Rome – lots of sadistic entertainment for the audience, though probably not much fun for the gladiators. This is remarkable when you consider how even the election that caused the most dramatic reshaping of the electoral landscape in the last 20 years, 1998’s one when Tony Blair trounced John Major, produced just one memorable casualty: Michael Portillo.
This time though, we saw the demise of Dougie Alexander, Jim Murphy, Vince Cable, Simon Hughes, Danny Alexander, Charles Kennedy and Ester McVey. Plus most spectacularly of all, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls lost his seat by a few hundred seats. Cue a million cruel Internet jokes about Labour getting its Balls cut off.
Three: Scottish people ignored the mainstream press.
Despite the Scottish newspapers spending the half-year prior to the election braying about how brilliant Jim Murphy was – facilitated no doubt by Murphy’s shifty but supposedly press-savvy spin doctor John McTernan – nobody in Scotland paid attention. Result!
Four: failure of loonies.
The leader, sorry, ex-leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and hence Britain’s right-wing loony / fruitcake in chief Nigel Farage – he was enthusiastically backed by the Daily Express, which says it all – stood as a parliamentary candidate in the constituency of Thanet. He was, however, beaten and this failure prompted his resignation as UKIP leader. When the result was announced, the face of comedian Al Murray, who ran as a joke-candidate against Farage, was an absolute picture.
Talking of loonies and fruitcakes, I was delighted that Susan-Anne White, the demented evangelical-Christian candidate in the constituency I’m originally from, West Tyrone, garnered just 166 votes on the night. Or as the Google election-results service put it, ‘0%’ of the total.
Five: be careful what you wish for, Tories.
In 1992, John Major pulled off a remarkable result for the Conservative Party. He won a narrow majority – one that nobody had expected, but a majority nonetheless. Yet within a year, his government was a shambles. To keep his slender majority intact, Major had to devote his entire energy to threatening, appeasing and pleading with a large contingent of far-right-wing Conservative backbenchers, whose xenophobic, Europhobic, ‘hang-’em, flog ’em’ mind-set was barely distinguishable from that of UKIP today.
23 years later, we find David Cameron in the same situation. He may be looking smug at the moment, but I suspect that smugness will evaporate very shortly as right-wing / moderate-wing civil war threatens to break out in his party. I will, of course, be here to write about it when it happens.