On the basis of all of the opinion polls the election coverage was shaping up like an Antonioni film –long-winded ennui and listless drifting. This all changed with the shock exit poll when the coverage turned into a joyful Hollywood ending or unrelenting torture porn, depending on your point of view. The Tories had decisively won the day, 1992 had come again and no one saw it coming. Someone must be voting for them, they’re just not owning up to it.
The election poll shocked everyone in the BBC studio and political guests went into a collective state of denial and disorientation. The unravelling of logic reached peak with Jeremy Vine’s unreasonably zany pop-up appearances that at one point, involved him standing in front of a bluescreen image, feigning panic that his ‘swingometer’ was going to ‘break’. “Even with the recalibration!” he yelped.
What is this country and why is it? It’s three o’clock in the morning. It’s the election coverage. A man on the television is springing up and down like a March Hare in a vortex of swirling eighties graphics, and people accept this as a totally ordinary way to carry on. This is not the time or the place for avant-garde hullaballoo. Take your Amstrad PCC and fuck off to Tomorrow’s World where you belong.
Moving on…it’s a very controversial thing in this day and age to suggest that politicians are human beings with thoughts, feelings and genitals but Emily Maitlis was determined to act as the nation’s conscience and continually demanded that we look at the human stories behind the numbers, and she tapped into something. This was a savage election but there was a distinct lack of blood lust. The closest thing this election had to a Portillo moment was the ousting of the Wicked Witch of West Wirral, Esther McVey, and she had to go ruin it by plainly holding back tears and smiling bravely like she had emotions or whatever.
Prior to the election, it was common opinion that you must have a heart of stone not to laugh at the self-inflicted devastation of the Liberal Democrats, whose night’s spoils amounted to 8 seats and 335 lost deposits. It looked like a classic tale of hubris. Icarus had flown too close to the sun and now he was coming crashing back down to Earth. But as it turns out that looking at splattered political corpses isn’t as much fun as it sounds. It’s very difficult to pull off a morally righteous smirk at Vince Cable looking like a bereft Mr Chips. Worst of all, the greatest proportion of the damage was meted out to the Liberal Democrats courtesy of their coalition partners – the final humiliation and no natural justice at all.
It will come as no surprise to anyone with a sense of proportion that Liberal Democrats are joined in the land of impending irrelevance by UKIP. As the night proceeded, it transpired that the groundswell of the People’s Army was nothing more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Far from changing the political landscape, UKIP lost a seat. Farage, like all poor workmen, blamed his tools – the electoral system, thereby faring slightly better than Neil Kinnock who simply blamed the idiocy of the electorate for Labour’s decimation.
Astute commentators explained the reasons behind Labour’s dramatic failure competently enough. True, the lack of a coherent economic argument played a significant role, but nothing crushed them more than the complete rejection of the Westminster parties by the Scottish electorate, not even Miliband’s bad table manners. The seismic-shifting victory of the SNP which was the true story of the night. Throughout Scotland, seat after seat fell to Nicola Sturgeon’s party with record-breaking swing after record-breaking swing. Some people might think it was quite important. The guests in the studio treated it with an amused sort of detachment.
After smiling indulgently at the celebrating Scottish nationalists like they were quirky, dancing pixies instead of a dynamic and powerful political force, the BBC proceeded to almost entirely ignore the political landscape of Wales, except in marginal Conservative seats. Meanwhile, loads of interesting things went on in Northern Ireland. I know that because I read it in the Belfast Telegraph. Despite declaring that the Northern Irish parties were ‘finally relevant’ (and oh, little Ulster eyes did spring sparkly tears at such fulsome praise) the BBC still managed to ignore them in their entirety all night long.
The media’s blatant disregard for anything that happens outside of the confines of England passed irritating in this election cycle and hit outright insulting. Northern Ireland have taken the worst deal; being excluded from the leader’s debates, being excluded from nationwide forecasts and continually referred to as a homogenous bloc of ‘Other’ instead of by their party names. This is not a question of proportional representation. The DUP, the SDLP, the UUP and Sinn Fein all took more seats than UKIP and combined received less than a fraction of their coverage.
With that in mind it was something of a surprise to hear BBC personalities concern trolling the Conservatives about their apathy towards the Union. Physician, heal thyself. The BBC have shown nothing but a reluctantly dutiful interest in anyone lacking an English accent in the course of this election and as the Scottish people have decisively shown; this really isn’t going to slide anymore.