The need for a bit more honesty in political journalism

“Labour should be 20 points ahead in polls” (BBC). “If the Conservatives are such a mess, why isn’t Labour doing better in the polls?” (Telegraph)

Theresa May was turned into a lameduck by the general election result.

Before the general election, pundits were eulogising May; and predicting that she was going to deliver a 100-seat majority in Parliament – leading to a lifetime/decades/centuries of Conservative government.

That was proven completely wrong. So, people who had made those predictions – and were thereby confirmed to be either useless or dishonest – then changed position; and pretended that they had been vindicated, regardless.

Their complaint against ‘the Left’ and Jeremy Corbyn turned from ‘May is brilliant – Corbyn is terrible’; to ‘May is terrible – and Corbyn couldn’t even beat her’.

It’s demonstrably false. The Conservatives announced their ‘snap’ general election in April 2017 – and were polling at 43% of the stated voter-intention; while Labour were at 25%.

As the BBC put it:

“It might seem foolish to call anything a certainty now in politics, but this is probably as close as you’ll get. A raft of Sunday polls in the UK put the Conservatives somewhere between 11 and a massive 21 points ahead of Labour, the largest gap between the parties in the past nine years”.

The general election result saw the Conservatives finish with 42.4% of the vote; whereas Labour ended with 40%. There was clearly not a significant swing of voters away from the Conservatives, to Labour.

Instead, the major upsurge in support for Labour occurred over the course of a week, after their manifesto had been leaked to the media. It was evidently the policies Labour were offering to the public under Corbyn – and only under his leadership – which resulted in a surge of enthusiasm.

That is what shattered both the punditry consensus that only minor variations on liberal-conservatism were “electable” in Britain; and deprived the government of a Parliamentary majority – paving the way for its current turmoil.

This cannot reasonably be attributed to any other factor. The Scottish National Party lost nearly half of its MPs – primarily to the Scottish Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats contested the general election on opposition to Brexit, and made no gains in the overall public vote – in fact, their vote share decreased by 0.5%; they merely increased their number of Parliamentary seats from 8 to 12, due to the electoral system. Ukip’s dissipation granted a significant boost in popular support to the Conservative Party.

Commentators throughout the press published a variety of prophecies which turned out to be completely wrong. Nobody is blessed with omniscience; but if you have been left comprehensively discredited, it is not really justifiable to claim that somehow you were proven correct.

So, media pundits can pretend that they have called it right in defiance of their own output, all they wish. But it just leaves them looking like inebriated Texas sharp-shooters; who take aim at a barn door with their trusty 12-shot – miss with every single bullet; then use a piece of chalk to draw circles around various chips and divots, before claiming a dozen direct hits.

A bit of honesty would not go amiss.