On Thursday we voted in the local council elections. We found ourselves voting for someone who used to go to the chess club that Phil ran for a while years ago at the local primary school. We were a little concerned about voting for someone so young, only a few years out of university, and relatively inexperienced but none of the other candidates had anything much to offer and at least that young man seems to have a brain and to be thinking the right way.
As the results came in yesterday mainstream media outlets started to talk as if it had all been a great failure for Labour. Defeat for Jeremy Corbyn, they cried, or perhaps crowed, success for Theresa May. But Labour now has 2,299 councillors across the country, up by 57, while the Conservatives have 1,330, down by 28. No, Labour didn’t win over the strong Conservative boroughs they hoped to win in London but London isn’t the whole country. Oh, I know that weather reporters think that when London has a heatwave the whole of the UK needs sunscreen, but political reporters should know better.
Spin, spin, spin!
UKIP won only 3 council places, down by 123. One of their own people said they have been like the Black Death, coming in, causing disruption and then fading away again. An odd thing to compare your own party to but who am I to expect rational behaviour from such people? Now, Radio 4 broadcast a regular programme which looks at statistics and how they are interpreted. Yesterday looked, among other things, at the number of times Nigel Farage has been invited to appear on BBC television’s “Question Time”. Some people had been suggesting that he had appeared more often than anyone else.
Not so, surprisingly. I think the overall winner was Shirley Williams. However, she had been on the political scene for a long, long time and her appearances had been spread over many years. Nigel Farage’s appearances, diminishing now, were concentrated over a much shorter period. Like Caroline Lucas, of the Green Party, he could be guaranteed to say things that would get other panel members going. So, lots of invitations and lots of appearances.
But those many appearances brought him more and more into the public eye and probably led to an increase in popularity for his party. Or at least, gave them a boost. (No, it hasn’t worked as well for the Greens, although they increased their total councillors to 39, up by 8. And Caroline Lucas does not appeal to rabid right wingers in the same way as Farage does.)
Whenever I reflect on the rise of Nigel Farage, and now on the rise of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is receiving similar media coverage, I am reminded of a science fiction story I read long ago. In the story, time travel had been properly sorted out and travel companies had branched out into time-tourism, taking tourists on trips to significant moments in history. One of these was to that hill without a city wall where the crucifixion took place. The tour guide noticed that over the years that he ran the visits the numbers at the site grew and grew. More and more people shouted for Barrabas to be freed and for Christ to be crucified, speeding up the decision to release the thief. Might things have gone differently, he wondered, if tourism had not developed there.
Similar comments might be made about media influence on political standing and even about the televising of Parliament, for that matter.