News & Opinion


How The British Press Lost Its Mind Over The General Election

The Daily Beast

May 6, 2015

Yes, British politics looks like fun: all that shouting and cutting wit at Prime Minister’s Question Time on C-Span, the drama of the House of Commons. So quaint, so historic, and those accents!

And yes, you will most surely laugh—they are so richly absurd, what else could one do?—at the headlines in the papers today, the day before a General Election.

It may seem that British politics is a knockabout sport, and these headlines would be laughable were they not the voice of the establishment and the wealthy seeking to denigrate, distort the words, and viciously mock the threat to their power—Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader.

The headlines would be hilarious if the country wasn’t due to elect a hung parliament, with as-yet unknowable parties in likely coalition—and no parties willing to fully contemplate not-outright winning, and so not talking about the coalitions they would form.

The true duty of Britain’s pluralistic press right now should be surely to furnish voters with the information necessary to make an informed choice on whom to vote for in this landscape.

But this is Election Eve Britain: cheap, sharp abuse is easier.

Miliband has endured this treatment throughout the campaign, but by any measure today’s newspapers mark a new low (or high, depending on your penchant for perversity) for the British press.

If Miliband does win any kind of power, imagine the next day’s front pages. Or maybe not.

The most rabidly Conservative tabloid paper, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun’s, front page, is telling in its own way.

It is a nearly year-old picture of Ed Miliband eating a sandwich.

Yes, America—you read that right.

“SAVE OUR BACON,” The Sun screams. “This is the pig’s ear Ed made of a helpless sarnie. In 48 hours, he could be doing the same to Britain…Don’t swallow his porkies and keep him OUT.”

Yes, America—you read that right.

In other words: “This man looks disgusting eating a sandwich. He will f*ck Britain up.”

A momentous political moment. Important debates to be had, questions to be asked, leaders to be interrogated, and the Sun has an old picture of the Labour leader eating a sandwich, seeking to humiliate him.

It harks back to the most notorious of election front pages, from 1992, in which the paper put the head of then-Labour leader Neil Kinnock in a lightbulb, and told readers, doomily: “If Kinnock Wins Today, Will The Last Person In Britain Please Turn Out The Lights.”

After weeks of campaigning, the only thing the Sun can tell its readers is to not vote for Miliband because of the way he was once photographed eating a sandwich.

The grotesque thing about this is not Miliband’s bacon sandwich-eating technique— which the Sun wishes its readers to be so grossed out over it invalidates his political acumen and abilities—but what it says about the Sun’s utter lack of material.

The most right-wing, scandal-raking tabloid, with all its down and dirty investigative reporting firepower, has got nothing on Miliband, on the eve of the election, apart from how he eats bread.

The Sun is urging its readers to not vote for a prospective prime minister because of the way this person eats a sandwich.

The next time you think the British sound all classy and authoritative with their accents and afternoon tea, remember this.

Meanwhile, over at the Daily Mail, where women who have careers and don’t have children are constantly at risk of cancer or self-combustion, the relentless attacks on Miliband built to a crescendo.

Seeking to link him to the SNP (the Scottish National Party)—a possible Coalition partner for Miliband should he win (he says it will never happen)—in banner letters, the Daily Mail shouts across the front page: “For sanity’s sake, don’t let a class war zealot and the SNP destroy our economy—and our very nation.” It then instructs readers to go to page 30-32 for “How You Can Vote Tactically To Keep Out Red Ed.”

Intriguingly, the actual semblance of a news story on the front page alongside the hysterical diktat-giving is a story about longer and longer waiting times to see your doctor—pointing to a failure of a Coalition health policy.

Oh dear, it seems the Daily Mail just doesn’t know who is to blame for anything. But the key guiding thesis it follows is that somebody is, and they must be insulted and shamed as shrilly as possible.

If Miliband’s Labour Party does win any kind of power on Thursday, you will be able to hear the screaming, cussing, and renting of Daily Mail clothing in Nebraska.

The Daily Express, the most right wing of them all, is supporting—editorially and financially—UKIP, the much-reviled, right-wing anti-immigration party led by the buffoonish Nigel Farage. Its front page was an “exclusive” pitch from Farage himself: “Why You Must Vote For Ukip.”

But look, don’t let this command distract you from the promotion above. You can also acquire a free tea towel in the image of Princess Charlotte, Prince William and Kate’s second baby!

Dammit. What to do first? Vote for Ukip or get the tea towel?

Decisions, decisions.

Their front page was immediately and brilliantly satirized—or should that be deconstructed?—by one Twitter user.

The right-leaning broadsheets are foaming at the mouth too, in their own polite way, desperate to stop Miliband.

The very right-wing Daily Telegraph warns of a “Nightmare on Downing Street,” again summoning up the apocalyptic spirit of a possible balance of power being held by Scotland’s SNP and its charismatic leader Nicola Sturgeon, who has by far been the most impressive public performer of the election campaign.

The center-right Times (full disclosure: where I worked for a number of years and which is, like the Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch) opts to denigrate Miliband further, carrying an interview with David Cameron claiming Miliband is trying to “con” his way into Number Ten. This summons up images of Miliband hanging around outside in a David Cameron face-mask, or altering some title deeds.

Geez, if Milliband isn’t mangling a bacon sandwich, he’s trying to trick the electorate into voting for him.

Of course, the Conservatives would never dream of doing the same in their desperate hunt for votes.

The right wing has many more papers and voices than the left, but the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror deployed its own attempt at giving David Cameron a bloody nose, quoting ex Tory Prime Minister John Major’s damning assessment of the Tory-LibDem coalition.

But the key difference was that the Mirror was at least reporting news—albeit cloaked in its own beliefs—not simply offering its opinion, or free-flowing abuse.

And so, the day before an important General Election—where the gap between rich and poor, and the safeguarding of public services, like the National Health Service should be the talking points—we have instead one inglorious mud-fight, with almost all the slinging being done by a terrified Right-wing led media establishment.

Such a lovely, civilized, politically evolved island, aren’t we?