Assertions of right-wing invincibility must be challenged, writes Lesley Riddoch
Are the Tories en route for a massive Scottish comeback? Will the SNP just fail to win Glasgow in the council elections? Is Labour a basket-case because of the “un-electable” Jeremy Corbyn?
The message behind most newspaper headlines is relentless and unequivocal.
The establishment always wins and those taking a different tack always come unstuck. It’s a print message too readily reflected by broadcasters like the BBC which, though sworn to balance, rapidly becomes unbalanced through its unquestioning echo of newspaper editorials, its selection of pundits and choice of mainstream talking heads.
Across every TV channel, Labour and the SNP are vigorously questioned – Theresa May and the Westminster Government are faintly challenged. Indeed the Prime Minister’s call for the electorate to “strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations” cunningly suggests that her election call is less of a grubby power grab and more of a peacetime Dunkirk, where voters exercise their civic duty to vote Tory and clamour round Theresa May waving Union Flags in a patriotic fervour.
Worse. Since the local elections have been contemptuously sidelined, this Thursday’s vote will likely have the same “do your duty” overtone mixed with that other opposition-crushing media narrative about the “popular” battle to defeat Nicola Sturgeon and her second independence referendum.
The only Conservative local election material I’ve received talks exclusively about this “threat” and makes not a single mention of local issues. So far, so normal - Tory bias, press distortion and a gloomy feeling that the world has turned inexorably rightwards in the wake of the Syrian migrant crisis, Brexit, Trump and the triumph of fake news.
The implication is clear. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
But drill down past these assumptions and headlines and you’ll find another story. Not a story of progressive resurgence – not yet - but certainly a less dispiriting reality.
Take the presumption that Brits still support Brexit and believe that leaving the single market is inevitable. Strangely enough, the latest YouGov poll has uncovered “buyer’s remorse” over Brexit for the first time. YouGov found 45 per cent think the vote to leave was wrong, whilst 43 per cent think it was right and 12 per cent don’t know. Interesting – but not part of any red-top headline.
Or what about that other bit of received wisdom – that Scots don’t want another independence referendum? The latest Panelbase poll has found 52 per cent of voters believe Theresa May shouldn’t stand in Nicola Sturgeon’s way if she makes a manifesto commitment to go for a second vote and wins a majority of seats.
In a different media climate that would be game, set and match to the SNP and their case for getting Section 30 powers so that Scots can make the final decision on EU v UK membership. The party has already won a majority at Holyrood and been backed by the Scottish Parliament. Of course, Scots Secretary David Mundell then slipped in an extra hurdle – opinion poll support. But now it seems that test has also been met. So will the Conservatives back down? Were they even asked? Not on your nelly.
What about that other mantra – that support for independence is falling? Actually the Panelbase poll found 51 per cent of voters now back independence - 41 per cent inside the EU and 10 per cent outside it. Furthermore, 54 per cent expect Scotland to be independent within 15 years.
Agreed, these are not massive majorities – yet. But the second campaign for independence will take place in the context of Brexit and a near permanent Tory majority at Westminster – and that campaign has not even begun yet. Although the Tory and Labour parties talk about nothing else, the SNP have decided not to rush their own processes and adopt hastily prepared positions on borders, currency and the economy just because Theresa May is prepared to create chaos with her cynical snap election.
51 per cent support for independence without a campaign in the face of a combined Davidson/Dugdale/May/UK press assault is not bad. But you won’t read that analysis in many parts of the press or media. Mind you, unexamined assertions of right wing ascendancy extend well beyond Scotland.
You’ll have heard the prediction that Labour is set to lose Wales. You’ll have heard less about the poll which shows the Tory lead over Labour shrank by seven points last week.
YouGov says the Tories are on 45 per cent while Labour is on 29 per cent. The Daily Mirror’s election tracker puts it closer – Conservatives 42 per cent, Labour 31 per cent.
Of course both polls leave Jeremy Corbyn with a hill to climb.
But it’s about the same size as the one facing Scottish Conservatives, sitting on 28 per cent, against the SNP’s 41 per cent. And yet the narrative of hopelessness for Corbyn against breakthrough for the Scottish Tories is so very different.
Likewise with Ukip. Now that Brexiteers have accomplished their mission and Nigel Farage isn’t on Question Time every week, Ukip’s vote is collapsing – 6-8 per cent south of the border and 2 per cent north of it. Has there been much analysis of this apparent retreat from extremism – not a jot. Meanwhile in mainland Europe, the predicted rightward, Euro-sceptic lurch amongst voters hasn’t come to pass either.
In March, despite a media frenzy around the anti-Islam, anti-EU populist Geert Wilders, he was beaten by the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte in parliamentary elections. Rutte said “The Netherlands has said ‘Stop’ to the wrong sort of populism.” Still the narrative of a relentless right-wing surge continued until last weekend, when centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron topped the first round of the French Presidential elections with the result that British media coverage of that contest has all but evaporated.
So viewers may not know 70 per cent public support for retaining the Euro has forced Marine le Pen to say she will not dump the currency if she wins. Indeed the French situation demonstrates the symbiotic relationship between politics and the economy. The first round win for Emmanuel Macron bolstered the Euro, whose resurgence may bolster the Euro-supporting Macron.
This is a lesson for everyone back home.
Assertions of right-wing invincibility are not just undemocratic and diversity-denying. They can be predictive and self-fulfilling unless fairly contested. Yet that is unlikely to happen.
So voters must dig deep, ignore banner headlines and tired old narratives – and make up their own minds at the polls.