This has been a very strange general election, coming as it does just five weeks after our local council elections. A snap election called by our Prime Minister who managed to overturn the 2011 Fixed-term Parliament Act to call it. The provisions of the Act determined that, instead of Prime Ministers calling elections at times best suited to them and their parties, general elections would be held every five years, beginning in 2015. For an election to be called outwith the five yearly period, a vote of no confidence in the Government, or a two-thirds majority vote would be required.
Caving in to the Prime Minister and her party, the major opposition party voted for an election to be held a mere two years after the previous election.
This election campaign period has been marred by two atrocities – one in Manchester and one in London after which campaigning was suspended in respect of those killed and injured, and their grieving and shocked families and friends.
As the political upheaval of changing party fortunes rampages its way through the polls, all spin differing tales. Platitudes, empty rhetoric, threats, promises and name-calling show what an empty shell politics has become. Instead of debating policies and issues, informing and engaging people, we have huge swathes of the population turned off by highly staged events, planted questions, a refusal to give answers and manipulation by the ‘dark arts’.
Money has always been instrumental in determining the outcome of elections, and dark money, from unknown sources, is now used by certain political parties to influence us. Added to that we now have big data and psychometric profiling. Information is collected on us all – on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. It’s collated and sold. Profiles are compiled – our likes and dislikes, what turns us on and off. These are used to target us with specific ads on the same social media sites, to push us towards the result paymasters desire. To me, it is a form of brainwashing. Constant repetition of simple, catchy phrases means they worm their way into minds to pop to the surface in response to questions. The public have become like robots, primed and programmed to react in the manner required. Frightening for democracy.
A major part of this circus is an endless stream of television programmes where selected members of the public put questions to those seeking election. Last week I was asked to take part in one of these programmes.
As I’ve never been part of a television audience with an opportunity to question or comment I decided to accept, although it did mean a two-hour journey, but husband agreed to drive. All went well until we reached the proximity of the venue. Here the directions and maps we had downloaded let us down. We knew we were beside the park where the venue was situated but could find neither gate nor signage, nor car park where we had been advised to leave the car. An hour and a half later, after driving round and round, up and down ramps, stopping to ask passers-by directions, and eyes glued to a pulsing blue dot on my iPhone, I phoned my programme contact. She couldn’t help but advised me to hurry.
Eventually we found a gate. Locked. Only pedestrian access. I got out and started to walk as fast as I could through the park towards the building while husband found a parking space for the car. I thought I was getting nearer, only to discover an artificial lake spread out between me and venue. I arrived hot, thirsty and not in the best of moods.
One of the presenters of the programme, a clutch of notes in hand, was chatting with groups of audience members. About half an hour before the start of the programme we were taken into the broadcast area and shown to our seats. To me it looked as if the presenter seen in the reception area was identifying where certain members of the audience were sitting. This rang alarm bells with me as this was an event where the audience comprised politically active or supportive people. We had been asked how we would vote, along with numerous other questions before being accepted, and I wondered if there would be bias in the selection of those to ask questions. Politicians, one from all major parties, were seated in the front seats and provided with microphones.
Before the start we were briefed about clapping, and the two presenters did a number of trailers for the radio and television shows. Throughout this time we complained that we couldn’t hear what was being said, and, when we could hear, the sound was weirdly distorted. I put it down to the octagonal shape of the room and the large dome covering the whole area. An interesting feature, but it apparently mangled sound.
During the filming, response was almost impossible because of the sound problem though the boom microphones obviously caught enough to broadcast. Should I clap or not? I raised my hand to ask questions, waggled it. The presenter looked straight at me and took someone else, someone who had already spoken. Was it one of the people the presenter had identified before the programme began?
It soon became clear that my comments were never going to be aired nor questions asked. The same people were brought in time and again, and one politician seemed to get significantly more time than others – and seemed to have a much louder microphone.
Broadcast bias or my imagination? Well, there are plenty examples of the former, but also numerous explanations and excuses given by the broadcasting company.
Having left home just after four, we got back just before one in the morning, and all I’d had was a few sips of water. We hadn’t even had dinner. Was it worth it? Well, it was an interesting experience, but not I think one to be repeated any time soon.
I did this once for a daily talk show here in Toronto. It also became very clear who the TV cameras focused on. There were a lot of young and attractive people in your audience as there were in mine and it was those people who the cameras zoomed in on.
I suspect there was quite a slice of political bias involved as well. Many people have commented on it previously but it was quite astonishing to see how it was managed at the event. An eye-opener, though not exactly a surprise. Still, it was an interesting experience in a fabulous, though rather inappropriate, venue.