The Mood Music of a General Election

Our instinct has been to say little during the current UK election. Specific predictions are a mug's game. It is not what we do in any case.

Much of the information flow from now on is calculated to deceive and not enlighten. However we can make some observations based not on what the media tell us to think but on conversations with real people in real time, whether in the street or on social media. The bottom line here is that this election is a very peculiar one in which many competing sentiments clash with ostensible interests and make for considerable uncertainty.

For example, we should not underestimate the 'once bitten, twice shy' effect of the false predictions of economic meltdown made in the run up to the June 23rd Brexit Vote. Although no one believes that Brexit will be easy or without risk, ten months later it is quite clear that the economic experts in Government and the media had made poor predictions. The suspicion is that they were either talking their book as part of the pro-EU elite or could not admit they had no idea what was going to happen next. This left a massive legacy of distrust about all those who claim to be experts.

Something similar has happened to trust in the media. If there is one common thread in online comment, it is an almost sneering distrust of newspapers and broadcasters who are seen as either fully partisan like the Mail or the Sun or, more simply, so bound up in their own prejudices as to be untrustworthy, not from malice but from institutional group think. One particular BBC political journalist has the unique distinction of being loathed in equal measure by both the Left and the Right. Trust in the BBC as public service news provider is low to say the least.

With experts and the media pushed to one side, the public seems to be relating more directly to the politicians themselves. Many respond tribally to politicians who reflect their own sentiments and prejudices, as in the 'he can do no wrong' defence of Jeremy Corbyn from Labour activists or the tub-thumping Tory response to a sabre-rattling Boris Johnson. Others are stand-offish, feeling detached from a struggle that is like a three-dimensional chess game in which the pieces are competing priorities surrounding such issues as Brexit, austerity, public order, national unity and perceived self interest.

Labour began to claw back support from its base as Brexit became secondary to a realisation that a Tory Government asking for national unity had not managed to persuade much of the working population that it really does intend to be fair in its programme of cuts. Tactical voting is also very much a reality with both Remainers and Leavers making calculations about which local candidate will best secure their interest. But if there is a point of equilibrium it lies in a move towards strong Government at a time of potential national crisis.

EU spin doctors blundered this week with their leaked account of talks with Prime Minister May, perhaps thinking that implications of weakness and chaos would unnerve the British voter and shift votes to Remain candidates. They clearly do not understand the British mentality. Those who already have decided that they are Europeans will have been pleased but the idea of an EU challenging the British to a fight tends to bring out some very atavistic emotions in the English, emotions that are stubborn, dogged and defiant. Bringing Brexit back into the story threatens to undermine Corbyn and help May.