A recent article in the Huffington Post highlighted huge disparities between how political parties and leaders are perceived, in addition to what their policies actually are. The Media Reform Committee rightly labelled this as a “worrying disconnect”.
To summarise the YouGov poll, people agreed more with the economic policies of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, but thought the Conservatives were better at dealing with the economy (30% compared to 16% who thought Labour were). This is a disturbing contradiction that suggests people will agree or disagree with certain political claims depending heavily on who makes them. What is also worrying is that in the majority of cases, the highest response to the survey questions was ‘don’t know’, while the Liberal Democrats and Greens achieved just 3% and 1% respectively.
The Tories in particular are very good at maintaining a strong public image. However, it’s hard to argue that their branding truly reflects what they represent, at least in terms of their fiscal policies. Theresa May has tried to espouse the image of a centrist liberal, a firm-but-fair figurehead that the country can look to. Time and time again, she has pleaded for “an economy that works for everyone”, she has argued against homelessness, slavery and all manner of injustices that plague the modern world. But it’s all talk; there have been few policies to reflect this.
Many politicians, such as Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, try to present themselves as ordinary people ‘just like us’ fighting against the status quo and the chains of political correctness. In fact this rebellious man-of-the-people type image leads people to think that they are more progressive than they really are. Perhaps because of this, a poll
prior to the 2014 General Election saw people place the Tories as more right-wing than UKIP.
Perhaps another reason for the confusion is that many politicians have stances which totally contradict their subsequent actions. Labour under Tony Blair actually introduced university tuition fees and some NHS privatisation, despite the party seemingly opposing this. Nick Clegg promised to abolish tuition fees, despite agreeing to them rising. David Cameron vehemently opposed tax evasion, despite doing it himself. Such actions creates an air of mistrust, meaning it’s actually fairly difficult to know what any politician truly believes in. The media exaggerate issues like this too, which brings us on to our next topic.
For a long time, Labour have criticised the right-wing bias in the media, due to the connection of key media outlets (such as the Murdoch empire) with members of the Conservative party. The results of this poll show perhaps that they may be right about this. Gary Lineker was criticised by Tory MPs for his support of refugees, some even suggesting he should step down from his role at the BBC even though his comments were made on Twitter. Whilst Conservatives have claimed for a long time the BBC has a liberal bias, this alongside academic studies suggest it may well be the other way around. For example, a Cardiff University lecturer ‘crunched the numbers’, showing that Conservative politicians were interviewed significantly more often than Labour ones in 2007 and 2012 (taking into account natural bias towards the incumbent), with other parties barely being represented. Whilst the BBC is probably the most reliable British news source, even this is subject to manipulation that serves to shift public opinion and muddy the waters.
Most people get their information from much more biased sources than the BBC however. There is a phenomena in psychology called confirmation bias, whereby people seek out information that confirm their own opinions as being true. When people buy newspapers (which nobody really does, let’s be honest), they tend to buy those closely aligned with their own political preferences, hence reinforcing their view of the world. The same is true of social media. Although the internet has the potential to expose people to a much wider variety of opinions, people will tend to like and follow pages which share their outlook. This isn’t just because of confirmation bias, but because it’s human like to feel part of a community. Some have referred to this as ‘self-ghettoization’, where social media feeds act like ‘echo chambers’ for people’s own views. The Wall-Street Journal created an online resource called blue feed, red feed, which aimed to show the feeds of a hypothetical liberal person next to that of a conservative in the run-up to the US election. It shows how, by expressing an interest in a certain ideology online, you are constantly being reminded of it and being discouraged from looking to the other side. This is especially problematic if you get the majority of your news from social media (I’m personally guilty of this). The internet has the potential to open minds, but only if people actively seek out viewpoints they might not agree with.
Although newspapers are frequently sensationalist, the short-lived and fast-paced nature of online communication means people say even crazier things on social media for attention than a news source could dream of. The pop-punk singer Frank Turner said just over a year ago that Labour are a hard-right party and the BNP were far-left. As many people follow celebrities online, some might be misled by such comments.
With all the uncertainty surrounding politics in the UK, it seems the Conservatives have come out on top. Scared by all the change around, people have stuck with what they know. The Conservatives, as their name suggests, are pretty conservative – they don’t change much. They may lie, steal and manipulate, but at least they’re consistent. Another reason for this is that, if you want to believe conspiracy theories about the media being controlled, then the Tories would most likely be at its helm. They are now favoured by 43% of the public compared to 26% for Labour and the other parties trailing behind. At this troubling time, the UK is effectively a one-party state that has managed to totally mislead public perception.
This article might seem derisory and snobbish, but I myself don’t think I’m above this confusion – nobody is. However, being aware of it should count for something.