Thursday, May 06, 2010

UK: Papers back Tories as voting starts

After four weeks of political campaigning and three television debates, millions of people across Britain are preparing to cast their votes in the general election. Polling stations up and down the country opened at 07:00 BST [06:00 GMT] and people will be able to cast their ballots until 22:00 BST [21:00 GMT]. More than 44 million people are registered to vote but as in previous elections more than a quarter may abstain. The first declarations are expected at 23:00 BST. [22:00 GMT] however the last results may not come in until early Friday morning.

This campaign has been different from previous elections. Television debates helped to thrust Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg into the limelight and after the second such debate he was even tipped as coming a close second to the Conservatives. While the LibDems have floundered in the polls in the last week, it is Labour who have taken a bashing. A faux pas by Gordon Brown when he referred to a voter as a bigoted person, resulted in hostile reactions from British media and created a further slide in Labour's popularity. But the other parties have not been immune to criticism. There has been criticism across the board on MP's expenses, though the Liberal Democrats insisted they had been less guilty than others. Both the Conservatives and the LibDems have been criticised over their tax plans. And the economy and jobs have been a particular focus throughout.

The media, and even social media, has played an important part in getting the different parties' messages over. Twitter has been used for the first time in many cases by the main political parties to deliver their views. Facebook and YouTube have also helped in furthering their campaign. But it remains tradition media that helps form public opinion. And many newspapers have not been frightened of taking or even changing sides.

In alliance with the Conservative party The Daily Telegraph tops the list along with The Sunday Telegraph. "Built on the concept that the state should do less, better, and that decisions are best taken as closely as possible to where they impact, it addresses the straitened circumstances of the time..." an editorial in the Daily Telegraph read. "We believe that only a Conservative government can restore the nation's fortunes." The Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and the Express also backed the Tories, though the Mail did express some reservations. "Certainly, the Mail has had its doubts about David Cameron, sometimes wondering if he was another Clegg-like heir to Blair. But over the years and with every week of this campaign, he's grown in stature, displaying serious-minded conservative instincts and a tungsten determination to fulfil the Tories' traditional function of clearing up the mess left by Labour.." 

Murdoch owned titles also sided with David Cameron's party. While it is not unusual for the Times to swing to the right, The Sun and the News of the World both shifted their support from Labour which they had backed in previous elections and paid allegiance to the Conservatives. Labour had failed and was now backing David Cameron's Conservatives, the Sun newspaper told its readers. "The real story of the Labour years is one of under-achievement, rank failure and a vast expansion of wasteful government interference in everyone's lives. Britain needs a brave and wise Government to restore our self-respect, our natural entrepreneurship and the will of every family to improve its lot through its own efforts, without depending on handouts...We hope, and pray, that the next Government will have the guts and the determination to do these things. And we believe David Cameron should lead it." The News of the World, which withdrew its support for Labour after 13 years in March, explained its shifted position. "Overwhelmingly, on all fronts, this country is crying out for change. Which is why, after much soul-searching, the News of the World believes that David Cameron and the Tory Party must now be given the chance to run the country. Right now, they are our best hope for a brighter, saner, safer, more honourable future." The Times backed the Conservatives and referred to Labour as "tired, defensive and ruinously reliant on higher government spending."

A few papers gave their backing to the Liberal Democrats. The Guardian and the Observer both threw their support behind Nick Clegg's party. While the Times had moved from Labour to support the Tories, The Guardian moved in a different direction. "If the Guardian had a vote in the 2010 general election it would be cast enthusiastically for the Liberal Democrats," the paper said, "A year ago, the Guardian argued that Labour should persuade its leader to step down... Labour chose to hug Mr Brown close. It was the wrong decision then and it is clear, not least after his humiliation in Rochdale this week, that it is the wrong decision now." Its sister paper, The Observer also made Clegg the best choice for Britain, not least for what it called "a grossly unfair voting system" that was in need of reform. "The thrust of Nick Clegg's manifesto is right on political reform, right on tax reform that would redistribute wealth from high finance to ordinary citizen, right on liberty and equality," the paper says. 

Some papers, and several politicians in both the major parties have warned of the possibility of a hung parliament. However, The Independent on Sunday urged voters to "vote tactically" to ensure just that. "From electoral reform flows much else that we believe this country needs: green jobs, a fairer tax system, an urgent defence review and sustained investment in health and education," the paper says, "These values are perhaps best espoused by the Liberal Democrats."

Labour did maintain some support however. The Mirror was however the only national paper that stood by the party throughout the campaign. However even this bastion of the left urged voters to vote tactically in some cases and vote for the Liberal Democrats.

Broadcasters traditionally do not generally lean towards one party or another, attempting instead to display impartiality. However, the bias is more generally seen in what is reported rather than the way something is reported. Sky, being a Murdoch owned station, could be seen by some as being a little more favourable to the Conservatives. The affair over Brown's bigot gaffe fell into the hands of broadcasters however. Whether intentional or not, the recorded conversation made perfect television, for the BBC, Sky or CNN. And radio broadcasters also capitalised from the moment. The 'bigot' gaffe filled almost an entire show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC London and remained a topic throughout the week.

Chat shows and political debate on the actual day of the election is forbidden, though many newspapers are able to express their feelings. Thursdays papers mostly point to Labour losing with some differing in opinion as to whether Cameron will win or a hung parliament will emerge. The Guardian says David Cameron is on course to regain power after 13 years, with a poll for the paper showing an eight-point lead for the Tories over Labour. The Independent bills polling day as "the people's election" and cites 15 reasons to celebrate a campaign it says could change the face of British politics.
A cartoon and an editorial takes up the entire front page of The Times. It delivers the message that today is the moment when the country must stop running away from its debts. Britain's deficit is also the focus of the Daily Mail which points to "anarchy and murder on the streets of Athens", and says Britain's deficit may become worse than Greece's. The Wall street Journal also a echoes a warning saying a huge deficit awaits the election victor.

The Daily Express calls today D-Day, the most important election for decades and warns that a hung Parliament would be a disaster. The Telegraph meanwhile calls it a day of destiny and reports on David Cameron's final appeal to millions of undecided voters to "choose hope over fear." The Sun is more optimistic than most. A front page depicts David Cameron in a pasticke of the infamous Obama 'Hope' poster and runs with the headline "Our Only Hope" and a lead which reads "In Cameron we trust."

This election is all about trust. But it's not so much about whom the electorate trust the most, politicians are in the eyes of many untrustworthy, it is more a matter of who the voters trust the least. For some papers, and perhaps voters, disinterest has already set in. The Daily Star was less focused on the election than the revelation that Steven Gerrard's wife Alex fears rival football wives and girlfriends (WAGs) are trying to tear the couple apart. Riveting stuff!

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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