Well this is interesting. Today’s polling. In spite of the saturation coverage provided by the BBC for the Greens and the LibDems (alongside what it calls the other two “main” candidates), and a very small rise in polling support for them, there has been just as much a rise in support for the outsiders (in particular UKIP and Siobhan Benita).
The latter two have had no meaningful tv coverage, have been barred from the platforms of hustings and of the tv debates because of the BBC “editorial guidelines”. And UKIP has actually pulled ahead of the Greens in voting intention during the muzzling. There’s an answer, says Damian Hockney – stop this daft class system on tv coverage, and just put them all on the tv and let us judge.
A storm is building about the BBC “editorial guidelines” in which some minor candidates hit the jackpot and get hours of nightly advertorial on tv and others are dumped in the “wrong class” and get next to nothing, in a manner which is carefully planned.
Leading newspapers and thoughtful websites are questioning why some candidates are allowed essentially all the broadcast media while others get next to nothing of any value. The moreso when the floodgates have been opened by including one “minor” candidate, the Green party’s Jenny Jones, to the ranks of “favoured candidate”, while penalising the remaining three.
The balance is the more extraordinary when UKIP, for example, was equal to the Greens in London Mayor polling at the time when the BBC decision was taken to favour one and disadvantage the other. In addition, UKIP also had a higher national poll rating than the Green Party, and indeed still does.
And now we have the scenario where UKIP is actually ahead in London Mayor intentions and Siobhan Benita out of nowhere has managed to acquire the same poll rating as the Green candidate. Non-party Ms Benita has skilfully made this matter an issue, and it will not go away as it sits at the heart of democracy and the right to be heard.
It is all the more valid as the rules on spending restrict those unable to get on tv from even mailing a letter to their constituents!
Three candidates have a few seconds here and there on tv as an afterthought while the “main four” are in and out of panels and tv studios as often as a contestant on The Voice (and treated with nearly as much credibility).
There is really only one fair outcome and I look to all the candidates to support it in the name of democracy – stage the debates in the remaining 20 days where all seven candidates are allowed to speak and take part as equals, starting with the Sky tv debate.
Just remember this – the three candidates in the wrong class get half a minute of tv brand recognition time against every hour for the Green, and this is specifically planned (or the known and intended outcome of hardline rigid planning using a class system for “balance”) by the BBC. The BBC also says it doesn’t keep records of the amount of coverage, which is itself scandalous and a breach of fairness and I would suggest its responsibilities under its Charter.
Of course, polling is very unreliable in any predictions about “minor” candidates and indeed about those London Assembly seats. Pollsters take some account of likely abstention, but never ever enough in these elections. They take as read the intentions of something like 70% who declare they are likely to vote. Really? Just remind me. Have we yet had a 50% turnout.
No. If a declared Ukipper or Green is twice as likely to turn out, and conventional logic says that it is about that and maybe a bit more, and there is a low turn out, it has an enormous effect on the latest figures. Far from there being no demand and no seats, you could find that a low turnout will deliver UKIP three seats and the Greens their existing two on the basis of the latest poll. It is unreliable as a demonstration of seats, but not as a demonstration of general and broad support which put them about equal.
Many have wrily suggested to me that if all that results from hours and hours of free tv advertorials for the Greens and LibDems is that they fade in comparison with the invisible Muzzled Three behind them/beside them in the polling…well, maybe less is more. Maybe the argument should be that the coverage is a poisoned chalice and that, to paraphrase former Labour leader Clement Attlee in dealing with the annoying Harold Laski a little while back, the electorate is saying crisply: “a period of silence on your part would be most welcome”.
But there is a type of pattern – one is that UKIP has been equal or slightly ahead of the Greens in London Mayor polling at the time when the BBC made its decision to include the Greens and exclude UKIP and is refusing to budge. And Ms Benita has raised herself up from nowhere to actually achieve a rating. This is very very difficult and she has done it.
The “minor” candidates have undoubtedly begun to show up, even if in a small way, and there is a type of equivalence between them in the London Mayor election polling itself. The BNP will always have a small-ish rating and that too shows through, but it appears to be the loser in this election.
If you have had a google search for all candidates from the outset of the campaign, you will see scarcely any references to tv appearances by the Muzzled Three and endless pages of references to tv proudly showing us the state’s Favoured Four.
And of course this polling reflects what has happened in recent by-elections and other polls in recent months, with UKIP proudly trumpeting that it might replace the LibDems as the third party.
As I have pointed out in my piece on OpenDemocracy (in the Our Kingdom section which deals with power and liberty in Britain), there is an urgent need for a proper audit of the coverage of all broadcast media as to the amount of coverage given to different candidates.
Otherwise the suspicion is that the state’s broadcasters are using very flimsy rules of engagement to support favoured political elites and to prevent the disillusion with the established parties from having an electoral outcome, particularly in important elections like London Mayor.
And in this election, there is still time to put right some of the wrong – let us, the voters, decide (watching full debates, not just wit hthe tired old usuals) whether the seven candidates are all as bad as (or good as) commentators tell us. Or is the establishment and political class really so very frightened that their shortcomings might be laid bare and we might end up with our Borgen moment on the telly, and have Siobhan Benita swept to power as Mayor.
They might be frightened, but are you as voters? Would that really be any worse than seeing the election of the candidate of whom you personally say “We can’t possibly have Ken/Boris [delete as applicable], everything will fall apart if Boris/Ken [delete as appropriate] gets in”. Thought not.
Only the BBC can do it – over to them…