Since Ian Gibson resigned his Norwich North seat a few weeks ago, the press have been making predictions and assumptions about Norwich which serve to underline that the press simply do not understand elections properly.
The very earliest reports locally on TV were about how the Green Party would the main threat in this seat whilst the national press also adopted this view, along with the view that it was a shoe in for the Tories. This was a line the press had decided upon and a view that evidence, campaigning and visits to Norwich would not change or alter. Yes, it was clear that the Tories would win this from the moment Gibson resigned, the press' mind was on this all being about the Greens, to the exclusion of Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP.
Take for example the comments made to me by a BBC producer when I was waiting to appear on 5 Live drive. He said "It's going to be difficult for your lot, being squeezed in to 4th by the Greens". Now I knew this wasn't going to happen from the amount of literature being produced and delivered, but the the journalists were not interested in the campaign. In their minds the starting positions of the parties was also the finishing position. In effect they cared not one jot about what was happening on the ground and the campaign, the canvassing, the leaflets were not important and would not get in the way of the story they wanted to perpetuate.
Perhaps the most hard done by party in this election was UKIP. BBC East should hang their heads in shame for doing a head to head debate amongst (as they called it) the four main candidates, excluding UKIP, despite UKIP polling far more votes across Norfolk in the Euro elections that the Green party. The fact that UKIP came in 4th place, well ahead of the Greens and not far behind the Lib Dems speaks volumes about the way the press sought to get the result they wanted and not the real result. The press had their mind set on a Green breakthrough despite the fact that the Greens had no real campaign at all. The only things the Greens actually did in the campaign was to launch a campaign pledge (which all the signatories broke), which the Lib Dems refused to sign simply because it was a meaningless pledge. But oh how the press loved this pledge. Why ? Because it allowed them to indulge their obsession with the Green Party.
It's not just the BBC though. Last week Rod Liddle made himself look like a prize tit by devoting a whole article in praise of the Green surge and breakthrough in Norwich North. Other newspapers too had fallen for this guff. I spoke to a Sky News producer yesterday at the count who was asking me how close the it was between the Greens and Labour. She was shocked when I told her the Greens were 5th. "Poor Rupert" the Sky News producer replied. "You've fallen for it too", I replied, and she had. The press had bought their own lie.
Witness early reports on Sky News yesterday which were effectively saying from the count that they expected a Tory majority of 2000 because of the impressive showing of UKIP and the Greens. I saw the BBC journalist listening and scribbling notes. I said to her, without giving anything away "Take what they are saying with a pinch of salt".
So many of you will be saying these are the words of an annoyed Lib Dem, and yes, in many ways I am annoyed at the way the Lib Dems were treated in this election. All the press stories were negative, fed to them by the opposition. BBC East again reported April Pond's moat, but very little of the positive stuff whilst allowing the opposition to slag of the Lib Dems for refusing to sign their joke pledge not to slag each other off. The BBC didn't seem to understand the irony in this situation. But BBC East also chose to praise each of the candidates in their introductions in the TV debate except for April Pond, with her introduction being about her house. Truly awful and rather pathetic journalism.
But I know I am not alone in my distrust of the way the press seek to tell the story they want rather than telling the real story. I was chatting to a Tory MP at the count yesterday and he told me that the press asked for a statement from him on something recently. He said the thing they were reporting was untrue, and he told them that in no uncertain words. He repeated that he knew it to be a lie, and the press' response was "We're reporting it anyway". So what is the point ?
It is little wonder that political blogs are now becoming preeminent when it comes to find out real political news. Not only do most political bloggers really understand politics, and by this I don't just mean policy, but I mean elections, campaigns and strategy. But they also know what is bullshit and what is genuine. Whilst people might resent Iain Dale's Tory bias, at least we know his political leanings and you can cut through the bits you don't like to get to the key elements of truth within what he writes.
I am no great fan of Guido Fawkes self congratulatory style and his obsession with being Guido rather than Paul Staines, but he does the sort of journalism that political journalists today simply cannot be bothered to do. No wonder they resent him so much. He puts so many of them to shame.
Similarly you may not like my bias, and I have been called an attack dog by some people whose views I don't greatly respect, but I think those reading this blog would have got a far greater insight in to what is happening in Norwich North than you ever would have from reading The Guardian or watching and listening to the BBC (or Sky), which is a shame as they are my TV channel and paper of choice. The other advantage of a blog is that you can send a comment to the blogger and get a response. Try doing this with the BBC. I wrote days ago about their debate and I have still not had a response.
So whilst we are constantly being told that politics needs to be cleaned up, lets not forget that those who report our politics are themselves not entirely honest in their reporting. The truth is not important to them because they work to their own agenda, the agenda agreed by the newspaper owners or producers in advance and the agenda which fits what they want the outcome to be.
Ultimately though the problem with the reporting of politics is that political journalists do not understand anything that happens outside of Westminster and the old style political "lobby" journalists don't understand elections.
Update : I am reminded of what a Tory said to me at the count yesterday which highlight the level of of political knowledge of the typical political correspondent. One major TV news channel said to the Tories that this is the sort of seat they should expect to win because it really should be a Tory seat anyway. When the Tory told the news channel that since the war the seat had been Tory for just 14 years, the reporter had no idea. It would have taken the reporter 5 minutes on wikipedia to find that out.