There is a danger of missing the point about Labour’s surge and the media. The issue is absolutely not that political commentators were surprised by Labour’s sudden popularity among voters. Of course they were surprised, because there was no evidence for it before May 2017. The dismal showing of Labour in the council elections at the start of May was real enough. Those on the left who say they knew it would happen are using the word ‘knew’ in the same sense as football supporters knowing their own side is going to win.
We all have a pretty good idea why the surge happened. In style Corbyn was everything May was not, and Labour’s policies were popular. What the media should be worried about was that both those things came as a surprise to the public. As I said here, a general election campaign is unusual because the public get to see much more of the party leaders and hear much more about their policies, and the broadcasters are duty bound to be impartial. But the character of May and Corbyn did not change overnight, and neither were the policies offered by either side very different from the stance they took before the election. So why were people so surprised?
Someone more cynical than I might suggest that the media’s job is to distort reality: to portray May as more competent than she was and to portray Corbyn as incompetent. What happened in the election campaign is that the electorate got a proper look at the two main leaders and their policies, and realised what the media had been saying was false.
That cynical view is completely appropriate to most of the right wing press, whose job is to distort reality as much as they can get away with. (Remember that damning article about May just before the election that was pulled by the Telegraph?) But why did the truth about May and Corbyn not make any impression on the public until the election? Did political commentators know no more than the public, and were just as surprised as the public about May and Corbyn’s character and their policies during the campaign? If that is the case, they were poor journalists. Or is it that they failed to communicate what they did know?.
Is the problem that the broadcast media feels duty bound to just present soundbites (May can do those), and the independent press in the UK is just too small? Or is the problem that the right wing media for one reason or another sets the parameters for other journalists. Is it that political journalists like winners and despise losers, so let the polls influence how they portrayed individuals and parties? I do not know the answers, but these are the questions the media needs to reflect on.