Private Eye used to have a column called “Mystic Mogg” reporting the hilariously erroneous predictions of William Rees-Mogg, sometime editor of The Times. I suspect this kind of journalistic aberration occurs when their analysis of what is happening is subverted by what they wish would happen. There was a splendid instance this week, when apocalyptic predictions across the media of a Labour vote collapse in Oldham West and Royton were embarassingly contradicted by the actual result (a 7% swing to Labour). Here are some of my favourite gazes into the journalistic crystal ball, which turned out to be more of a hallucinogenic disco ball.
The ever-reliable left-hater, Dan Hodges from the Telegraph on November 21st:
“The word among Labour MPs is that their party is in trouble in the Oldham by-election. One northern MP said: “The white working class vote is haemorrhaging. And it’s haemorrhaging in our heartlands. We’re reaching the point where you’re going to see double-digit constituencies drifting into recount territory.”
But readers of this blog will be accustomed to hearing that the so-called liberal press is more extremely anti-Corbyn. Rafael Behr in the Guardian excels himself:
“Labour will probably cling on in Thursday’s byelection. But the party’s troubled relationship with its northern heartlands seems to be on the rocks……Hopes that Corbynism might be the adhesive reconnecting a dislocated core to the party seem misplaced. It feels more like a catalyst for decline, another iteration of tin-eared disregard for local sensibilities – distinct from Blairism only in the sense that they are opposite sides of one Islington coin.”
This is only some of the bile in this sadly unprophetic article.
Ian Warren in the Guardian on 1st December: “I have identified three distinct groups that will decide this byelection on Thursday – and it doesn’t look good for Corbyn.” Ian’s distinction is that he is director of an election analysis consultancy. I hope this article is added to his CV.
I’m a big fan of the experts, and there are none better than Rob Ford, research fellow at Manchester University’s Institute for Social Change, in the Guardian: “Labour has good reason to feel nervous about its poll test in Oldham” he pontificates on 28th November, but the rest of his “analysis” sounds more like Armstrong and Miller’s desperate royal correspondent: “Low turnout and Tory recruits can narrow the gap, but a Ukip win would also require large numbers of voters to switch from Labour to Ukip.” No shit, Rob! By the way, Rob Ford is the co-author of a dodgy book arguing that UKIP was more of a threat to Labour than the Tories, which maybe explains his psephological errors, as dissected by Richard Seymour.
Robert Hardman in the Daily Mail on 3rd December was also hedging his bets: “…there is no doubt that its whopping 14,738 majority, won just seven months ago at the General Election by the late Michael Meacher, will be slashed…..a tropical heatwave would not avert this slump in Labour’s appeal.”
Now begin the surreal. The Daily Mirror’s Dan Bloom, who prepared his readers for Labour’s demise with the headline “Dark Night of the Polls for Jeremy”, had to refute himself a few hours later: “Jeremy Corbyn has defied his critics in spectacular fashion as Labour won a thumping victory in his first ballot box test.” Throughout this “turnaround” in elite expectations, a notable feature has been a lack of humility about previous mistakes.
One example of this is Helen Pidd, who benefits from local knowledge by being the Guardian’s Northern editor in Manchester. She was cringe-makingly racist about Asian voters in Oldham, and then failed completely to retract anything, keeping in sync with the Blairites’ “despite Jeremy” argument: “The message from the leadership came after Corbyn’s critics, who had predicted a narrow win for Labour in the byelection, were confounded by the scale of McMahon’s victory. Shadow cabinet ministers had predicted a collapse in the white working class vote, with many of those voters turning to Ukip.” She modestly fails to mention her own role in this error. Amusingly, when Corbyn visited after McMahon’s victory she tweeted the name of the constituency as Oldham West and Royston, unconsciously linking it to the League of Gentleman’s Royston Vasey, a fictional northern town of feral grotesques. Sometimes I have the feeling that middle-class journalists project their own unacknowledged prejudices onto an image they have of a racist, ignorant white working class. “Jeremy Corbyn, never ‘eard of ‘im.” “But he’s on every leaflet UKIP pushed through your door.” “Oh, ah thought that were Father Christmas.”