For more years than I care to remember, the BBC has analysed and then speculated on what local election results might mean for the parties, and in particular, what the results might mean for a general election. By and large this was presented with various caveats, (remember John Snow’s “just a bit of fun”) and one was left with an impression, on the strength of the results, that Labour or Tory did slightly better or worse than expected, but ultimately, we will all need to wait and see what happens at the next general election.
However, following the results of votes cast in last Thursday’s local elections, it seems everything has changed. Instead of “a bit of fun”, the BBC in my view, presented us with a fait accompli. Apparently we were witnessing a UKIP breakthrough. Indeed, not content,with their seemingly continual coverage of Nigel Farage and UKIP in the run up to the election, the BBC chose (or perhaps because of it) to spin the results in a most extraordinary manner.
From the outset they reported that UKIP was causing a major upset, likening their success to an earthquake. UKIP it seems were winning seats everywhere (actually not true, but hey, why let the details spoil the UKIP love-in). As results came in UKIP were being reported as a serious player, and there was plenty of coverage of Farage teasing us over which parliamentary seat he might contest at the general election. What’s more, Farage was given seemingly every opportunity to comment, respond and spin as he pleased throughout the following day. As if to underline this, on Saturday morning a BBC newsreader invited us to look at the results for the “four main parties”. Excuse me! UKIP a main party?
Lets just put things into perspective. Of the total number of Council seats contested on 22 May, UKIP won less than 4% of them. They control absolutely no Councils, and their share of the popular vote was projected by the BBC to be 17%. That’s a whole 6% less than they achieved in the 2013 local elections. In London, Manchester and other cities UKIP barely registered on the swing-o-meter as Labour enjoyed some of its most successful results, something the BBC mentioned only in passing.
But while the BBC were talking up UKIP’s performance and talking down Labour’s, they totally ignored the Green Party. This was despite the Greens enjoying success in places like Bristol and Sheffield. In fact The Green Party are now the official opposition in Solihull, Liverpool, Islington, and Lewisham, and remain the opposition in Norwich. Of course the Green Party is not arrogant enough to liken its success to any geological phenomenon, or to talk about foxes in Westminster (or whatever it was Farage said), but unlike UKIP, the Greens do have an MP.
I for one then, will in future take whatever the BBC say with an even bigger pinch of salt than I did before 22 May. Yes there is no doubt that UKIP did well – I don’t think that can be denied – but I didn’t feel the earth move.