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politics

A Year On from May Calling the Snap Election, We Remember How Wrong the Pundits Got It

The only thing correct on The Sun's front page was the date.

by Tom Whyman
18 April 2018, 2:56pm

It's hard to believe it's been a year since Theresa May stood outside Downing Street and called that snap election. To paraphrase a great man, it still freaks my nut out to this day. She just called it... just like that. And then suddenly, everything changed.

Or did it? There is something uncanny about the 2017 general election: this amazing moment of upheaval, where Labour revitalised themselves and the Corbyn movement finally came to maturity, the most robustly left-wing force in British politics ever to constitute a serious electoral presence. Everyone had written Labour off forever and left them for dead, a thousand years of glorious post-Brexit Tory rule seemed written in the stars. But almost everyone in the British media was proved wrong, Theresa May lost her majority and suddenly her party seemed doomed. We were all going to be sat with a big bag of cans in the park forever, lost in the haze of endless summer, chanting ecstatic mantras to the Absolute Boy.

And yet... Theresa May is still, somehow, the Prime Minister. The same pundits, who got everything wrong, all still have columns. The Labour party is... somewhat more united, I suppose, although that's a very relative claim: recent events have re-exposed the deep divisions which continue to exist between the leadership, the membership and the PLP. Brexit stumbles on, the negotiations as moribund as the people charged with participating in them are unserious. There could well be another four years of this, as everything continues to get grimmer, as cuts bite and bombs fly, as everything just gets worse and worse.

But hey, at least a bunch of idiots in the commentariat were wrong. Here are some of the best takes from a year ago:

The Daily Mail: 'Crush the Saboteurs'

The Mail deserve a lot of credit for this, because even after all that's happened, it remains one of the most chilling headlines of all time. May's evil face looms out of the page looking every bit like it's the only one anyone's going to be allowed to visually represent once she's established her new Reich. But there is not just something totalitarian about this: there is also something gloating, like the Mail are daring her to claim absolute power to own the libs.

Luckily this didn't happen and political dissent is still in some sense legal. But on the other hand, May did stay in power, and she still retains the ability to – for instance – arbitrarily deport people who immigrated here as citizens, so...

Wrong rating: 6/10.

Dan Hodges: 'There Are No Risks'

People often mock Dan Hodges – a man whose recent takes include "I would nuke Sierra Leone in the context of a rescue mission" – for being incredibly stupid. Here, you see, we have a political pundit who seems incapable of understanding even the first thing about politics. But this is to miss the point of Dan Hodges. Dan Hodges does not have a job as a political pundit because he has any sort of insight or ability in the traditional sense. Dan Hodges has a job as a political pundit because he is able to shift the conversation down to his level, thus making the whole thing stupider overall.

Witness the above: Dan the Man in with a predictably wrong take. But how many of his colleagues held the same basic thought, just in slightly more qualified terms? Hodges is a true master of the discourse, and his work will probably be taught in journalism schools long after you or I are dead.

Wrong rating: 10/10, but see above for why that doesn't matter.

The Sun: 'Blue Murder'

Can't hold a candle to the Mail's cover for sheer spine-chilling terror, but this is still really something. The Sun predicts that the snap election will: 1) kill off Labour; 2) end dissent in the Tory party; 3) give May a clear mandate for Brexit. Well, 0/3 ain't bad. Surely the picture of May they'd placed next to those predictions looking like a malfunctioning robot ought to have given them a clue? It's The Sun Wot Fucked It.

Wrong rating: The only thing about the election The Sun got right on this cover was the date. 9/10.

Isabel Oakeshott: 'They insisted it wasn't happening'

Let's face it: we should have known all along. Even before the election got called, pundits across Twitter were being wrong about it, insisting (based on hallowed Downing Street sources) that it wasn't going to happen. But of course, no one in the British media seems to be able to remember anything that happened even a few seconds ago – and so, just 20 minutes after pledging a lifetime of grudges and retribution in the event that an election got called, Oakeshoot is yass kweening and praising May's leadership to the skies. The really shocking thing is, a lot of these people would tell you their job is to hold politicians to account.

Wrong rating: Election got called, May isn't actually a good leader. So: wrong on both counts. But in a way this is just common or garden wrongness – mere factual wrongness combined with an apparent inability to form judgments based on what one is actually seeing and hearing. This is nothing like the much more extreme, often very profound wrongness that someone like Dan Hodges is capable of. 7/10.

Polly Toynbee: 'Corbyn is rushing to embrace Labour's annihilation'

You'd think Polly Toynbee would know something about rushing to embrace Labour's annihilation, considering that in 1983 she stood as a candidate for the SDP. But even in this area where she is manifestly very experienced, she got things wildly wrong.

Wrong rating: 10/10. Obviously, on an empirical level, Toynbee got this dead wrong. But also, let's face it: if anything is responsible for Labour failing to win the 2017 general election, it was the defeatist attitude of Toynbee and other Labour "moderates" like her. The party over-invested in trying to retain seats they assumed the Tories were threatening, but which in fact they won comfortably, meaning they couldn't always allocate sufficient resources to seats which in fact turned out to be marginals. Here, then, we have the most ethically serious snap election take wrongness of all.

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