Hey there, friend. We need to talk.
Breaking from the usual, simplified version of the news that Between the Lines usually does on mornings like this, I’m here to talk to you about the media.
You might have heard a few things about yesterday in the press. To look at the BBC alone, a self-proclaimed impartial commentator, you will see the following on their homepage:
- A headline that reads: “No majority for any of the Brexit options.”
- Followed by a quote from Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, said that the results “Strengthened ministers’ views that [May’s] deal was ‘the best option’.”
If you look deeper into the article, you will see such phrases as:
- “The failure to identify a clear way forward led to angry exchanges in the Commons, with critics of the process saying it had been ‘an abject failure.'”
- “Sir Oliver Letwin… called the results ‘disappointing.'”
Additionally, to look at the headlines in the papers tomorrow, the main story is:
- “Theresa May promises to stand down as PM if her deal was passed.”
You will read about the doom and gloom, the “fresh doubt,” the “rejection of eight different proposals.” You will read about the imminent leadership contest and the fresh turmoil that we will be thrown into if May steps down. You will read that the indicative votes were a fun distraction, but a waste of time and energy.
All of these claims are entirely against the spirit in which yesterday’s votes took place and are wholly misleading. I could also write for days about May’s “offer to resign”.
It is infuriating to see sensationalised headlines ruin what was, in actuality, a historic day in British politics.
I plan to tell you a different story.
Alright Grumpy Guts, What Actually Happened, Then?
What actually happened is that history was made yesterday. Our deceitful, impotent, and downright embarrassing government was called out on its inability to govern effectively and its safeguard, Parliament, took control of the process instead.
Various MPs put forward their own proposals on how to break the Brexit impasse, each one backed by varying degrees of support from MPs across the house.
To watch the debate in Parliament was to actually feel proud of British politics for the first time in what seems like a lifetime. Each MP that put forward a proposal, from both Leave and Remain camps, argued eloquently and passionately in favour of what they believed was the best option moving forward.
With the exception of an utterly limp-fysh performance by Marcus Fysh (Con), the political equivalent of a fart in a space-suit, it was glorious to watch. Whatever your leaning, all of the MPs focussed on the positives of their option.
- Despite an eventual overwhelming defeat, John Baron’s (Con) impassioned cry to leave the EU with no-deal held plenty of rhetoric around his belief that the UK is still a force to be reckoned with, and that we should be more optimistic about how we could survive in the world;
- Hilary Benn (Lab), Nick Boles (Con), and Ken Clarke (Con) all gave thoughtful rallying cries to their own, softer versions of Brexit;
- Joanna Cherry (SNP) called on Labour MPs to support her Scottish colleagues by ensuring that no-deal was blocked by a fall-back vote on revoking Article 50;
- Dame Margaret Beckett (Lab) gave an absolute belter of a speech calling for a second referendum, saying that it was more democratic to give the people a final say on Brexit now that they know what it is rather than sticking with a blind vote from 2016.
And yes, there were no majorities. The BBC (and other news channels) are correct in stating this fact.
Additionally, Theresa May held a meeting with Conservative backbenchers over the afternoon where she stated that “She was prepared to stand down from her role sooner than she had intended” and insinuated that she would step down as PM if her deal was passed.
OK… So Why Are You So Cross?
Because everything in the above section is only half the story.
Yes, MPs failed to find a majority through the first round of indicative votes, but they never expected to on the first try. This is why the plan for yesterday was to have the votes and then schedule another time on Monday to discuss the votes further, based on the findings from yesterday.
If yesterday was such a failure, MPs would not have voted to schedule this time on Monday by 441 to 105. That is a majority of 336.
A majority of three hundred and thirty six MPs voted to continue this process on Monday based on the results of yesterday.
It is not an ‘abject failure,’ nor it is a ‘rejection of every option.’ It is the first step on the path to finding a majority. Regardless of whether you support Remain or Leave, to find a real consensus across Parliament is a goal that everyone should agree is worthwhile.
The fact that any media outlet would lead with these phrases after a day of real consensus-building and collaboration is appalling.
Oh, OK, I See Your Point. That’s Not Great Reporting But–
Shut up. I’m not done yet.
Next, let’s have a look at the headlines today. They all vary on a theme, based on May’s announcement to a meeting of Conservative backbenchers yesterday where she said that if her deal passed, she would stand down as leader for the next round of negotiations.
The headlines are as follows (no, seriously, these are actually the headlines):
- Financial Times: “May offers to resign in final plea for rebels’ backing on Brexit deal”
- Daily Mail: “WILL HER SACRIFICE BE IN VAIN?“
- Daily Express: “WHAT MORE DOES SHE HAVE TO DO?“
- The Times: “May vows to resign“
- The Daily Telegraph: “May falls on her sword“
- Daily Star: “SEX CURES HAYFEVER“
Wait, scratch that last one (although I promise you it’s real, and inside it gives you “top tips on how to get hayfever”).
RE: Theresa May’s exit, or Therexit… It sounds great, doesn’t it? Finally, we’re shot of her. The tone-deaf, autocratic nightmare that is May’s premiership might finally go, right? All our MPs need to do is finally vote her deal through, secure Brexit, then she’s gone.
With apologies for the fruity language:
Pull the fucking other one, it’s got fucking bells on.
No, really, just think for a minute. Just think about this statement. IF HER DEAL PASSES, she will leave.
- Today, John Bercow reiterated his statement from last Monday, saying that he won’t even allow her deal to come back to Parliament unless it has been significantly changed. It hasn’t changed. Not one bit. Circumstances have, but the deal hasn’t. It will not come back to Parliament.
BUT EVEN IF IT DID:
- Even though prominent Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson are coming round to her deal, the DUP and plenty of ERG members aren’t. Lest we forget, she paid the DUP a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money to buy their loyalty, yet they are refusing to support her. This means she won’t get a majority unless Labour MPs decide to back it. Most would rather shit in their hands and clap.
- Why, for the love of any deity that is still listening, does anyone take Theresa May at her word anymore?
- “I will ask the EU for a long extension to Article 50.” Immediately asks EU for short extension.
- “I will seek a cross-party consensus.” Refuses to accept negotiation offers.
- “I have heard the house’s will, and will take no-deal off the table.” Changes her mind, leaves it on the table.
- “I will not bring my deal back to the House.” MV3.
- “I used to run through fields of wheat.” IT WAS CORN, THERESA, AND YOU KNOW IT.
OK, OK, Just Breathe. It’ll Be OK.
No, it won’t.
Looking at the wording of the top stories today, it makes me about as furious as I could possibly be. We rely on the media to give us information to form our own, considered opinions, and yet the headlines, across the entire spectrum, are about as sensationalised as humanly possible.
While the articles within might be more measured, to isolate the headlines is to demonstrate that they show no attempt at nuance. There is no analysis, no balance, not even the vaguest attempt to look beyond what will sell copies or increase traffic. It is all hyperbolic, all playing to their consumers’ worst natures, all seeking to improve profit margins rather than give measured journalism.
For me, yesterday was not doom and gloom. Instead, it was:
- A day of politics doing its job in the face of a failed government;
- The first step in finding a solution to the Brexit nightmare, despite the divisions;
- The first example in months of politicians speaking about the positives of their beliefs rather than the negatives of their opponents’.
Do not let the sensationalism fool you. We have just experienced a once-in-a-lifetime, red-letter day for British politics.
Somewhere, far off in the distance, the faintest glimmer of light can be seen at the end of this dark, lonely tunnel. Regardless of the outcome of Brexit, if positivity can be the overarching sentiment of the discussions moving forward, we might just end up being ok.
That is what we should aim for. Not another click-bait headline, physical or digital, but an open, considered discussion to find the best possible outcome, not the least bad.
That is what will drive us out of this Brexit mess.
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