Why the BBC wants you to think #GE17 was all about #Brexit

On Tuesday, campaigner Peter Stefanovic posted a video exposing BBC News’ lamentable ‘framing’ of yet another Tory u-turn – this time Theresa May’s abject failure to keep a manifesto promise to cap energy prices, allowing British Gas to announce an eye-watering 12.5% increase in electricity prices:

But this wasn’t the only case of slanted narrative-framing that took place on the news channel on Tuesday.

BBC News spent much of  the day running and re-running a video piece based on analysis – analysis the BBC itself had commissioned and for which it therefore set the terms of reference – of General Election results in relation to Brexit, in which it concluded that the election in June was the ‘Brexit election’.

Both the written article and the video segment mention the surge in Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity, but it’s treated as secondary to the main ‘Brexit election’ point. This was highly misleading – and just as highly unlikely to be coincidental.

The BBC concluded that Jeremy Corbyn was able to win swing-voters at a rate of 14-1 compared to Theresa May because those who would prefer to remain in the EU chose Labour, while Labour ‘picked up [only] a few leave voters‘. The article posits that this was because

the Brexit debate was not so much about Leave or Remain but about how to leave

making Brexit the central issue of the election.

The article also claims a majority of former UKIP voters switched to the Tories – which might be true overall, but – as commentators acknowledged as election results started to come in – UKIP voters who had switched from Labour to UKIP mostly switched back to Labour, confounding the expectations of pundits.

But the key sentence in the article is this one:

Of course, actions speak louder than words, and voters were not only concerned by Brexit but actually voted accordingly.

It’s probably true that those who switched to the Tories did so because of reasons relating to Brexit – but the reality appears to be that many of those who voted Labour did so because Corbyn made it hardly about Brexit at all.

By focusing solely on voters’ preference about leave/remain, the BBC’s presentation of the research neglects a key factor: how much people cared about their preference. And the fact appears to be that – at least for those who voted Labour – the answer to that question is ‘not much at all‘.

YouGov polling, released on 11 July but taken just after the General Election, while everything was still fresh in the minds of those polled, measured why those who voted Labour did so, and the results are remarkable:

yougov why labour

The one thing missing from the list of reasons is… Brexit. Presumably it features, if at all, as part of that tiny 7% of ‘other’ voters.

Jeremy Corbyn did not attract remain voters – or leave voters – to vote Labour because of their Brexit position. He did so by making Brexit a non-issue for them – and by making his policies the main issue for most people.

When the Article 50 vote went through Parliament in January, this blog wrote that he had played a difficult hand exactly right – and even mainstream commentators agreed with this assessment in the aftermath of the election result that shocked them by his ability to increase Labour’s vote in both leave and remain areas.

The Establishment desperately needs to neutralise and re-write that success – and is trying to re-frame the narrative to persuade us that Corbyn’s success was only among remain voters. It can then attack his support among remainers by claiming some kind of u-turn or exaggerating division on the Brexit issue, when the reality is that Corbyn persuaded voters that there are more important issues to deal with.

The Establishment is extremely unlikely to succeed in undermining Corbyn and ‘his’ Labour on the NHS, on fairness, on policies or the other reasons that Labour voters said actually caused them to vote Labour.

So they’re setting up a straw-man for them to attack instead, so they can portray him as damaged when they attack something that is not actually the issue.

Corbyn’s ability to remove Brexit as an vote-factor for millions of voters was an incredible political achievement. But it’s the only thing his opponents have that they think likely to ‘gain traction’ against him.

And that’s why the MSM and right-wing politicians both inside and outside Labour are desperately trying to revive it as a supposedly key issue now.

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  1. You should put the you gov graph of reasons for voting Tory in this article as well. For Tory supporters it was a Brexit election but for labour supporters it wasn’t

  2. Further evidence supporting this article is the fact that if Brexit was as important an issue as the media claims then remainers had the option of voting for the Liberal Democrats, the only party standing on a purely remain ticket.

    Voters did not take that option, so clearly didn’t feel as strongly on the issue as the media and right wing of the Labour Party are now claiming.

  3. From the outset of the election campaign Labour’s approach was to attack and offer an alternative to the Tories’ austerity measures. It was apparent that this flew in the face of the expectation that all the parties would make Brexit the central part of their campaigns. Several commentators even suggested that in not doing so Labour was making a big mistake.
    The Labour Party election slogan “For The Many Not The Few” and the content of the widely leaked and well publicised Labour Party manifesto both underlined the fact that for Labour this was not going to be just a Brexit election. To suggest that the millions of voters who voted for the Party missed this point despite it being reinforced by Corbyn at every public appearance he made and by most of Labour’s election publicity is utter nonsense.
    It was evident that both the Tories and the Liberals were “wrong footed” by Labour’s approach. The negative impact of May’s “Elderly Care Tax” proposal is a testament to what sort of issues the electorate thought were important during the election.
    In common with most of its pre-election surveys and analysis the conclusions reached by this BBC survey is absolute “bunk”. Far from being objective studies these surveys often have agendas that are set by those who both commission and pay for them. Having had some experience of these things it is a question of “Here’s the data . How would you like it presented?”

  4. The BBC framed a visit to Pembrokeshire by John McDonnell all about Brexit too. His visit was to look at local companies including a microbrewery, food producers and renewable energy as examples of the rural economy, and to meet the party members in a highly marginal seat. This is what they reported:-


  5. The EU is a total distraction and allows the Tories to carry on dismantling the state, they are selling the ground from beneath our feet, whilst we all ponder about what the Tories are doing in Europe.

    The other facts are that the Tories don’t care whether the discussions in Europe benefit us or not, just so long as in the meantime, Liam Fox can stitch up an American trade deal that will complete the American corporate take over of our country.

  6. Not a mention of anti-austerity either! I’d suggest THAT was one of the big draws to Labour but people in polls can only reply to the questions they’re asked!


  8. I seem to remember on one of the seldom occasions may actually met the public, (Somewhere in the west country IIRC) a woman fronted her with the words: ‘It’s not all about brexit’ which the *ahem* ‘genuinely impartial’ bbc made (a little) something out of later that day.

  9. The election never was about Brexit and I’m not sure anyone from any party ever believed it was. What it was was Teresa May wanting to cash in on what she believed was a 24 point lead in the polls due to an unpopular Labour leader to get the Tories a big majority, but penned in by their own legislation in the form of the Fixed Term Parliament act, she had to come up with an excuse to call an election, so she used Brexit. She knew Labour couldn’t oppose it or they’d look weak, so she was bound to get her way. Having stated it was about Brexit though she had to stick with it, even though neither party were exactly unified on Brexit at the time of the referendum and she had been in the remain camp.

    The BBC’s unbelievably partisan bias in favour of the Tories in the election run up and complete misreading of the true picture due to lazily listening only to the other right wing media outlets and the usual suspects in the political circle, has left them with some serious egg on their face which they’re now trying to hide through their commissioning of this dreadful survey, one specifically designed to produce the result they want.

    I’ve only read their article on survey on the BBC website so I don’t know how much of the whole I’ve seen, but the conclusions they draw from some of the data received are quite ludicrous. The main one for me was under the heading “the election really was about Brexit” a view based on the result of the question, “what is the single most important issue facing the country”. There is no reference to the election in that question whatsoever but its simply assumed that this is a direct indication of the principle reason informing voting intention and over rides all other reasons for voting one way or another. I like most other people I know, voted Labour based on their manifesto of social change and even if Brexit had been more important to me than that, the Brexit position of either party simply isn’t clear enough to have directed my vote.

    Faced with the humiliation the election result presented them with, the BBC will do anything to put forward a revisionist take on it that stops them from looking as out of touch as they clearly are, and this pointless survey is evidence of that.

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