At the start of the election, the Telegraph said this:
At the time, I thought they were wrong; now I'm not so sure. For this election really does appear to be about hope and fear - though the messages of hope and the messages of fear aren't coming from the places that the Telegraph said they were. They said it was the Tories who were all about positivity and hope, and New Labour who were all about fear. Now the fear seems to be coming at us from everywhere.
Narratives of fear are something that tabloid newspapers do very well of course - though at a price. We are told to fear by them every day - about cancer, about immigration, about our children going online, about Muslims, about paedophiles, about political correctness... all those dangers out there. The nine-bin nightmare, for Christ's sake. A nightmare about nine bins! Have you ever woken up in a cold sweat, terrified by the thought of nine wheelie bins sitting in your driveway like ecological plastic Daleks? No...? Of course you haven't. You've got worse things to worry about than recycling. And that's kind of why these fear messages are less and less effective. You read these terrifying things every day, about how you're going to get cancer from this, that and the other; how Muslims are going to take over British culture; how your children are going to be robbed from you by Facebook, and so on... but of course none of these things ever actually happens. You're being told to be scared, and you may well be, but the truth is that no matter how scared you are, reality doesn't live up to those scare stories.
So when your newspaper of choice tells you that you should be scared of the Liberal Democrats, or a hung parliament, or proportional representation, or the Tories not being in power, how scared are you? Are you as scared as when they tell you that if you do/don't eat X it will/won't give you cancer? Are you as horrified as when they tell you to have nightmares about recycling bins? Are you as frightened as when they tell you that political correctness means you can't be racist any more? They've tried to make you scared so many times - pretty much every day, in fact - so how much more scary can any of these things be?
A bit of cold weather was set to kill 60,000 people back in January, according to the Express - except that never happened.
So why choose to believe this?
When you've been sold a pup so many times before, I think it's stretching the truth to think that people will put their faith into the tabloid front pages come election time. And while it's easy to pick on the Express, as they're the most transparently awful example of the tabloid press, they're not exactly a whole planet lower than the rest of them. The others are doing the same - pumping out the same fear messages: fear of a hung parliament, fear of people voting how they want to vote, fear of their chosen candidates not falling over the finishing line before all the others.
It's all about fear. Even when you're not being told to fear one thing, you're being told you should vote one way for fear of the person you don't want getting in. You see bar charts in your election leaflets from the three major parties telling you that certain rivals 'can't possibly win here', even when that's not quite the truth. Don't vote for them, they say; vote for the people who can win. Why waste your vote voting for who you want to win? Vote out of fear of the people you fear most, not out of conviction. It's so relentlessly negative, it's depressing. I'll vote for who I want to vote for, and that's that. I'm fed up with being told to be tactical, or to vote out of fear. I'll vote out of hope, I think; I've heard too much fear already from everyone else. If I had no hope, then I wouldn't be voting at all.
And so the attacks will be refocussed this week by the tabloids. I'm going to miss it all, because I've chosen a delightfully good week to be on holiday. I'm not disappointed. There won't be any newspapers; there will be no internet, and not very much TV, I hope. Jealous? You should be. We'll see more attacks, more pressing of the fear button. Don't do this if you don't want that to happen, they'll say. Don't do what you want, because then the thing you fear most might happen, they'll tell you. Don't do what you want - let us put that X in the box for you, they'll suggest.
But their powers are fading. They're not gone altogether, and the power of the internet is not so great that it completely dilutes the value of the front pages of newspapers... but then they have done their best to discredit themselves, without even being held up to scrutiny. Just as people don't trust politicians, they don't trust the people who tell us stories about politicians, either. And I find that reassuring. The messages of fear will keep on coming, because everyone has something to fear. The newspapers fear not being influential, or at the very least being seen to be influential, which is possibly just as important; if they've backed the wrong horse, they'll end up looking very foolish. But then, why did they have to go and choose a horse to back at all? They did it to themselves, and it's hard to rouse any sympathy.
By the time I come back, of course, it could all have changed. Doubtless you'll have been told that David Cameron had a brilliant comeback in the third televised debate; the headlines have probably already been written and are just waiting for Thursday to come and go before they can be printed. You'll have been told that the Conservative Party is the only option. You'll have been told to fear everything else. Fear, fear, fear. But are you afraid? That's the question.