Ever since the election result I've been thinking of reasons to be cheerful, despite things not quite having gone the way I may have wanted. And I'm still feeling that way. Every time I start worrying that it's going to be awful, something pops up into my head like "Hang on, no more ID cards!" and I keep on enjoying these crumbs of comfort. You may say I'm deluded, but I'm not feeling as shattered as I thought I would be. And certainly not as shattered as I would be at the prospect of a Conservative Government with a landslide majority - and I think that's the key.
So we don't have a strong Government, and apparently that's A Bad Thing because the markets like strong Government. But do I want a strong Government, of whatever colour? At a time of financial crisis, you could argue it's a good thing to have a Government that can't do anything it wants to, and is open to scrutiny from its own backbenchers and political rivals alike. Our own lives aren't simple affairs in which we do whatever we like through 'strength' - our own working and family lives involve all kinds of compromises and deals, all the time, and we don't see it as 'shabby', rather just existing in a community, family, workplace and society. So why are talks between political parties about a solution seen as being A Bad Thing? Maybe this is the election where our democracy in this country finally grows up. But will the press see it that way? Are they able to communicate the complexity, or explain why democracy doesn't always deliver simple results that mean one party governs powerfully every time?
Yet another positive thing to come out of this election for me is that it has made me realise exactly what it is that annoys me so much about the tabloids, and newspapers in general: they don't like complexity.
The odd thing is, newspapers have the scope and the scale, and the resources, to do complexity. They've got acres of pages to look at the subtleties, the nuances, the contradictions, the ups and downs, the big picture rather than X is X, because I say so. But quite a lot of the time - though not all the time, of course, and you'll note that I'm happy to try and couch things this way - I think they just choose not to, and it's baffling. I don't have a theory as to why this might be, but if I were to guess I'd say it might have something to do with the a perceived need to try and explain to even the most bewilderingly stupid; a mission to be concise rather than exhaustive; and the idea that stories get batted around in editorial conferences - and that if you can't sum up what 'the line' is within two sentences then it might be dismissed as being too complicated for the readers, or too hard to understand, or that the complexity somehow diminishes the interest or value of the tale.
To me, though, that just won't do. I don't like the way that time after time, we're forced to settle for stories that don't make sense if you compare them with what people have said or done, or which don't tell the whole truth, just because the story they tell is a more simple, less cluttered and more familiar one than what actually happened - or as close a representation of what actually happened as all kinds of bias, selective interpretation and so on will allow eyewitnesses, official sources and reporters alike to get close to. Instead of having a bash at the complicated truth, too many times I see newspapers going for a type of story, a bit of identikit news. Here's the kind of thing we do every time, so here it is again. That's such a waste.
I reckon readers are more than capable of understanding that sometimes things aren't as trouble-free as we might like: sometimes the good guys do bad things; and sometimes the way to achieve something involves some unpleasant compromises. Because our lives are not simple things. We don't just do exactly what we want, because we want to. There are all kinds of obstacles in our way, and some of them are fair, and some of them are unfair. And that's how it is. I think it's ludicrous to try and present news stories to people as if this isn't the case. But I might at this point add an alternative suggestion as to why they do this: perhaps it's an idealised version of the truth, a version that's satisfying precisely because it's a fantasy compared to our complicated, difficult, struggling lives. When you see Susan Boyle go from nothing to genius, that's pleasing, because it offers hope that these things can really happen, in contrast to our own experience of trying to succeed - you don't want to see the machinery in the background that made it happen, because that ruins the illusion. Maybe that's something to do with it.
I think if there's a thread running through this whole blog, and a reason why I get so frustrated with the way that newspapers choose to cover the news, it's to be found in the words of Ben Goldacre: "I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that". Because I think it is, regardless of what 'it' is. Almost all the time, things are far more complicated than we might like to think. And that's actually something to be delighted with, rather than disappointed by. Rejoice at the complexity! Luxuriate in the conflicting arguments! Enjoy the on the other hands and the neverthelesses. They're what makes life exciting and unpredictable; they're what makes the world hard to grasp, impossible to understand - but wonderfully satisfying to try and get a handle on.
And so, when you get a hung parliament, I reckon it's disliked by the papers for two reasons - well many more than two, if I'm going to try and stick to the principles I've outlined in this post, but we'll start with two and fan out from there. Firstly, their chosen candidates didn't win. That's something irritating, because it makes them look a little bit less than powerful. Sure, David Cameron received 36% of the popular vote, and got 47% of the seats - but it wasn't a convincing victory. Newspapers told their readers to vote for him. They didn't all do that. Now you could say that most of their readers did vote for him, but we have no evidence that's the case. They might have roundly ignored the advice of their inky friends, and put Xs down for all kinds of other candidates. So whatever way you look at it, the papers look like mugs for saying that Cameron was the only hope to save Britain, and their readers said "meh". To them, that's annoying. To me, it's great. But there you are.
The second thing, though, is that the hung parliament is an unsatisfyingly complicated result. It means that newspapers will have to try and delve into the complexity to try and work out what's going to happen. It means that the scale of the result will have to try and be explained with something other than a simple swingometer, because there wasn't a uniform swing, and there were so many regional variations - and the local election results provided even more variety and contrast with the general election scores. It's not as simple as saying that Gordon Brown has been rejected, or that David Cameron has been approved, because neither is quite the case. You can add that locally, the Labour Party seems to be more popular, and managed to get out a good deal of its voters when they were required. Is that disaffection with Gordon Brown nationally, or an increased turnout due to fear of the Tories? Again, the answers aren't easily at hand.
You could speculate that the Lib Dems appear to have trodden water, having increased the popular vote slightly but decreased their number of seats, but this could be because they got no new supporters, or it could be because some supporters abandoned them for the Tories and were replaced by disaffected Labour voters, adding up to a similar total; or it could be more complicated than that, particularly at a local level, when you have tactical voting and boundary changes involved. In my constituency, for example, I previously had a Labour MP who had a large majority, who was replaced with a Tory whose main rival turned out, quite surprisingly, to be a Lib Dem - the tactical voting advice from the Mirror, Guardian and elsewhere to vote Labour wasn't quite right, or didn't work, while the Lib Dem bar charts in election leaflets were (and I'll confess this is a surprise) accurate as they were based on local elections which had shown the trend heading towards the Lib Dems. I didn't believe them at all, but it turned out they were right. Again, the complexity of the situation defeated the simple 'tactical' vote calls. (I voted for who I wanted to vote for, and not tactically, in the end. But I would have been annoyed if I'd voted for someone I didn't want to vote for, and it had turned out to be the wrong decision.)
But I rejoice at all of this. At the complexity of the local results and the national results - and the big result, a hung parliament, could turn out to be A Very Good Thing. I know, I know - call me naive or desperate or deluded if you must, but I can't help seeing the positives in this. Despite resistance from the Conservative Party, we could get some kind of fairer voting system out of this - which would result in many, many more 'hung' parliaments and many more complex results in the future. Which I think is good, for a healthy mature democracy, if it means votes mean more - and if the price to pay for that is Ukip and BNP members of parliament, well, so be it - their record once elected is universally awful, and I think the way to deal with these people is not to exclude them but to outvote them.
I can see the papers describing the coming days as a 'mess' and a good reason as to why the voting system shouldn't be changed. There's a danger that protracted negotiations, even though it's the right thing to do, will be portrayed as 'dithering' and 'damaging'. But let's see past that. There's a real chance for things to change now. When David Cameron said 'Vote for Change' I'm pretty sure he didn't mean this, but this is what he's got. We have to make the best of it, and be unafraid of the continued scaremongering. Now the parties have to some degree to work together, and no-one is in a position to do exactly what they want. Is that so bad? I don't think so. I think there are still many reasons to be cheerful.