Britain’s recent election produced plenty of memorable images—from UKIP leader Nigel Farage hoisting pints of beer to 20-year-old Scottish National Party candidate Mhairi Black delivering a victory speech beside her defeated 47-year-old Labour Party rival. But arguably the most iconic involved a bacon sandwich. As the journalist Michael Weiss joked on Twitter after the vote, “This is the worst massacre in history ever perpetrated by a bacon sandwich.”
That massacre involved the Conservative Party (or Tories) defying predictions of a tight race and wresting enough seats from Labour to win a majority in Parliament. Labour was also driven from its former stronghold of Scotland. The party’s leader, Ed Miliband, has resigned.
Labour suffered its worst performance in almost three decades for many reasons, including a surge of nationalism in Scotland, Labour’s failure to articulate a winning economic vision, and Miliband’s struggle to connect with voters. But the Labour leader was also battling throughout the campaign against his own image—an image of a geek, an oddball, an outsider. And much of the credit for that image goes to the British press.
The country’s rowdy tabloids have always jockeyed to influence elections; the famous catchphrase “It’s The Sun Wot Won It” refers to The Sun’s front-page claim to singlehandedly clobbering Labour with barrels of unkind ink in the 1992 election. But they outdid themselves in conspicuous displays of partisanship in this year’s contest, with most major papers backing the Tories. In contrast to the United States, where newspapers typically consign political endorsements to the editorial pages, British news outlets are often vociferous in declaring their allegiances and, even more often, in condemning their political opponents (whether these pronouncements actually shape electoral outcomes is a matter of fierce debate). Just before last week’s election, for example, the Conservative-aligned Daily Mail blared on its front page, “For sanity’s sake, don’t let a class-war zealot and the SNP destroy our economy—and our very nation,” in reference to Miliband and the Scottish National Party.