Beware pundits who talk without thinking, now more than ever

The outcome of the UK General Election has resulted in an “arrangement” involving the DUP, about which there is not yet any detail, to ensure that the Conservatives, who have a narrow overall majority in Great Britain but not the UK, can form a government.

Inevitably this outcome has caused significant bemusement and concern. Expert opinion is being sought, both inside Northern Ireland and without, about what this will mean.

One of the most expert electoral post-War commentators is Sir David Butler, who provided expert commentary on the 1959 General Election from a smoke-filled BBC studio and has done so again even in 2017 on Twitter. He cautioned, on Wednesday, that for all his expertise (he was too modest to reference that) he had no idea what the outcome would be. “All I know is that I don’t know”, he wrote, sagely.

I am no Sir David, but I have been involved in politics, both as an elected representative for six years and as a commentator and campaigner for rather longer, and again the truth is I do not know what a Conservative-DUP arrangement will mean. All I know is that I don’t know.

The problem in this social media age is that we are always desperate for quick knowledge and information. The quest for this results in a tendency to prioritise only people who are prepared to offer quick opinions, rather than taking time to ensure that those opinions have value as reasonable analysis. Indeed, those prepared to offer quick opinions are disproportionately those whose analysis is anything but reasonable or objective. In other words, the quest for quick information almost always results in misinformation.

Just have a look in Northern Ireland at the pundits’ election predictions even locally. Almost no one saw the DUP (and, to a lesser extent, Sinn Féin) surge coming to anything like the extent it did. Those parties took two thirds of the vote between them, yet very few pundits are associated with either of them.

What we do now is that both the UK and Northern Ireland are rudderless. Now, more than ever, is the time to think rather than talk before we work out how to put things back on track. As we do so, we should note that the wise people are those not currently offering advice or opinions – and we should in future probably be more careful whose advice we buy.

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3 thoughts on “Beware pundits who talk without thinking, now more than ever

  1. Edward McCamley says:

    My goodness, so reticent, so suddenly.
    The British (and Irish) political landscape has been dramatically transformed overnight and you have nothing to say.
    Well, let’s try a prompt. Corbyn has certainly finished off the political career of the worst prime minister of modern times. And now, desperate to hang to office, the self-described vicar’s daughter, embraces the most bigoted remnants of what Conor Cruise O’Brien memorably described as parody Britishness.
    A soft Brexit is now rather more likely than the lunatic version championed by May. This will spare the people of Ireland economic and political chaos. The British, i.e. those who live in our sister island, will avoid a less dramatic version of the same experience. Oh, the union with Scotland is now ensured for the foreseeable future.
    All this is, directly or indirectly, due to Corbyn who has survived despicable vilification by the Mail, the Telegraph, and the Sun, as well as the de haut en bas attitudinising of those Lib Dem/ Alliance types with their years of, how did you put it, experience.

    • Well it is a good start to go with what we already know.

      As noted on these pages yesterday, we know that there is no prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum any time soon, that is true.

      As I’ve noted on Twitter, I think we can safely say the PM cannot survive, although I am not sure we can say much yet about the time or means of her departure.

      There is not much we can yet say about Mr Corbyn, other than that his position is of course strengthened. Some Labour MPs are still unhappy, believing that a better leader would have delivered victory (I doubt, in fact, that a more mainstream leader would have been given the chance). We also do not know if Mr Corbyn will ever end up as PM, though the chances have increased.

      We also do not know what the terms of any DUP deal would be, or if the DUP will overplay its hand. We do not know which of these outcomes would be good or bad for the institutions in Northern Ireland. Contrary to all the punditry that it makes life a lot harder, it is notable that Sinn Féin seems unperturbed.

      We also do not know how safe Tim Farron’s position is; nor, more locally, Colum Eastwood’s. Could Nicola Sturgeon be under any pressure once the SNP gets beyond the denial phase? Or whether any of that really matters.

      We have no idea what this means for Brexit. Or indeed for the Paris Agreement or NATO. Or Health Reform. Or the next UK Budget. Or who can chair talks in NI.

      So there is much we simply do not know. It’s probably best to admit it.

  2. […] cautioned after the General Election about the risks of poor political punditry, and that warning has been plainly justified in the past 45 hours or so. Rarely has so much rubbish […]

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