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How the British Press Got Almost Everything Wrong In 2022

If you want to know what happens next in the UK, you’d be better off flipping a coin than listening to most political pundits, argues Adam Bienkov

The Sun. Photo: Isabel Infantes

How the British Press Got Almost Everything Wrong In 2022

If you want to know what happens next in the UK, you’d be better off flipping a coin than listening to most political pundits, argues Adam Bienkov

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In 2011, US academics conducted a study of predictions made by leading political pundits. Of the 26 supposed experts they looked at, just nine had a successful predictive rate higher than 50%. Overall you were just as likely to get an accurate prediction from flipping a coin as you were from listening to most major commentators. In some cases a coin toss was a significantly more reliable indicator.

Similar studies conducted in the UK proved to be even worse for the pundits. In the run up to the 2010, 2015 and 2017 general elections, well known British commentators were asked by the Political Studies Association to give their predictions for each result. In each case, the pundits were wildly wrong, with tossing a coin turning out to be a significantly better way of predicting election outcomes.

No year has demonstrated this fallibility of political commentators more clearly than 2022. After 12 months in which we have had three Prime Ministers, a major European war and an economic crisis, the predictions of our political pundits and politicians have been shown up like never before

Here are just some of the worst predictions about how 2022 would turn out.

‘Boris Johnson Will Outlast Critics’

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson entered 2022 beneath a wave of reports suggesting that he had broken his own Covid laws and misled Parliament in the process.

Evidence from Downing Street whistleblowers suggested that Johnson had been at the head of an organisation which had widely disregarded the rules it had imposed upon the rest of the country.

Meanwhile Conservative MPs reported that they were experiencing a scale of fury from their constituents that they had never experienced before.

To many people outside Westminster it seemed obvious that the scandal would be the beginning of the end for the Prime Minister.

However, as dark skies gathered over Downing Street, the consensus among most of his supporters in the press was that he would survive the scandal.

The Sun declared that Johnson was “Crust Ahead” of his detractors, while the Daily Mail reported that Downing Street were “confident” he would survive, and suggested that the country had “lost all sense of proportion” about the Prime Minister, who they later declared to be “in the clear”.

Others claimed that Johnson had won over his many detractors in the party by promising to change, with one MP telling Politico that after one meeting between the Prime Minister and his backbenchers it was “back to maximum Boris, election-winning Boris.”

Within months they had forced him out.

‘Liz Truss is Dangerously Underestimated’

After Johnson’s departure, many of the same publications who had predicted that he would preside over a glorious decade in power, then switched to insisting that Liz Truss would now do the same.

The Daily Mail became a particular cheerleader for the then Foreign Secretary, insisting that Conservative MPs should rally behind her, or risk losing the next election.

It wasn’t just the Mail who suggested that Truss would prove to be electoral gold for the Tories.

Multiple other commentators, in the Telegraph and elsewhere, argued that Truss had been “dangerously underestimated” and predicted that she would prove tricky for Labour to beat.

It’s safe to say that it didn’t quite work out that way.

Liz Truss’ Budget Triumph

Liz Truss’ so-called mini-budget in September wiped tens of billions of pounds off the UK economy, while crashing the pound and adding thousands of pounds to individual household mortgages.

It was, in short, the single most disastrous set of economic announcements made by any UK Government in living record.

However, this is not how it was greeted by large parts of the British press at the time.

The Daily Mail was particularly jubilant, proclaiming on its front page that “At Last!” the Conservatives had announced “A True Tory Budget”.

Even after Sterling collapsed and headlines about the UK Government’s spectacular economic incompetence spread across the globe, the Mail remained loyal, splashing on its front page that Truss was “Not For Turning”.

Within three days she had abandoned almost every policy in her budget.

A ‘Golden Age’ For Brexit

2022 will also be remembered as the year when all the predictions of a new “golden age” under Brexit finally fell apart.

For years many commentators predicted that Brexit would create significant new “freedoms” and unleash widespread “prosperity” for the British people, while allowing us to “control our borders” and turn the UK into an “economic powerhouse”.

In 2022 almost all of these predictions unravelled. One study this week suggested that Brexit has wiped 5.5% off of the size of the UK economy with tens of billions fewer pounds coming into the Exchequer every year as a direct result of the decision to leave.

And while the Brexit campaign was largely based on stirring up fears about immigration to the UK, recent official figures show the number of people coming here has actually gone up since Britain left the EU.

So as political pundits once again prepare to set out their list of predictions for the year ahead, it is worth considering how much, if any of it, we should still take seriously.

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