Compared to the United States, the British election season is remarkably brief. The queen only dissolved parliament March 30, marking the beginning of the election period; voting will be held May 7.
Yet despite the fact that there are just six weeks of real campaigning, the 2015 British election has been remarkably full of weird stories, horrible gaffes and sad memes. What gives?
Perhaps part of this can be attributed to the continuing rise of social media, or the use of U.S.-style debates between party leaders that have been expanded this year.
But it seems likely that another factor in the ongoing weirdness of the British election might be just how unpredictable it is. This might be the most hard-to-predict election in a decade, with the major parties sidelined and fringe issues coming to the forefront. The weird memes belie a weird political moment, perhaps.
So WorldViews has decided to help you out, with a guide to a few of the more absurd stories and memes that might help you understand the election. And we're sorry to say, we're really only scratching the surface here.
1. The "pumped up" incumbent, David Cameron.
When David Cameron, the incumbent prime minister and leader of the center right Conservative party, appeared at a small-business event last week, he ditched the suitjacket and began to tell the crowd how "pumped up" he was about Britain's entrepreneurship.
For Cameron, it was a change of style. The prime minister himself has admitted that he has come across with a "calm smoothness" before, and a more harsh critic might suggest that Cameron's own position as an established member of Britain's social elite has led him to a detachment from the general public.
In an increasingly unpredictable election, it's possible that the Conservatives may see Cameron's calmness as a liability. Cameron himself denies this. "If I'm getting lively about it, it's because I feel bloody lively about it," Cameron told reporters when asked why his demeanor had changed.
2. The challenger "too weird" to be prime minister.
Even a casual observer may have heard this one: Ed Miliband is "too weird" to be prime minister.
For years, Miliband, leader of the center left opposition Labor party, has been criticized for lacking the statesmanlike demeanor necessary to lead the United Kingdom. The image above, which captures Miliband trying to "look natural" during a television interview, is just one example of the image problems Miliband has had.
“The narrative around Ed Miliband, because it’s the truth, is that he looks weird, sounds weird, is weird," one anonymous Labor source was quoted as saying last year. For a party that had (many moons ago) relied on its working class, "everyman" appeal, this was seen as a problem for Labor.
3. Or maybe not.
— shae. (@annamariiax) April 21, 2015
Something changed in the public consensus around Miliband when the election started, however. Perhaps it was sympathy for the Labor party leader, or perhaps Miliband was personally able to improve upon his awkward image, but as The Post's Griff Witte noted recently, Miliband began to emerge as the favorite in the election.
Perhaps more surprising still, a new movement online started to reimagine the Labor leader as "cool." Dubbed "#Milifandom" a group of mostly female fans helped change the popular conception of Miliband.
Even Miliband himself was slightly confused. "I don’t think I’ve ever been called that," the electoral hopeful said on BBC radio after reading a quote that described him as cool.
4. The candidate greeted with by a pants-less fan.
In the last British election, something quite remarkable happened. While the British election had been dominated by two parties for decades, in 2010, Britain's third party, the Liberal Democrats, were making huge gains in polls. Many put this success down to one man in particular: the young, charismatic Liberal Democrat party leader Nick Clegg. It was even dubbed #CleggMania.
It's five years later, and CleggMania clearly seems dead and buried. The Liberal Democrats didn't make the gains expected, and while they did end up in a coalition government with the Conservatives (who had failed to get the parliamentary majority needed to function), Clegg was seen as a pawn of Cameron and unable to make a real mark on British government. In a cruel twist, it was reported Monday that Clegg himself was only likely to be reelected thanks to tactical voting from Conservatives.
One sign of Clegg's relatively low visibility in this election is his low number of embarrassing memes. But there is one notable exception: when a young man dropped his pants in front of Clegg. To his credit, Clegg was able to show some of the charm that served him well in 2010 when responding to the incident on Twitter. Perhaps it still is too early to write him off.
Some people may not have been heeding my warnings about the need to tighten our belts. pic.twitter.com/rjcEqg9dzG
— Nick Clegg (@nick_clegg) May 1, 2015
5. The candidate who keeps being defaced with a Hitler mustache.
— connie_13 (@conniebrazier) April 6, 2015
In the run-up to the the election, many outsiders had thought that Nigel Farage, the idiosyncratic yet charismatic leader of the populist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), might become a truly powerful political force in the election. The anti-immigration, anti-Europe message sent by UKIP seemed to be attracting voters from both the Conservatives and Labor.
But there's a problem for Farage. For one thing, Farage himself may struggle to actually win a seat, thanks to a committed campaign from the Conservatives against him in the South Thanet constituency. But worse still, as the election has heated up, polls suggest that support for UKIP has waned.
Even if the British election does result in further political fragmentation and another hung parliament, UKIP may not hold any real power. Part of the problem may be that to their many detractors, UKIP are seen as a narrow-minded, even racist party. To get a sense of Farage's problem, it's worth considering the large number of photographs spreading on social media that show the UKIP leader with what looks like some rather unfortunate facial hair.
— Sick Chirpse (@SickChirpse) April 27, 2015
— Asa Bennett (@asabenn) December 15, 2014
— Mark Bate (@BateZen) April 11, 2015
6. The "most dangerous woman in Britain."
— THE FRONT PAGES (@Independent_SCO) April 3, 2015
While Scottish nationalists may have had their immediate hopes of independence dashed after the failure of the independence referendum last year, something remarkable does seem to have happened in Scottish politics: A big swing in electoral fortunes for the Scottish National Party.
It's now expected that the SNP will take the vast majority of parliamentary seats in Scotland next week, taking many from Labor. While far short of a majority in parliament, this could be more than enough to hold considerable sway in British politics if no other party could form a majority government.
There is a likelihood that the SNP, a political party that would, in effect, like to break up Britain, could end up a part of Britain's government if Labor wins the most seats in parliament. And if the Conservatives win, they may face a crisis of legitimacy in Scotland, where they would likely hold just one seat.
This newfound political clout for the SNP has won Nicola Sturgeon, the new party leader, her supporters, who call her the "Queen of Scots." It has also won her detractors, such as Britain's Daily Mail, who dubbed her the "Most Dangerous Woman in Britain" – and sparked a backlash on social media.
— Anne Griffin (@scotslass57) April 26, 2015
— Mark (@markooj) April 11, 2015
— Jamie Ross (@JamieRoss7) April 20, 2015
7. The "White Van Man."
— Emily Thornberry (@EmilyThornberry) November 20, 2014
One of the most powerful memes of the election came last November, when a British Labor MP tweeted out the image above.
While it may seem innocuous to outsiders, many felt there was a coded message in Emily Thornberry's tweet: The English flags and white van are (not entirely flattering) symbols of the working class. Was Thornberry mocking a working-class voter?
The tweet caused a scandal, with Thorberry resigning just hours later and British tabloid the Sun announcing that she was "only here for the sneers":
— Nick Sutton (@suttonnick) November 20, 2014
Miliband was forced to give an awkward apology to all the "white van mans" of the world:
The scandal over the tweet caused a minor crisis for the Labor Party, which had once claimed to represent working-class voters but were now finding these same voters defecting to the likes of UKIP.
This month, with the election in full swing, the Sun went back to find the "White Van Man" who had been the center of the scandal in the first place. It turns out he's voting for the Conservatives.
— Nick Sutton (@suttonnick) April 27, 2015
8. The strange political power of Russell Brand.
The counterpoint to the "White Van Man" is Russell Brand, a once-working-class Essex boy who fought his way through addiction to become one of Britain's most successful comedians. Over the past few years, Brand has gradually become a political figure, articulating why he doesn't vote or discussing the legacy of Margaret Thatcher in his own trademark "mockney" style that has won him some admirers from the left and many detractors from the right.
Brand may be mocked as politically naive by some, but he is still an extremely popular voice in Britain, with millions watching his DIY YouTube show "The Trews." And last week, Ed Miliband, hoping to reach out to a different audience, went to Brand's kitchen for an interview. A pumped-up Cameron dismissed both Brand and Miliband as a "joke" for the interview.
But the joke may be on Cameron. After the interview, Brand decided that he would forgo his calls to not vote in this election, and announced that he supported Miliband.
9. The strange political power of a bacon sandwich.
In an election where the main parties were struggling to appear "normal" to voters, candidates found an unusual problem: food.
The problem began last year when Miliband was photographed eating a bacon sandwich.
Ed Miliband says he does not care about reaction to him eating a bacon sandwich or Wallace and Gromit comparisons. http://t.co/egXn9Uzn4S
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) July 27, 2014
Ed didn't look good. And soon, food became a controversial subject matter in Britain, with Nigel Farage proudly inviting reporters to watch him eat a bacon sandwich.
Huge media scrum to watch Nigel Farage eat a bacon butty. I despair. pic.twitter.com/fHB6T1Whx5
— Helen Pidd (@helenpidd) October 2, 2014
There was some sympathy for Miliband from some leaders, however. "I think this is very unfair because I don’t think anyone looks very elegant [doing this]," Nick Clegg said when challenged to eat a bacon sandwich by a journalist (he did manage a few bites, however).
The extent of the problem became clear in April, when David Cameron,at a potential voter's backyard barbecue, was photographed eating a hot dog with a knife and fork, apparently in the hope of avoiding his own "bacon sandwich" moment.
"I’m sorry but I can’t possibly vote for someone who eats a bloody hotdog with a knife and fork!" one Twitter user observed.
10. The issues no one is actually talking about.
— YouGov (@YouGov) April 24, 2015
Despite all the media frenzy, many observers have noted that there appears to be a lack of substantial debate in this election about a variety of important issues. In particular, many observers have wondered why no-one is talking about foreign policy.
"It is not unusual for elections to generate the biggest of debates about the smallest of issues, and vice-versa. It’s also true that the door-step is rarely a forum for geostrategic theory," Sam Coates observed at the Spectator in April. "Let’s just hope that this little election doesn’t come to represent a Little Britain."
11. The royal baby.
What a total coincidence that there's a royal baby due just before the election...not
— martynware (@martynware) April 22, 2015
The birth of the royal baby just days before the election has led some to wonder if the the new princess, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, could potentially serve as a pre-election boost to the Conservatives, the party most closely linked to the Royal family.
The answer? Probably not.
A some point soon you will see lots of articles explaining how the birth of a royal baby has changed the election. They will be wrong.
— Dan Hodges (@DPJHodges) May 1, 2015
Just to say, #RoyalBaby v unlikely to have effect on any party's vote share but may prevent any remaining big announcements gaining traction
— Joe Twyman (@JoeTwyman) May 2, 2015
"Will the royal baby help the Conservatives?" Well, if a baby knocked on my door & coherently explained Tory tax policy, he'd get my vote
— Tim Stanley (@timothy_stanley) May 2, 2015