ON election night, one of the most gut-wrenching moments for me was watching the count declarations and hearing the numbers called after the Reform Party candidates’ names.

Thousands of people in constituency after constituency who chose to give their vote to a party whose entire message revolves around hostility towards migrants.

Some 4,117,221 people in the UK, or 14.3% of voters, seemingly felt that neither Labour nor the Tories were going far enough on this issue, despite multiple new laws which were recently introduced to make life harder for migrants.

The 3.8 million people who voted for UKIP in 2015 got what they wanted the next year and their votes were dispersed – but it was never really about the European Union. That’s abundantly clear now, if it wasn’t already.

There’s a lot to unpack about how and why we got to this point, but as I watched these results come in – which, keep in mind, only won five seats for Reform – the overriding feeling was that it was hardly surprising considering the sheer volume of free promotion the party enjoyed.

Contrast this with the Green Party of England and Wales who won four seats and more than doubled its vote share from 2.7% in 2019 to 6.7% in this election, all with vanishingly little media attention, and their result is arguably more remarkable.

The Greens now have over 800 councillors in England and Wales as of the local elections this year – five times as many as in 2019 – and has built up support through genuine grassroots campaigns that challenge Labour from the left.

Yet somehow, this is rarely the story the media wants to tell. Why would they, when there’s something shiny and reactionary to look at instead? The trouble is that decisions on which voices to platform are not neutral and they have a very real impact on which ideas the public ends up being exposed – or overexposed – to.

Much like the Brexit Party and Ukip before it, also led by the newly elected Reform MP and leader Nigel Farage, the Reform Party has been an object of media fascination.

During this election period, analysis by researchers at Loughborough University found that Farage made up 6% of all party leader quotes or appearances on TV, double that of Green Party leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay combined, who accounted for just 3% of the coverage.

In newspapers, Farage accounted for 6% of party leader quotes or “substantial attributions”, while quotes from the Green leaders – and indeed the Green Party as a whole – amounted to exactly 0%.

Now, the BBC is being criticised by Green Party activists, including London councillor Nate Higgins, for failing to broadcast the declarations of the four winning Green seats, three of which were gains. Despite the fact that the broadcaster made a point of airing every other English party leader’s declarations, the two Green leaders’ seats were omitted.

One could almost overlook this if it weren’t for the fact that several Reform wins were not only broadcast, but discussed at length in terms that were at once doing the party’s work for it by asking what the new Labour government would do to answer Reform voters’ concerns, and entirely oblivious to the media’s role in producing those results.

It’s funny how the question never seems to be asked: how will the Conservatives or indeed Labour, answer the concerns of voters on the left? I don’t recall that being asked by mainstream political pundits in 2017 when Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour won more than treble the votes of Reform this month.

It’s even funnier (in the way that something that makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry might be “funny”) how large parts of the media still appear intent upon ignoring the lessons they ought, by now, to have learnt about platforming racist ideologues.

Nigel Farage has long been presented as a bit of a “character” in the media, whilst being given ample airtime to spout his right-wing, xenophobic views. On the one hand, the right-wing press has championed his cause and celebrated his successes, which is a depressing state of affairs in itself.

But perhaps even worse than this is the way impartial broadcasters have amplified his every word in the name of allowing for “debate”, “scrutiny”, or “balance”. Often it appears that the motivation for these decisions is less about informing, than entertaining – with the more outrageous or controversial voices getting the spotlight.

That approach only debases our political discourse and it is ever more apparent that it is leading us down a dark path.

With 37 appearances on BBC Question Time alone, debating Farage has so far achieved: Ukip representing over a quarter of the UK’s Members of the European Parliament in 2014; 52% of voters choosing to leave the EU in 2016 (because that would never have happened had Ukip’s misinformation and fearmongering not been allowed to take centre stage); the Brexit Party – which backed a no-deal Brexit – representing nearly two in five MEPs in 2019; and, now, five Reform MPs in the House of Commons.

Not to mention his appearance on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here last year, in which he finished third – undoubtedly a helping hand in securing him a seat as an MP for the first time.

Does anyone seriously still think the approach of the mainstream media – not least our public broadcaster – to these people is doing anything other than helping them and their politics of hate and exclusion to gain traction?

The BBC will say that by having Farage on, or by talking endlessly about Reform, it is simply reflecting public opinion. But at this point, a refusal to accept that the media is not a passive observer but an active participant in our political system makes them negligent at best, complicit at worst.

After Farage’s most recent Question Time appearance last month, he said he was boycotting the BBC for supposed bias against him. No doubt that little stunt only helped him amongst his target audience.

The most disturbing moment of that appearance for me was that, in response to the racist remarks of one of his party canvassers, he said the man was “an actor” – a fact which was technically true, but which hinted at a conspiracy theory that Channel 4 had paid the man to pretend to be a Reform activist. Sadly, those who want to believe that will do so.

That is the basis on which parties like Reform, and leaders like Farage, operate – by purposefully, and methodically, breaking down their supporters’ trust in anyone but them. Facts do not matter, because, in the words of Trump (a man Farage supports wholeheartedly), there are always alternative facts.

And therein lies the problem with the assumption that the conventional wisdom that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” will apply when it comes to the radical right.

Time and again it has been proven that this simply does not work, because they are playing by the rules of a different game entirely.

Are we truly to believe that broadcasters still don’t understand this, or is it that they simply don’t care? I’m not sure which is worse.