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Would I Lie To You?
Thirteen long years ago, way before Trump and ‘Fake News’, comedian Al Franken published a book titled “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”.
It was a parody of Fox News, which then filed a lawsuit for damages, only to see the book’s sales soar from the resulting free publicity. When a judge ruled against the network, spectators in the public gallery giggled at the verdict. Fox News was literally laughed out of court.
During last night’s ITV debate, both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn were subjected to derisive laughter. In Johnson’s case, the trigger was his claim that he believes truth is important in this general election. Within minutes, the Tory HQ Twitter account gained primetime airtime for branding itself ‘factcheckuk’.
Tory chairman James Cleverly didn’t deny the whole stunt was carefully planned with his knowledge. One theory is that this was an insurance policy to distract from the TV debate in case Corbyn “won”. But that seems too clever by half, and the more plausible conclusion is that the Conservatives are so enraged by Corbyn’s line on ‘selling the NHS to Trump’ that they wanted to create as much noise about it as possible.
The result however was that the Tories were yet again accused of deliberate deception. So, why has Johnson taken such a fresh risk with his reputation, given he’s already known for being economical with the actualite?
Well, one reason may simply be that he thinks he’s going to breeze this election. Internal Tory polling suggests a big, big majority. The formal line in Tory HQ is that no one should show any complacency, but only a complacent campaign would try to pull the Twitter stunt. The PM himself was careful last night not to come across as arrogant (‘Mr Corbyn’ was his form of address), yet the ‘factcheckuk’ row felt like arrogance personified: we’ll get away with this because we can.
Those close to Johnson say he’s supremely relaxed in this campaign. That’s a sharp contrast to the worrier Tony Blair, who even when he was polling above 50% fretted during the 1997 landslide election about individual seats. On election night, Blair simply didn’t believe (until the actual votes were in) the feedback that he was heading for a massive majority.
Of course, the other parties have their own problems with political dissembling, deception and downright lies. Corbyn’s claims that Johnson is personally ordering the NHS to be put on the table in US trade talks are lacking any evidence at all. Yes, trade negotiators discussed drugs but there’s no evidence that was part of some cunning plan drafted by ministers to sell the NHS to private health firms.
And on anti-Semitism, the Jewish Labour Movement today repeated its stance that Corbyn flat out “lied” when he claimed anyone guilty of such abuse had been suspended or expelled, and when he said “we’ve investigated every case”. Labour councillor Peter Mason pointed out there are at least 130 outstanding cases.
The Lib Dems have their own long history of egregious falsehoods with their ‘barchart’ leaflets, a practice repeated in this election. Even as Jo Swinson launched her manifesto today, the Resolution Foundation said that her party’s tax and spend figures simply didn’t add up, and that ‘£50bn’ “Remain bonus” wasn’t all it seemed.
Still, perhaps the most depressing feature of this election may be that, whisper it quietly, the lying now washes over the public. And if Johnson does end up with his own large majority thanks to Labour Leave switchers, it may come down to a simple truth, rather than any of his deceptions. No matter how many times he’s asked, Corbyn cannot say whether he is in favour of Leave or Remain precisely because it’s his party policy to stay on the fence. And that’s no lie.
Quote Of The Day
“This is a man who favours self-determination for virtually every other country on the planet, it would be a bit odd if he was to give up his chance at government.”
Nicola Sturgeon on why Jeremy Corbyn will back a second Scottish referendum
Wednesday’s Election Cheat Sheet
Boris Johnson revealed (whether unintentionally is unclear) to a group of factory workers on Teesside that the Tory manifesto will include a tax cut worth £100 for 31 million workers. The party would cut National Insurance Contributions by raising the threshold at which workers start paying from £8,632 to £12,000. He later confirmed that the threshold will rise to £9,500 next year, a tax cut of £100 a year for 31 million workers.
The Liberal Democrats unveiled their manifesto with pledges to spend £60bn extra a year on priorities such as schools, mental health and childcare. Jo Swinson again promised to ‘stop Brexit’ and unveiled higher air passenger duties for frequent flyers, raising nearly £5bn a year by 2024/25. £8bn would be raised from a 1p in the pound rise in income tax to fund social care and the NHS.
Prince Andrew announced that he was stepping back from royal duties because the Jeffrey Epstein scandal had become a “major disruption” to the Royal Family.
Tory minister Brandon Lewis said that the Tory party’s bogus FactCheckUk account was “a good thing to do” because “it had cut through”. Twitter said it would take “decisive action” if the stunt was pulled again.
The Lib Dems suspended Waheed Rafiq, their candidate in the Birmingham Hodge Hill, for making “clearly and unambiguously antisemitic” remarks on social media. The Tories also suspended Leeds North East candidate Amjad Bashir for saying Jews were ‘brainwashed’ by visits to Israel.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.