Voices: Truss, Johnson, Starmer – they’re all symptoms of our post-truth politics

·4-min read

We live in a post-truth world. We’re now in the age of false equivalence, of bad faith arguments, of vested interests shaping discourse to keep it smoothly nuance-free, like a hardboiled egg, and within increasingly right-wing parameters. Objective facts don’t matter – do they even exist?

It’s a world moulded by political actors like Trump, but also by the Johnsonian bluster and wind of our still current, but almost former, prime minister. Its torch has been eagerly snatched up by his “tribute act”, the leadership contender and “war on woke” candidate Liz Truss.

According to an investigation by Sky News, 80 per cent of the 40 new hospitals promised by the Tories in 2019 either don’t have a completion date or are unlikely to be finished by the next general election in 2024. It was a key part of Boris Johnson’s 2019 election manifesto, and, to the surprise of precisely no one, has not been mentioned by either Rishi Sunak or Truss as part of their leadership campaigns.

It reminds me of the slogan on the side of the Brexit bus, promising the NHS an extra £350m a week. The money was never going to materialise in the accounts of the NHS, but it sounded good, didn’t it? All we’ve got are higher food prices, queues at Dover, labour shortages, elderly and disabled people at greater risk, an increased regulatory burden and a looming recession. We sure took back control, lads.

Then there’s the small matter of terrifying energy price hikes, while fossil fuel companies rake in staggering profits, and the prime minister (still current, but almost former) refusing to do anything about it. Boris Johnson is on his second holibobs of the summer, this time in Greece, while collecting the PM’s salary of £164,080, as the cost of living crisis gathers steam.

This morning, it was reported that regular wages fell at the fastest rate on record between April and June, dropping 3 per cent after inflation. No matter, Liz Truss is on the warpath, promising to introduce legislation targeting “militant action” by unions. The “militant action” is the right to strike – or to put it another way, to withhold your labour once negotiations have failed. So workers will have no power to protest poverty wages or meagre pay offers that don’t keep pace with rising inflation.

Even Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party – the Labour Party – operates within the context of this post-truth politics, trashing the 10 pledges he was elected on the back of, banning MPs for attending picket lines and sacking frontbencher Sam Tarry for supporting striking workers. What a relief for ordinary working people that we have someone like Starmer on our side!

Is it at all surprising that politicians are largely viewed as untrustworthy? From the lies of Boris Johnson in office to the abandoned pledges of Keir Starmer in service of securing votes from the left of the Labour membership, it seems like this is all one big game of deceitful short-termism.

Sunak and Truss court the vote of 0.3 per cent of the UK population in the hope of moving their suitcases into Number 10, each attempting to outdo the other in strains of increasingly extreme right-wing nastiness, targeting immigrants and refugees, the “woke” (read: anyone who believes in anti-racism and anti-bigotry), workers with the temerity to stand up for their rights and their living standards, anyone struggling to make ends meet (remember the “handouts” comment from Truss?) – it goes on.

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We cannot tell what might be carried into office and then into law out of these lines, and what will be swiftly buried once power is in a particular set of hands.

We need the popular, movement-building, common sense policies of the Corbyn era (nationalisation of key industries, publicly owned full-fibre broadband, protection of workers’ rights, a national social care service, the reversing of the damage of a decade of austerity, to name a few) now more than ever. However, any challenge to the increasing shift of the political barometre to the right is met with horror from established voices.

Maybe it’s time to be honest about why. Why is taking a stand against poverty and low pay branded “far left” lunacy? Why are human rights and equality now “culture war” issues? If you don’t care about other people, particularly those more vulnerable than yourself, just say so. Don’t wrap it up in the patronising language of the political “grown ups” brigade, or throw around phrases about the “politics of envy” and how tell us how “profits aren’t evil”.

We’re post-truth, and the political well is poisoned – but it doesn’t have to be this way.