LONDON (Labour Buzz) - It seems a bit rich that a man who has made an artform out of lying appears to be trying to use the current campaign to judge the Labour Party by his own, frankly abysmal standards.
Johnson’s fractured relationship with the truth has become so universally accepted that there was even a question framed around it during this week’s ITV leadership debate. After initially giving a rather waffly answer to an audience question Johnson was pressed by chair Julie Etchingham, who asked the prime minister: “Forgive me, Mr Johnson, but this is about personal integrity and individual character. Does the truth matter in this election?”
The PM responded: “I think it does, and I think it very important to hear from, I’ve been very clear about the deal that I’ve done – there it is, it’s in black and white.” Which appeared to be rather deliberately missing the point.
In fact, during that very debate there was another scandal erupting when it was revealed that the @CCHQPress account - the Tory press office - was renamed "factcheckUK" for the duration of Tuesday's live TV debate and afterwards reverted to its original branding. Twitter has said the Conservative Party misled the public when it rebranded one of its Twitter accounts and said it would take "decisive corrective action" if a similar stunt was attempted again. Perhaps this disaster goes someway towards explaining why he’s now pulled out of a planned Channel 4 debate which was due to take place on Sunday.
Social Media Manipulation
Far for being the only lie that’s centred around social media, it was later revealed that this wasn’t even the only attempt to mislead the electorate this week. Their latest underhand tactic involved setting up a website which purported to contain Labour’s manifesto. The governing party then paid Google to promote the website LabourManifesto.co.uk towards the top of its results for people searching for the opposition plan , in affect attempting to trick prospective voters with a fake manifesto.
Although there is no suggestion that Johnson himself was involved in the ruse, it is merely the latest in a long line of devious behaviour carried out by him or on his behalf. The first of which really caught the public’s attention during the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, which he famously left extremely late in the day to join. When he eventually tied his colours to the leave mast he disseminated the campaign’s lie (one imagines dreamed up by the Campaign Director and now Special Adviser to the Prime Minister, Dominic Cummings) that the UK sent the EU £350million a week.
He rode the infamous battle bus emblazoned with the figure and appeared in front of a banner that said: “Let’s give our NHS the £350million the EU takes every week.” It was later revealed by the UK Statistics Authority to be a false figure, as it was the NET contribution, which didn’t take into account any rebates or EU investments back into the UK. Yet despite this, Johnson carried on using the debunked figure for more than a year. In a damning rebuke the Statistics Authority told him it was a “clear misuse of official statistics”.
A Web of Lies
Despite widespread criticism for this and other lies told during the campaign such as lying about Turkey joining the EU (and then lying and saying he never said it!) Johnson, perhaps fuelled by his seeming lack of accountability, appears to have continued as he started by already telling numerous untruths as part of his electoral campaign.
Some of the statements he’s made could perhaps, if we were charitable, be seen as him being economical with the truth rather than telling out and out lies, such as the claim that parliament voted to approve the Brexit deal, or when he said that delaying Brexit is costing £1billion a month (this cost is only when compared to a no-deal Brexit, in which the UK refuses to pay any divorce bill), or claimed that Labour voted against tax cuts for workers, when they actually voted against a conservative budget.
Others, however, appear to be simply made up untruths about the Labour Party and their policies, such as the claim that Labour would cost the country £1.2trillion, that they will allow a Scottish independence referendum in 2020, will have 'zero control' on immigration or that they will make corporation tax the highest in Europe. All demonstrably untrue.
Going even further the Tories are lying about their own policies, making bold statements about their intention to build 40 new hospitals when they will actually only deliver six unless they win the next two general elections - and it includes renovations of existing hospitals. In fact, the NHS seems fair game for false claims; when the PM claimed on the 15th of November that NHS spending is the biggest in modern memory; "The figure we're spending is £34billion - it’s the biggest increase in modern memory in the NHS", was in fact rebuffed by the IFS think tank who makes it clear this is still less than it used to rise under Labour governments - and comes after years of Tory cuts. The IFS said: "UK health spending has historically grown at an average real rate of 3.6% per year, but grew by just 1.3% per year between 2009−10 and 2018−19."
Without scrutiny of the conservative party’s lies, embellishments and half-truths, voters risk making decisions without a clear sense of reality. The actions of the PM show a contempt for the electorate and the principles our democracy was founded upon. But, based on his track record, where he has been shown to even be happy misdirecting The Queen, perhaps we should be less surprised.
(Written by Kirsty-Anne Jasper, edited by Michael O'Sullivan)