This was the most dire electoral contest I can rememberby Rachel Sylvester / December 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
In the era of fake news this has been the post-truth election in which nothing was quite what it seemed. When, during the first leaders’ debate, Boris Johnson said he thought the truth mattered the studio audience simply laughed in his face. On the very same evening, the Conservative Party had set up a fake FactCheck Twitter account that was pumping out attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. If the exit poll is to be believed, it worked for the Conservatives and Johnson in the short term—but the long term consequences will be dire for our politics and democracy.
This is the eighth general election I’ve covered as a journalist and it’s never been anything like this. There has always been a bit of dissembling—campaigns are inevitably based on propaganda and politicians from all parties put the best spin on things or inflate the figures to fit their cause. This time, though, the deception was on a completely different scale.
There are often personal stories that capture the imagination in the run-up to polling day. In 1992 it was the “war of Jennifer’s Ear” that hit the headlines, and in 2010 Gillian Duffy, who was called a “bigoted woman” by Gordon Brown. But the shocking photograph of a sick child forced to sleep on a hospital floor because there was no bed for him, published just days before the election, drove this campaign to new levels of dishonesty.
When Johnson was accused of lacking empathy for initially refusing to look at the picture—even pocketing the phone of the reporter who tried to show it to him—his aides confected a bogus story about a Labour activist being arrested for punching Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s special adviser. As if this diversionary tactic was not enough, there was also a murky attempt to suggest that the photograph of Jack Williment-Barr had been staged by his mother. A fake Facebook post was widely circulated by supporters of the Tory leader.
It was no coincidence that Andrew Neil’s monologue challenging Johnson to do an interview to answer his questions on trust went viral. The man who the pollsters put on track to return to Downing Street seemed to brazenly lie when he told Andrew Marr that his Queen’s Speech had been defeated…