In a pub in Cumbria, a data engineer from Workington has just been crowned the World’s Biggest Liar , writes Roger Benjamin. But his tall tales are no match for some of those told in this post-truth election, where the lies and smears are sprouting so rapidly that it has become almost impossible to keep track of them.
Some of these lies are simply risible, such as Dominic Raab’s Tweet purporting to show him out canvassing at 6.30 am on a Sunday, while the photo was clearly taken in full daylight, and with trees in full bloom. And do Tory campaigners really believe that potential voters might be won over by a pre-dawn knock on the door from Raab and his team from Shaun of the Dead? Another trivial lie is Boris Johnson’s easily disproved claim to have given up alcohol until he “gets Brexit done”.
But other lies are more sinister. For instance, Tory HQ manipulated the video of a BBC interview with Keir Starmer, to give the false impression that he was unable to answer a simple question on Brexit. This is compounded by the recent decision by Facebook to permit political parties to publish deliberately untrue ads; the person responsible for this scandalous decision is their Head of Communications, former LibDem leader Nick Clegg.
In another example of shameless lying, Johnson compared Labour’s tax proposals to Stalin’s persecution of the kulaks. When Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi was asked in a subsequent BBC interview whether this meant that Jeremy Corbyn really wanted to shoot the rich, Zahawi acted dumb, and replied “I don’t know, you will have to ask him that question”.
Yet another Tory liar, Alun Cairns, was eventually forced to resign from the Cabinet and stand down as a candidate after it emerged that he had lied in order to protect his aide, who had deliberately sabotaged a rape trial.
Even though the Labour Manifesto had not yet been published, Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng was able to tell a Sky News interviewer that the Tories had exhaustively analysed it, and could reveal that it would cost the country £1.2 trillion. When asked how much his own party’s proposals would cost, his response was “I’m not going to bandy around figures”.
Tory contempt for both the truth and the voters has been shown in countless other incidents, such as the attempt to rename their Twitter account “FactCheck UK” (while retaining their Twitter authorised account blue tick), and their continued prevarication over credible claims that members of the Brexit party were offered peerages in order to stand down from the election.
More seriously, it has emerged that official reports into alleged Russian interference in British elections, and into Johnson’s conflicts of interest and possible criminal behaviour over links between the Greater London Assembly and two of his alleged lovers, will not be released until after the election.
It’s not only the Tories who have been playing fast and loose with the truth. Reports from across the country show that the Lib Dems are producing fraudulent graphics, based on dubious data, suggesting that they are a close second – or even leading – in constituencies where they came a poor third in 2017. And the Labour candidate in Kensington, Emma Dent-Coad, has submitted a police complaint against her LibDem opponent, former Tory MP Sam Gyimah, for his blatantly untrue and libellous allegation that she shared responsibility for the horrific Grenfell fire.
In the midst of this, the press have not only failed to hold the liars to account; they have also been complicit in this deception. The tabloid papers have been predictably anti-Labour and anti-Corbyn, with only the Mirror slightly redressing the balance. The Telegraph and Times, too, have been relentlessly hostile, while the Independent and Guardian have occasionally allowed a spark of objectivity to counter their generally anti-Corbyn stance.
It is the publicly-funded BBC, however, which stands out for its deliberately misleading reporting. Just two weeks after being forced to apologise over editing Remembrance Day footage to hide Boris Johnson’s inept behaviour, the BBC again had to apologise for editing out audience laughter at Johnson’s rambling Question Time performance; it has yet to acknowledge another example of pro-Johnson editing of the footage.
A further example of BBC bias was exposed with the revelation that – despite the rule that Question Time audience members should not be selected more than once in ten years – a Tory council candidate had appeared on the programme four times in two years to attack Corbyn over alleged “Labour antisemitism”.
Question Time has been frequently been accused of such bias; the producer responsible for audience selection, Alison Fuller, is a member of the Tory Party and allegedly a supporter of the fascist Britain First and EDL. And it appears that the BBC misled Corbyn by telling him that Johnson had agreed to be interviewed by Andrew Neil, when Johnson had not agreed and had no intention to agree to this.
But all of these lies and distortions pale into insignificance in the shade of the One Big Lie that the Tories and their cronies are relying on – the lie about supposed “Labour antisemitism”. This lie, which is intended to intimidate and dishearten Labour supporters and canvassers
as well as to mislead voters, has been trotted out almost daily during the campaign. Day after day, Corbyn is challenged by interviewers to apologise for antisemitism, to apologise for not apologising for antisemitism, to apologise for apologising too late for antisemitism, to apologise again for antisemitism – and all of this without troubling to question the basic assumption for which this apology is repeatedly demanded.
On 7 November, as the campaign started, the Jewish Chronicle published a front-page plea “ To all our fellow British citizens”, effectively branding all Labour voters as antisemites. A week earlier, the paper had explicitly described Corbyn as “ideologically antisemitic… Britain’s most prominent antisemite” – an apparently libellous allegation.
Not to be outdone, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis – a man who, as head of the United Synagogue movement can legitimately claim to speak on behalf of no more than 40,000 of Britain’s estimated 300,000 Jews – attempted to sabotage the launch of Labour’s Race and Faith manifesto with an unprecedented election intervention in the Times, in which he described Corbyn as “unfit for office”.
And the “Campaign Against Antisemitism” issued its 2019 report, which claims in its Executive Summary that “Antisemitism on the far-left now exceeds antisemitism on the far-right”, while noting later that “for the first time we asked about antisemitism across the range of examples incorporated in the International Definition of Antisemitism” – ie, by redefining antisemitism to include opposition to Israel, they have been able to minimise the prevalence of antisemitism on the right and far right.
Meanwhile, Johnson was able to take a break from campaigning in order to unveil a statue in Plymouth to Nancy Astor, a virulent antisemite who argued that Hitler would “solve the Jewish problem”. Conservative candidates in Aberdeen and Leeds have been dropped mid-election for antisemitic remarks, to near-universal silence from the media, and with no demands that Johnson apologise. And several Tory cabinet members have made dogwhistle antisemitic comments, of a type which would have the Jewish Chronicle and the misnamed “Campaign Against Antisemitism” up in arms and demanding action had they been made by Labour supporters, let alone frontbenchers.
However, this cynical campaign may finally have over-reached itself, and is suffering diminished credibility. Some evidence for this can be seen in the extraordinary video of Health Minister Matt Hancock at a hustings in West Suffolk. Having failed to sway the audience with his fantasy figures of the number of nurses, Hancock tried to rouse them with a falsely passionate attack on antisemitism and the Labour Party, only to be silenced by an immense wave of jeering and heckling. This was not an audience of rabid antisemites, but of ordinary voters tired of being lied to, and rightly cynical at the misuse of pretensions to antiracism by one of Johnson’s ministers.
As part of the effort to stem this torrent of half-truths and outright lies, Verso Books has enabled a free download of the new book Anti-Semitism and the Labour Party, edited by Jamie Stern-Weiner. This and the recent book by Greg Philo of the Glasgow University Media Research Group, Bad News for Labour, are an invaluable resource for those wanting to understand the past four years of relentless attacks.
These desperate tactics, by both the British ruling class and the supporters of Israeli apartheid, are clear evidence of how beleaguered they feel. And we should expect further attacks. We should be under no illusions about the lengths to which they will go to maintain their hold on power; but we should also recognise that they feel increasingly threatened by the rising confidence and determination of the millions who reject their culture of racism, bigotry and oppression.