The devastation unfolding in Gaza this week has ignited the ugliest of political deceit, backed up by a lapdog right-wing press.
Not so long ago, lying in politics was a sackable offence. After lying about his affair to Parliament in 1963, John Profumo resigned and then devoted his life to charity work. Even in 2004, Boris Johnson was sacked as vice-chairman and shadow arts minister by then Tory leader Michael Howard, for publicly lying about his extramarital affair with Spectator columnist, Petronella Wyatt.
But today, political lies are not only rampant, but they are also conveniently brushed aside, with the offenders being let off without reprimand or penalty. Rather than just being ‘woolly with the truth,’ they are blatant falsehoods, with the intention to deceive, manipulate public opinion, and, ultimately, win elections.
Recent weeks have seen a tsunami of lies surface among the political Right, in Britain and abroad.
The devastation unfolding in Gaza this week has ignited the ugliest of political deceit, backed up by a lapdog right-wing press.
During a Fox News broadcast on the Israel/Palestine conflict, Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican Party (RNC), described it as a ‘great opportunity’ for Republican candidates. Shortly after the Hamas attacks, Republicans started spouting out falsehoods, claiming that the US has been funding Iran, with the funds then being used to provide Hamas with the rockets launched at Israel.
Tim Scott, South Carolina senator and presidential candidate, claimed that “Joe Biden funded these attacks on Israel.” JD Vance, Ohio Senator, said that “Americans must face a stark truth: our tax dollars funded this.” Donald Trump, predictably, chimed in, claiming: “Sadly, American taxpayer dollars helped fund these attacks, which many reports are saying come from the Biden administration.”
US writer Noah Berlatsky explains that the pretext behind the lies is the hostage deal that Biden made with Iran in September. The Biden administration released $6bn in exchange for five US prisoners. The US said that the funds would only be used for humanitarian purposes, such as medicine and food.
“GOP leaders almost certainly know that the money released in September doesn’t come from American taxpayers, was restricted to humanitarian purposes, and couldn’t have been funnelled to Hamas in time to be used in what appear to be long-planned attacks in any case. In short, these Republican leaders are deliberately lying,” writes Berlatsky.
The author goes further to say that in their latest lies, the GOP want to find a way to link Biden to Hamas, “because the GOP base extremely Islamophobic – three quarters of white evangelicals, core Trump voters, supported his ban on Muslim immigrants.”
In Britain, there has been a similar rush to deploy the escalating devastation in Gaza among the Right for some wholly imaginary political advantage. The Daily Mail’s frontpage on October 10, provocatively asked: “How can the British Left make excuses for a terrorist group that murders women and children?”
The column, written by Richard Littlejohn, who is well-known for his culturally-insensitive commentary on the biggest global tragedies, claimed ‘anti-Semites are out on the streets of Britain again, in the absurd guise of condemning Israeli ‘aggression.’
Hypocritical really, when you consider that the Daily Mail is considered one of the most ‘vicious and dangerous purveyors of racist propaganda in the UK.’ In the 1930s, it adopted what has been described as an ‘overtly tolerant’ attitude towards Hitler, with its proprietor, Harold Harmsworth, the first Viscount Rothermere, being a stanch admirer of Hitler. More recently, in 2021, the newspaper was labelled as discriminatory and racist towards peaceful Muslim communities, for an article which claimed several areas in the UK had become ‘no-go areas for white people.’
Just hours after the Hamas attack, and the extensive military response from the government of Israel, social media was alight with similar scare rhetoric, with fake and misleading information about the conflict. As AP News reports, among the fabrications, users have shared false claims that a top Israeli commander had been kidnapped, and circulated a doctored White House memo purporting to show President Joe Biden announcing billions in aid for Israel. Imran Ahmed, the respected CEO of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, told Al Jazeera: “The flood of grifters spreading lies and hate about the Israel-Gaza crisis in recent days, combined with algorithms that aggressively promote extreme and disturbing content, is exactly why social media has become such a bad place to access reliable information.”
The lies, misinformation and disinformation surrounding events in the Middle East this week sit inside a wider political world to which truth is a stranger. This year’s Conservative Party Conference was awash with lies and conspiracy theories, where ministers were inventing things that they claim Labour will do, such a tax meat, introduce blanket 20mph zones and councils that decide when we can go shopping.
One glaring alternative ‘fact’ was made by transport secretary Mark Harper. During his conference speech, he pledged to crack down on ’15 minute city’ schemes, which means ‘councils can decide how often you go to the shops, and that they can ration who uses the roads and when.” The ’15 minute city’ myth was the focus of viral online conspiracy theory on an alleged UN-led attempt to lock people into their home neighbourhoods.
Andrew Bowie, a junior minister who was quizzed by the BBC about Harper’s interpretation of the concept, failed to come up with an example of a council in Britain seeking to restrict people’s access to shops, adding that such ideas were “coming up in discussions online.”
In this case, a Tory minister used an online conspiracy, audaciously promoted it during a conference speech, in a bid convince onlookers it is a Labour-backed ‘sinister’ attack on our freedoms.
Another false claim being peddled by Tory ministers is that, under Labour, the UK would take 100,000 migrants a year. But as fact-checkers Full Fact unearthed, the 100,000 figure is misleading and not reliable, because it makes several assumptions and appears to misinterpret a recent EU agreement on relocating asylum seekers.
Peter Walker, deputy political editor of the Guardian, warns that the rise in provably false statements by Rishi Sunak and his ministers “adds weight to theory No 10 is sowing untruths for electoral advantage.”
But let’s not forget that such tactics have been implemented with success by right-wing regimes around the world.
It could be said that the penchant to lie for political gain and, to some extent, get away with it, was started by Donald Trump. His presidency was marked by lies. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker team identified that in four years, Trump’s false or misleading claims totalled 30,573. His wildly dishonest presidency accumulated on a relentless and dangerous lying spree about the election he lost.
This month, a new lawsuit began in New York, accusing the former president of lying about his wealth, including allegations of conspiracy, falsifying business records and insurance fraud.
Yet despite Trump being known as an habitual liar, and after a string of lawsuits centred on misinformation and fraud, he is still a serious contender for the GOP presidential nomination. In fact, he continues to enjoy a huge lead in the nomination race. This in itself speaks volumes about the ‘normalcy’ and tolerance of political lying today.
And it’s not just in the US. In Bavaria, Germany, fuelled by what has been described as a “targeted campaign of disinformation,’ particularly about the unpopular law to phase out gas boilers and replace them with heat pumps, Greens have been subjected to growing hostility, which has seen has seen activists routinely spat on, insulted and threatened. Such disinformation saw Markus Söder, the state’s prime minister, claim a new heat pump cost an eye-watering €300,000. In actual fact, the figure is €11,000-€25,000.
Then there is Brexit, which was literally sold on a string of spectacular untruths. The biggest of the Brexit lies had to be Vote Leave’s killer slogan imprinted on its campaign bus:
“We send the EU £350m a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead.”
In May 2016, the UK Statistics Authority said it was “disappointed” by Vote Leave’s use of the figure. “As we have made clear, the UK’s contribution to the EU is paid after the application of the rebate… The continued use of a gross figure in contexts that imply it is a net figure is misleading and undermines trust in official statistics,” it said.
Not that such concerns ever stopped Boris Johnson doubling down on it. In 2017, Johnson was still writing:
“We will take back control of roughly £350m per week. It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”
Even at this year’s Tory conference, Michael Gove had the audacity to use his speech to claim that the Leave campaign’s £350m a week to the NHS has been delivered.
Attempting to convince his audience of Brexit benefits, the levelling up secretary said:
“Brexit has been delivered… And there is now more than £350m extra a week for our NHS … Promise made, promise delivered.”
Another huge Brexit lie was the Leave campaign’s claims that Turkey was joining the EU. An official Leave poster published on May 23, 2016, insinuated that Turkey was about to join the EU and that freedom of movement rules would mean its entire population – 76 million – would soon have the right to live and work in the UK. The then defence minister, Penny Mordaunt, claimed: “This will not only increase the strain on Britain’s public services, but it will also create a number of threats to UK security. Crime is far higher in Turkey than the UK. Gun ownership is also more widespread. Because of the EU’s free movement laws, the government will not be able to exclude Turkish criminals from entering the UK.”
As we now know, Turkey was no more about to join the EU in 2016 than it is now. But that didn’t stop Boris Johnson claiming he never mentioned Turkey during the EU referendum campaign, despite having told the Daily Express in April 2016:
“I am very pro-Turkish but what I certainly can’t imagine is a situation in which 77 million… of Turkish origin can come here without any checks at all.”
Which brings me on to Boris Johnson, who was labelled, with good reason, the ‘Pinocchio Prime Minister.’
Like Trump’s tenure, Johnson’s was marked by lies and coverups. Dishonesty over a Downing Street Christmas Party during Covid and a flat redecoration were just two of the infamous lies associated with the former PM.
Political journalist Peter Osborne, who was a columnist and commentator for the right-wing press barons on mainstream newspapers for many years, has written extensively on lying in politics. Having becoming concerned about Boris Johnson and his lies when he was Foreign Secretary, Osborne started a website on Johnson’s lies shortly after he became prime minister. The journalist singled out Johnson’s claims that the Brexit deal would not create a trade border with Northern Ireland as the lie he found particularly harmful. As was the claim that the government was building 40 new hospitals. For Osborne, political lying has consequences: “Governments which get away with lies get away with the misgovernment the lies protect. They never take responsibility for error and failure,” he says.
But the good news, to some extent, is that in Johnson’s case, the lies and scandals eventually got the better of him. The damning Partygate report found that there was “no precedent” for the scale of the lies as Johnosn misled Parliament over Partygate in a number of ways. Following the report, the former PM resigned as MP.
The bad news is that despite lying contributing to the once untouchable Prime Minister’s political demise, there is something of ‘dishonesty epidemic infecting Tories,’ as Green MP Caroline Lucas described it. But whether the likes of meat tax, 15-minute cities and bendy bananas will win over the electorate for the Tories remains dubious. What it does show, is just how desperate they have become.
Right-Wing Media Watch – How the Tory media reacted to the Labour Conference and Starmer’s speech
Coming straight from a disastrous Conservative Conference in Manchester, where party factions jostled from day one, and ended up more divided than united, the Tory media must have been poised at their keyboards, ready to ‘dish the dirt’ on Labour in Liverpool. According to Guardian sources, the Tories even sent in extra ‘spies’ to the Labour conference, who were tasked with infiltrating fringe events taking place outside the secure zone, meaning they did not need an official pass to gain entry, to record any comments that could be used to embarrass Keir Starmer.
But even with the unexpected glitter-throwing incident by a heckler at the start of the Leader’s speech, the conference was notably light on dissent that the Tory press had little to base their assaults on.
Though that didn’t stop them having a go.
‘Wes Streeting accused of ‘staggering hypocrisy’ for saying MPs should be banned from second jobs despite spending almost two months on outside work,’ was a headline in the Daily Mail on October 3.
Right or wrong, a Tory newspaper lecturing on an opposition MP’s ‘hypocrisy’ over second jobs, when analysis has repeatedly shown that the vast majority of MPs with additional jobs are Conservatives, reeks of its own hypocrisy. But it is the Daily Mail, so what do we expect?
Following Rachel Reeves’ speech, the Express conjured up some desperate headline about the Shadow Chancellor apparently being ‘mocked over glaring omission from economy speech.’ The man doing the mocking was, unsurprisingly, the Chancellor himself. Following the speech, Jeremy Hunt said: “It is extraordinary that Rachel Reeves failed to mention inflation once when it is the biggest challenge facing the British economy.”
Ironically, Hunt’s comments about Reeves failing to mention inflation led to him being mocked, as his Labour counterpart did in fact make clear the cost of living has soared under the Tories, she just didn’t mention the ‘i’ word.
Reeves told delegates: “The price of energy – up. The price of the family food shop – up. And mortgage bills, up hundreds of pounds every single month.
“Never forget – this time last year, in their clamour to cut taxes for those at the top, the Conservatives caused market chaos, crashed the economy, and left working people to pay the price.”
Posting on X, Byline Times political editor Adam Bienkov described Hunt’s comments as ‘outright disinformation. Inflation was mentioned within the opening line of Reeves’ speech and throughout.’
Naturally, the Express didn’t dwell on Hunt being mocked for doing the mocking.
In response to Starmer’s speech, the right-wing press’s coverage was somewhat surprisingly ‘neutral.’ The Guardian’s Alexandra Topping even went as far as to say, ‘Labour may take heart from right-wing media reaction to Starmer’s speech.’
The centre-right Times wrote how Starmer sounded like a ‘prime minister-in-waiting.’ The Daily Mail was less admiring, criticising how Starmer didn’t mention “small boats crisis,” tax, Brexit, striking public sector workers “or wokery.” No surprise there then, from a newspaper which makes ‘anti-woke culture war’ a leading feature on its pages and online almost daily.
But it was the Sun’s coverage of Starmer’s speech that was perhaps the most interesting. While not exactly gushing, the tabloid said that “we cannot not fault his delivery, nor his stoic handling of the protest.”
Could it be that the Sun is beginning to tack towards Labour? After all, Starmer seems to be cosying up to the Murdoch-owned newspaper, something which has attracted criticism from the Left.
Are we set for a re-run of 1997, when Murdoch turned the lights off on the tabloid’s support for the Tories, by backing Blair?
Woke bashing of the week – GB News in meltdown over British Airway’s ‘non-binary’ uniforms AND ‘woke’ Big Brother
GB News has excelled itself in the woke-bashing stakes this week. Bev Turner, who recently came under fire from her own co-host would you believe for calling the scandal-hit Russell Brand a ‘hero,’ has spoken her mind once more. In a discussion on BA’s new uniform entitled ‘Flying Woke,’ Turner couldn’t keep her outrage under wraps.
“Oh my word,” she said, adding: “The whole point, I guess, is that they are much more aligned in terms of uniform.”
Daily Express columnist Carole Malone, jumped in, saying: “If non-binary people have rights, why shouldn’t women?”
Thankfully, journalist Emma Burnell was present during the discussion, and managed to offer some sense and balance, reminding viewers that the uniform comes in different options, so employees can wear which one they want.
The uniform, which is BA’s first updated uniform in 20 years, looks pretty stylish as far as I can tell, comprising of a tailored-fitted items for men, women and non-binary colleagues, thereby enabling employees to express themselves fully, regardless of their gender identity.
But BA’s uninform wasn’t the only ‘woke’ beef the right-wing ‘news’ channel got upset about this week.
‘ITV outrage as ‘woke’ Big Brother forces fans to ‘switch off’ following ‘snowflake’ pronoun debates,’ screamed a headline. Pointing to a trans contestant, a discussion about preferred pronouns in the house, halal meat and a Tory-voting contestant being grilled by ‘leftie Trish,’ the article claims ITV viewers have been switching off the new Big Brother series ‘in their droves,’ because the much-loved reality show is deemed as ‘woke.’ The report cites several outraged viewers who shared their comments on X, including one foul-mouthed viewer, who said:
“What’s your pronouns ? F*** OFF ye woke f*****y 2023 s***e! That’s me switched off already. Get in the (bin) #BigBrotherUK #bigbrotheruk #BBUK #bbuk.”
Though I wouldn’t pay much attention to X users being quoted in GB News’ articles, as just last week the channel published a report on Fiona Bruce apparently being accused of ‘bullying, anti-Tory bias as she badgers MP EIGHT times for answer.’
Attempting to give the claim some credit, the report cited a post by the parody account Sir Michael Take, who wrote: “Conservative MP Richard Holden answers Marxist Fiona Bruce’s question 8 times. Yes 8 TIMES. Yet she continues to violently bully him.
“This anti Tory sexist misogyny by BBC presenters such as Bruce, Munchetty, Kirkwood, Winkleman etc. MUST STOP NOW!”
You would have thought the reporter would have noticed the blatant sarcasm, but then again, it is GB News, so maybe not.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch