Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

The biggest Punch-and-Judy spectacles of the election campaigning this week.

Fibs, fallouts, and fiascos, with the added bonus of the leadership debates. It’s week three of election campaigning. Following the Sunak/Starmer debut on ITV, the Tory press got all excited, claiming Sunak had come out swinging. Instead, the reviews were rather mixed, with one poll pointing to a narrow win for Sunak, and another finding Starmer came out on top.

I’d be more inclined to call it a dull draw, with neither side showing much flair, and Starmer proving pretty ineffectual in dealing with Sunak’s lies. 

Lies, lies, lies!

As the Conservative press plastered their front pages with the PM’s claims that Labour’s policies would lead to a £2,000 tax rise on working families, the top Treasury civil servant came forward and said the Tories’ assessment of Labour’s tax plans “should not be presented as having been produced by the civil service.” The UK’s statistics watchdog meanwhile warned the Conservatives over Sunak’s claim, saying it failed to make clear how the figures were calculated.

Despite the rap over the knuckles for the Tories, Penny Mordaunt repeated the controversial claim that Labour wanted to increase tax by £2,000 per household on last night’s BBC debate, which Angela Rayner described as “a lie.”

Even the right-wing blog the Spectator joined in the ‘Sunak is lying’ chorus, claiming that, based on the PM’s own maths, the Tories would raise £3,000 per household.

Away from the circus of the leaders’ debates, chaos could be found up and down the country. Here are some of the biggest Punch-and-Judy spectacles of the election campaigning this week.

Lib Dems ‘do a Steve Bray’

The week didn’t get off to the best of starts for the PM. As he was speaking to constituents in Henley-on-Thames, a boat sailed past filled with Liberal Democrat supporters holding signs. Sunak seemed oblivious to the stunt, but later said on social media: “Classic Lib Dems, always selling voters down the river.” A Lib Dem source said: “This is just another small boat Rishi Sunak can’t deal with.” One up to the Lib Dems I’d say.

Upside down Union Jack in Tories’ election defence video

As Labour and the Tories lock horns over which is the best party on defence, the Conservatives launched their first political broadcast of the election campaign. The video focused on addressing uncertain times fuelled by international geopolitical insecurity and sought to highlight Rishi Sunak’s leadership. The message however was overshadowed by the clip of a Union Jack hanging upside down. In seafaring, an upside-down flag is a coded distress signal for ships. Viewers naturally mocked that it was a metaphor for the Tories’ election prospects.

To make matters worse, Kay Burley quizzed the foreign secretary about the gaffe during an interview on Sky News. Despite James Cleverley’s best efforts to deflect the question, Burley repeatedly pressed, and teasingly offered Sky News’ help in fixing the election broadcast gaffe.

The D-day blunder

The PM ended the week on a disastrous note. His faltering election campaign was brought close to breaking when he was forced to admit that he had made “a mistake” in not participating in an international commemoration for the 80th anniversary of D-day. Instead, he returned to Britain to record a televised interview, which is not due to be broadcast until the middle of next week. One veteran Tory said the decision was “jaw-dropping” and made it look like Sunak and his team were deliberately trying to lose the general election. 

Farage’s comeback speech littered with lies and inaccuracies

Perhaps the biggest upset of the week (especially for the Tories) was the news that Nigel Farage is standing in the election for Reform UK. His initial teasing about an ’emergency announcement,’ predictably sent social media into a frenzy with speculation about what the former UKIP’s announcement might be. His speech informing us of his decision to stand for parliament in Clacton-on-Sea, and replace Richard Tice as Reform UK leader, was littered with lies and inaccuracies. A Reality Check of the comments by the Guardian found false statements in Farage’s claims about the UK’s economic performance faring better than the EU, that you can shoplift £200 without being prosecuted, that Keir Starmer fought “very, very hard” for asylum seekers to get benefits, and that the UK needs to “build a new house every two minutes” to accommodate legal migrants. The fact checks also found that the claim that 2.4 million people have settled in Britain in the last two years, is false. Many of these people arrived on temporary visas and have not “settled” here. The number of arrivals minus the number of departures, which is the standard measure of net migration was 685,000 in the year to December 2023 and 764,000 in the previous year.

Later, Farage told the audience: “We are finding what happened after the local elections just a few weeks ago, candidates winning in Leeds, in Burnley, in Bradford and elsewhere, standing shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’, standing shouting ‘we are coming to get you’.” But such remarks only occurred in Leeds, when the Green candidate Mothin Ali shouted “Allahu Akbar” after he won, and then: “We will not be silent … This is a win for the people of Gaza.” Ali later apologised for his Gaza comments while pointing out that Muslims commonly use “Allahu Akbar” as a celebratory term. Additionally, there is no evidence of any candidate saying: “We are coming to get you.”

Farage’s first day in Clacton came to a sticky end

Kicking off his campaigning in Clacton, the Reform UK leader addressed residents in a seat he thinks he can win, given that the Essex constituency was the first to elect a UKIP MP in 2014, and has a Conservative majority of 24,702.

Putting something of a spanner in the works was the greeting Farage received on his first trip to the seaside town. A woman tossed a cup of banana milkshake over the politician outside Clacton’s Wetherspoons pub. The woman was photographed and quickly arrested by Essex police.

It’s not the first time that Farage has been hit by a milkshake. He was drenched by one while leading the Brexit party in 2019.  

Labour continues to be rocked by allegations of a ‘purging’ of the left

Labour’s election campaign continues to be rocked by the furore surrounding the so-called ‘purging’ of candidates on the left.

On June 1, around 600 people gathered in Highams Park, East London in support of Faiza Shaheen, who was removed as a candidate for Chingford and South Woodford on charges of unacceptable social media activity. Speakers at the gathering in London included Kevin Courtney, the former NEU union general secretary, who told the crowd: “I want Faiza Shaheen to be the next MP for Chingford and Woodford. She was one of only six Labour MPs to win a swing against Tories in the 2019 election. Yet trumped-up charges have been brought against her by people who have since been given safe Labour seats. I am not in favour of turning our backs on working-class communities.”

On June 4, Shaheen announced that she had resigned her membership of the Labour Party, saying that she was dropped as a candidate through a “sham process” and for “spurious reasons.” The party’s decision to block Shaheen as a candidate stemmed from 14 tweets she had posted herself or liked. Dating back to 2014, these included her liking tweets from Green Party politicians before she was a Labour Party member, her discussing her experiences of Islamophobia in the Labour Party, and her liking tweets about Israel.

Following her resignation announcement, the Muslim Association of Britain said that her treatment by the Labour Party was “abhorrent and Islamophobic.”

A spokesperson for Momentum, Labour’s left-wing faction, said: “Once again, Keir Starmer’s hyper-factional war on the Left has created an almighty mess for Labour.”

The next day, Shaheen announced that she will be standing as an independent candidate in the election. She joins former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and a number of less well-known left-wing independents also standing in seats across the country.

Seven Labour councillors quit party over Faiza Shaheen deselection and ‘institutional racism’

As the fall-out of Faiza Shaheen and other candidates considered to be on the left of Labour rumbles on, seven Labour Councillors in Slough quit the partyIn a letter published on June 3, the seven councillors cite concerns over the democratic processes in the Labour Party as among their decision to quit. They also say that the deselection of Shaheen and the treatment of Diane Abbott highlights “the institutional racism within the party.”

Almost a quarter of non-MPs on NEC selected

Being weeks from the general election, Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has been responsible for selecting approved candidates lists, rather than local party members. Six members of the NEC have reportedly selected themselves for several seats. Labour List reports how former Keir Starmer aide Chris Ward was picked in Brighton after Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s last-minute deselection. Also, former Rachel Reeves adviser Heather Iqbal, and Josh Simmons, director of the Starmerite think tank Labour Together were both chosen. A union boss condemned the allocation of seats by NEC members to other NEC members as “jobs for the boys.”

Of course, getting rid of this seriously dysfunctional government and sending the Conservative Party into the wilderness for a few years is a huge prize. We know too, that the Tories and their media allies will take every opportunity to brand the Labour Party as tax raising, unpatriotic spendthrifts. They have been doing it since 1924 so why stop now? Nevertheless, the electorate could do with a little more hope and a little more Labour courage and boldness would not go amiss.

Right-Wing Media Watch: Why on earth is Nigel Farage given so much airtime?

He was unelected until June 3, when he effectively elected himself as a constituency candidate and leader of a party that is actually a company, started by Farage in 2018 as an “entrepreneurial political start-up.” The party’s founder remains its director and majority shareholder. Yet he still managed to muscle his way into umpteen news bulletin discussions, and even propped up the BBC Question Time panel last week, when he was repeatedly cornered for appearing all over the media for Reform UK without actually standing to be an MP.

Then he announced an ’emergency press conference,’ and virtually every journalist and broadcaster in the UK dropped what they were doing to report on the news that Farage was to stand as a Reform candidate and leader. He also used the press conference to big up Reforms’ new policy, to slap a 20 percent premium on national insurance for businesses employing migrants, with a few exemptions.

The media has since gone into Farage overkill, with virtually every newspaper making the announcement its lead story the following day.

“Nigel Barrage: Farage blasts Tories & Labour,” splashed the Sun, while the Mail spoke of the PM experiencing his “darkest hour of the election campaign.” “I’m back to lead the revolt,” headlined the Telegraph, and the Times spoke of Farage’s return to frontline politics being a “significant blow” to the prime minister’s “slim electoral hopes.”

As well as broadcasting the ’emergency announcement’ live, the BBC made it its lead news story on the 6 O’clock News.

In what has been a pretty lacklustre election campaign so far, the entrance of such a divisive and outspoken figure into the fray is naturally going to be capitalised on by the newspapers, particularly the right-wing ones, which are not exactly enamoured by Sunak and ideologically agree with much of what Farage stands for.

The BBC, on the other hand, is supposed to provide balanced coverage and therefore giving so much airtime to a man who has failed to be elected to the UK parliament seven times, and whose party has no real infrastructure or democratic processes in place, and just nine councillors, two-thirds of which came from Conservative defectors, is surely not right.

The Greens by comparison have an elected MP and a total 812 councillors after gaining 74 seats at the local elections in May. Yet the airtime the party’s leaders are given is almost non-existent compared to Farage’s.

The BBC’s seeming lack of impartiality when it comes to Farage and the parties he stands for has been flagged before. In 2014, the Corporation was accused of bias towards UKIP for giving the party too much airtime in the European and local elections. The broadcaster received around 1,200 complaints, accusing it of being biased in favour of Farage’s party. At the time, it was thought to be the most complaints the BBC had ever received about its coverage of a party during an election.

In 2014, Farage had appeared on BBC Question Time at least 16 times since 2009, more than the entire Green Party, which had appeared 11 times over the same period.

Ten years later, with last week’s Question Time being Farage’s 36th appearance on the show, people are asking the same questions. Green Party councillor Nate Higgens tweeted: “The BBC won’t have @TheGreenParty on Question Time even when it’s the election leaders special. Why does the BBC see it as its job to gatekeep British democracy from any real ideas for real change.”

The answer can only really be that coverage of Nigel Farage helps sell newspapers and helps boost viewing figures. No wonder then, being watched by an average of just 4.8 million viewers, down from an average of 6.7 million for the ITV debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn during the 2019 general election, Farage snubbed this week’s debate between Sunak and Stamer. He was probably trying to sound cool when echoing Eminem, he said: “It feels so empty without me.” As his narcissism reaches ever greater heights, one suspects he has been spending far too much time with his hero, Donald J Trump. If you were a teacher, you’d be saying, ‘Best to play on your own Nigel.’

Smear of the Week – Sunak’s revisits ‘Starmer defends extremists’ smear

“Keir Starmer defended extremists. Google it,” said Rishi Sunak in yet another desperate line of attack during the ITV leaders’ debate.

The juvenile comment was in reference to Starmer’s past work as a defence lawyer on behalf of radical cleric Abu Qatada and Islamic fundamentalist Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Accused of being a “truly dangerous individual” and a “key UK figure” in Al-Qaeda-related terror activity, Abu Qatadu faced terrorism charges. He fought extensively against his deportation from Britain, and in a court hearing in 2008 was represented by Keir Starmer, a defence barrister specialising in human rights cases. Qatada was deported from the UK to Jordan in 2013. Following his deportation, Qatada was acquitted of terrorism charges by Jordan’s state security court in 2014.

Under the ‘cab rank principle’ in Britain, barristers must act on behalf of clients without discrimination, regardless of their personal opinion about the defendant.

In a comment after the debate, a spokesperson for Labour said: “In this country, everyone is entitled to a defence, which means lawyers cannot choose who they work for. That’s how our justice system works and why it is the envy of the world.”

You would think that our Prime Minister would recognise and appreciate that one of the fundamental pillars of the British justice system is to give everyone the right to defence.

But sadly, this particularly desperate smear regularly rears its head in Conservative political and media circles. In January, the Tories launched a controversial attack ad seeking to draw attention to the Labour leader’s advice to an Islamist group. The ad – which played on the legal crime drama Better Call Saul – said: “Are you a terrorist in need of legal advice? Better call Keir.”

Following this week’s ITV debate, the official Conservative Party Press Office (CCHQ) posted Sunak’s “Google it” comment on X, with a link to an article in the Telegraph from December 2023, entitled: “Starmer helped hate preacher Abu Qatada fight his deportation in court.”

Recognising the inaccuracy and desperation of the post, the CCHQ’s comments were accompanied by a ‘Community Note,’ a feature that allows users to add context to posts in an attempt to help combat misleading content. With a link to the website of Bar Standards Board, which regulates barristers and legal service businesses in England and Wales, the context note read: “Under Bar Standards Board Rule C29, the Cab Rank Rule, barristers in England and Wales are obligated to accept work in their speciality, if they are available & appropriately compensated. The intent of this rule is to afford every individual a right to representation.”

You can bet as the election day draws closer; there will be more desperate tales from the Tories about the Starmer’s former legal career. What is really desperate, of course, are the times we are living through which urgently need politicians to have a grown-up conversation with the electorate.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch

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