The Tories turn fake news into a policy platform


Is this really written by me? If you are reading online you may want to check it was not produced by two Kiwis in Conservative Central Office who have been given the task of upping the Tories’ digital game.

The Conservatives have been hoaxing their way across the web in recent days in some jolly unsporting ways. First they renamed a party Twitter feed Factcheck UK and used it during the televised leaders’ debate to offer what was meant to look like independent verification on Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn’s utterances. Then they created a fake website for those searching for Labour’s manifesto and paid for Google ads to put it at the top of search results. The Tory version, it is safe to say, did not stick entirely to Mr Corbyn’s approved slogans. It’s not exactly Watergate, but if you can’t trust Mr Johnson to tell you the truth then . . . OK, let’s park that point for a moment.

But the risks of this are obvious. The Tories could start pumping out misinformation suggesting bizarre Labour policies like the biggest peacetime increase in taxation or renegotiating a Brexit deal then refusing to say if you will campaign for it in a referendum.

And why stop with a few web tricks. Why not create an entire fake news service devoted simply to pushing out Tory propaganda. I know the market’s pretty saturated already, but I’m sure they could find a use for it. It is impressive though. Someone in the Tory high command saw Donald Trump saying “fake news, fake news” and thought it was a policy initiative. And why stop with news? Why not fake returning officers to save us all the point of bothering to have an election?

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Anyway, we can verify that this is by me not by some evil Tory genius (yes, yes, spare me the jokes). But there are ways to check: one dead giveaway is if you start seeing the phrase “Get Brexit Done”. Doh, we’ve been rumbled.

Elsewhere on the trail, Jo Swinson wowed voters with her commitment to nuclear annihilation. This was what’s known as a bold policy pledge. The Liberal Democrat leader was responding to a quick fire round of questions in a televised leadership interview for all those leaders who didn’t get into the main face-off. Perhaps it was the words “quick fire” which set her off, but asked if she was ever prepared to use nuclear weapons, Ms Swinson replied simply, “Yes”. I know she needs to show voters she is tough but this is quite a step-up from boxing. Call me old fashioned, but it feels like the kind of answer that needs a touch of elucidation. Was she referring only to circumstances involving a major military attack or might she deploy them against Leave-voting constituencies, or on voters who mention tuition fees or even anyone ahead of her in the queue for Hamilton tickets?

The main TV debate threw up few truly absurd moments except for Mr Johnson’s constant efforts to steer the conversation back to his Brexit plan. These became so manic you began to wonder if it was part of a drinking game in which someone had to down a shot every time he did it. Mr Corbyn did, however, unveil a very successful royal policy. Less than 24 hours after he noted the monarchy needed “some improvement”, the Duke of York was made to step back from all his official duties. Now that’s impact. Someone should ask him about Arsenal.

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Meanwhile the main action has been the accumulation of enormous spending promises thrown around by all the main parties in their manifesto launches. Mr Johnson blurted out his main tax giveaway ahead of time after being confronted by a worker in Teesside. The Lib Dems promised more free child care. And Labour promised more everything. The scale of Mr Corbyn’s spending plans have stunned even those who were paying attention. Well, they did say this was a Christmas election. Have another slice of free broadband, grandad.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

Follow Robert Shrimsley with myFT and on Twitter





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