Let’s call time on post-truth politics
21 Nov 2016This prime minister is very rapidly establishing a reputation for not playing straight and Brexit will make it worse. We have had the denial of a full inquiry into Orgreave despite clear signals to the contrary from Theresa May and her team when she was home secretary, as well as the U-turn on her personal pledges on the third runway at Heathrow.
This is something of a pattern. It was initially denied that there had been any agreement or sweetheart deal for Nissan but now other car makers and other key industrial sectors are clamouring for special treatment. Unfortunately, the entire Brexit project is riddled with mendacity and it will not end well if we continue to give the government too much benefit of the doubt.
One of the best ever parliamentary retorts was from my old friend and colleague Dennis Skinner, who was admonished by the Speaker when he said that half the Tories opposite were crooks. “OK, half the Tory members aren’t crooks,” he replied.
Across western democracies there has been a general decline in support for the established parties, a fracturing of political systems, declining turnouts at elections and the growth of voter cynicism because the wider public believes there are too many crooks and liars in politics.
Crucially there are now many in parliament, and not just on the opposition benches, who believe that the high-volume, repeated assertion that there will be “no running commentary” on the government’s Brexit aims is the opposite of the truth. There are no clear aims. There is instead endless running commentary on how the EU will concede to every demand because they must.
Theresa May previously argued for a parliamentary vote on Article 50 before it was triggered but has since said that this would be an undemocratic imposition. This brings us to the heart of the motivation behind this government’s great deception. Theresa May told Goldman Sachs bankers that membership of the EU is an economic benefit and we will be poorer without it. But she now tells voters the opposite.
Instead, she told the Conservative Party conference that her government’s priority is the reduction of immigration, mentioned 23 times, not prosperity which was mentioned just four times. She treated the Tory faithful to one of the biggest, most enduring lies in British politics: that immigrants create pressures on public services. In fact, they are the biggest net contributors to those services.
This myth was subjected to an acid test in David Cameron’s negotiations with the EU for an “emergency brake” on migration, which is permitted under EU rules if a country can prove that it is experiencing pressures on public services. The EU requires evidence in order to approve such a measure, however, and No 10 could not provide any. In the words of David Cameron’s aide: “We were never able to counter these arguments. To be honest, we failed to find any evidence of communities under pressure that would satisfy the European Commission. At one point we even asked the help of Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch, an organisation that has been critical of migration. But all he could provide was an article in The Daily Telegraph about a hospital maternity ward in Corby. There was no hard evidence.”
Straight from the horse’s mouth. A Tory government pressed to find evidence of pressures on public services from immigration simply could not find any. There was no hard evidence. It is a strange irony of the Brexit vote, built on a series of myths, that it will lead to serious negotiations which must be based on evidence and fact.
Many of the lies and deceptions that have festered in British society for so long may not survive in the light of the coming negotiations.