Opinion: The British Art of Post-Truth Politics

Last December, a gang of thugs waltzed into No.10 under the cover of an Orwellian mist. They had spoken the right words in convenient soundbites, said yes to the right interviews and crucially, no to others. The victorious party is now run by ‘Dom’ who’s groomed himself into the ominous Machiavellian villain lurking in the corridors of power. He now acts as the all-too-able puppet master for the man we now have the misfortune of calling ‘Prime Minister’. 

Morally redundant tactics are now the norm. In recent months, Johnson has scowled at those oh so very inconvenient reminders of democracy. Televised debates, broadcasters, opposition MPs; these chapters are part of the newest battle at Westminster. One between the press and Johnson. 

Tensions have occasionally been spat between the media and No.10 since the EU Referendum four years ago. There now exists a noticeable coolness, a reserve between No.10 and the papers who try to keep them on their leash. 

Welcome to the Post-Truth era of politics. 

The game of politics is now played upon confusion and muddled deception. This era has allowed Johnson to unapologetically refuse to be held accountable, commanding a healthy majority with the binary promise of delivering Brexit. The prevailing political system has convinced those who once held a healthy, wide array of political grievances to viciously fixate on the single issue. It has rendered political thought redundant to a degenerative ‘yes/no’. Politics is now dictated off these two words. This binary has granted the PM infinite lives, as he navigates the country through the biggest constitutional change in its history, turning the electorate to a blind and adherent lot. The promise of leaving the EU proved enough to convince most to hold no qualms in being governed by a leader who snarls at democracy and ducks from scrutiny.

The world now finds itself in the shackles of the Coronavirus pandemic, with news feeds littered with daily updates of death and sorrow. On the other hand, another important story lies underneath. The Sunday Times outlined chronic Government incompetence and complacency in February when the virus was seemingly far from Britain and its interests. “Thousands of lives” could have been saved, they reported. But will this piece of journalistic mastery be remembered by the people? When loved ones are dying in lonely hospital rooms. Unfortunately, it hides behind a paywall. And when the UK eventually fights off the virus, Johnson will have his long-craved ‘Churchillian’ moment, wallowing up undeserved appraisals like the good Etonian he is; all the while, reports of his fatal blunders are resigned to his shadow.

Adam Boulton (left) with Andrew Neil (right) | The Financial Times

“The arrival of digital media means that there are other ways of getting out the message,” Sky News Presenter, Adam Boulton said. “So that there’s less of a dependency. But there’s also been a reaction against the media generally. There’s not a great deal of public sympathy when you try and make these arguments about rights of access of the press and the media.” 

Boulton conceded that broadcasters have held “a blinkered outlook” which has attracted shouts of bias, in turn fuelling the divisiveness and viciousness that plagues today’s politics.  

He added: “We all suffer. I think the political climate suffers if politicians avoid active scrutiny and discussion of what they’re doing. I think they should be accountable to the law. The media are the main means of communication between politicians and the public. And so to sidestep them is undemocratic.” 

Mentioning the Labour Party, Boulton said: “Similar instincts are probably evident on both sides. But I do think that Theresa May and Boris Johnson have taken this thing much further. There is a general decline.”

Social media is the real convict. Only punchy soundbites do well here. Easily Retweetable by adherent thumbs. ‘Clicks’ are the priority. Political education is disregarded. 

Paul Staines, founder of right-wing online blog Guido Fawkes, believes so. Staines said: “You go on TV and the talking heads only care about getting that ‘gotcha’ moment for social media. They all want that ‘snap’ where they get the killer question.”  

He added: “It’s a reaction against dodgy journalism. If you look at it from the politician’s side, why stick your head in the lion’s jaw? What is the point in putting your principle up to get a kicking?”

This is enough, for some, to justify what the PM is continuing to do. They see the media as the source of the problem, not the other way around. And continue to point the finger with blissful impunity.  

The social media accounts of some politicians have become a mere soft-walled crèche for themselves. Free from those harmful, sharp objects like journalists. News their way. On their terms. 

Staines continues: “The politicians know if they want to reach an audience, then every now and then they’re going to have to face up to Nick Robinson or Laura Kuenssberg. There’s always been a two-way trade there.”

Unfortunately, today’s politicians see no need to liaise with the conventional media outlets “when the best they can hope for is a soundbite”. He pauses for a breath. I bite back to ask whether this mentality is somewhat morally bankrupt. 

“Well it looked cowardly to swerve Andrew Neil,” Staines said. “But how bad did that play? You got to bear in mind people in the media are all talking about it; ‘ah he’s terrible he swerved Andrew Neil’, but most of the general public don’t give a fuck.” 

As much as I would like to deny that the electorate isn’t bothered by No.10’s suppression of media intervention, I have to admit he’s right. Politics, even the most pompous of bloviation always returns to its natural home. The common grievances of everyday life. Philosophical whining like the outpouring you have just read doesn’t enter into it. Most people simply don’t give a fuck. 

The small matter of evasion of democracy is but a footnote in history now. And there ends another despondent act in the cartoonish political pantomime.

Words by Richard Baker

This article was originally published as part of The Indiependent’s May 2020 charity magazine, which is still on sale and is raising money for the British Lung Foundation. Find out more here.

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