There are more than enough reasons to be troubled by the fact that Boris Johnson is our new Prime Minister, and if the thought of a narcissistic, lying racist running the country wasn’t enough to frighten you, then try this on for size:
He was the man favoured by more than ninety-two thousand Conservative Party members to run the country. It may only amount to a fraction of the UK’s over-all population, but it’s enough to send shivers down my spine.
What does it say about those with whom we share our country that they’re willing to hand power to a man like Johnson? What does it say about those who are willing to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to his lies, blunders and prejudices? What does it genuinely say about people, and what does it say about the UK as a whole?
With a sense of soul-crushing despair, all you have to do is peer across The Pond and you’ll see how these so-called ‘larger-than-life’ characters can make themselves appealing enough to win power. We only have to log in to Twitter or Facebook to witness the absolute horror that follows when we empower an incompetent, self-serving, deeply prejudicial human being entirely unfit to hold public office. We’re about to do the same here. But it’s those very same social media platforms that have been instrumental in the ramping up of political divides to almost civil war levels of hatred.
Social media itself is not to blame, of course. When push comes to shove, people are to blame, but social media has been instrumental in facilitating the direction Western politics has taken: a hostile, emotive, tribalistic politics. Among many things, social media has been an easy forum for the strongest of political weapons – fear – to be exploited to its full potential. What better way to tap into the vote-buying power of fear than to churn out misinformation online? Once the floodgates have been opened on a sewer-flow of lies and spin and scare mongering, all that the brains behind this kind of propaganda have to do is sit back and let the public do the rest. And rest assured… the public can be counted on to do just that.
I couldn’t think of a man less suited to run this country than Boris Johnson, yet he will be the next Prime Minister. That’s despite his long history of lies, racist quips, and cringe-making blunders.
See: Edwin Hayward
Indeed, that’s where another of social media’s toxic influences adds to the problem. Vast swathes of people are willing to hurl themselves in front of the online equivalent of machinegun fire. The same can be said of Jeremy Corbyn supporters. Any capacity for reason and objectivity just vanishes. A sort of ‘Human Shield’ mentality kicks in, and any wrongdoing that has just plunged someone like Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson into boiling water will be defended by armies of committed fans willing to mop up the mess they’ve made by playing it down, lying about it or just straight up abusing and threatening critics.
This is where social media has – in many ways – created a toxic atmosphere around politics. Facts no longer seem to matter. Facts aren’t even inconvenient, because those peddling the lies know they can rely on a massive support network to repeat those lies. The recent case of ‘Tommy Robinson’ is a perfect example.
“Convicted of journalism” his T-shirt proclaimed on the day of his sentencing hearing. But it’s completely untrue. He was not convicted of journalism. His conviction was not an attack on free speech. He was convicted of a genuine criminal offence.
His supporters insist that all he was doing was reporting fact. That he was entitled to do so, and that in any event, he only broadcast from outside court after the defendants in question had already been convicted.
None of these assertions are true. He wasn’t broadcasting fact; he was broadcasting unproven allegations as though they were fact and before fact had been decided by the jury, in clear breach of a Crown Court-ordered reporting restriction. His fans will try to deflect from these facts with ‘strawman’ arguments proclaiming that if you don’t support Tommy Robinson, you must therefore support paedo rape-gangs. But the fact is this: many UK criminal cases are subject to reporting restrictions, not least of which are the cases of juveniles and it’s done for a very specific, carefully considered reason: the preservation of the criminal trial process. This isn’t just about fairness to defendants (who at the stage of a trial have not yet been convicted, remember: innocent until proven guilty is, after all, meant to be our guiding principle in criminal justice) but it’s also about fairness to witnesses and victims. Trials, particularly lengthy and serious ones, takes a long time to organise. They involve a lot of people, and making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time takes a lot of planning. Lengthy waiting periods contribute to an ever-building anxiety, especially on the part of victims and witnesses who are forced to re-live their ordeal by way of giving live evidence with the added distress that comes with enduring cross-examination. If someone is standing outside court whipping up hatred and prejudice and slander about defendants that haven’t yet been convicted, and if that same person is doing so in total violation of a court order that was made to protect the integrity of multiple connected trials, how would that person feel if – through his actions – the legal teams argued the defendants couldn’t face a fair trial and all those cases collapsed? How would that person and his supporters feel if the defendants were never tried and the victims were left without the justice they had for so long been waiting?
Judging by their recent tendency to fabricate excuses, my feeling is that they’d never acknowledge blame. They’d quickly cobble together some argument about a liberal conspiracy.
Consider also the speed and desperation with which people leapt to the defence of MP Mark Field on the morning of 21st June 2019. The night before, he’d been at the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Mansion House speech, when the event was disrupted by Greenpeace protesters. Footage was uploaded to the internet which showed him leaping up from his chair, shoving a female protestor against the wall and really quite brutally manhandling her. Cue the moral gymnastic efforts of the right-wing.
‘She deserved it. She might have had a knife, or a gun. It wasn’t that bad an assault, so it wasn’t really an assault at all. He was clearly afraid, and acting in defence of the other guests.’
The footage is plain for anyone to see. No amount of twisting the facts changes this. He assaulted her, plain and simple. Most of the other guests at the tables are completely ignoring her. She does not appear to pose any threat whatsoever. Of course, social media users had leapt to his defence with their tissue-thin arguments of ‘maybe-this, maybe-that, it wasn’t so bad anyway’ – and when he referred himself to Cabinet Office for investigation, he claimed he acted ‘instinctively’ and was worried because he thought she might have been armed.
Funny how his subsequent claim tallied up with the excuses that had long since been doing the rounds on social media on his behalf, eh..?
But those clearly so desperate to hurl themselves at his defence ought to consider this: Mark Field is a large man. The woman in the video wasn’t doing anything threatening. She didn’t look threatening. She was wearing a red dress. She had a little handbag with her, a mobile phone in one hand, and a bundle of papers in the other. How would all those people wrangling and wrestling facts into all sorts of shapes and sizes feel had that woman been a family member or friend? How would they have felt if Mark Field roughed up a mother, sister, daughter, partner? Would their political loyalties blind them to the obvious truth then?
It was no different when – a day later – news emerged of police attendance at Boris Johnson’s home address, where neighbours had reported hearing shouting, screaming and shrieks by Johnson’s partner of: “Get off me! Get out of the flat!”
“It’s none of our business,” howled the Back Boris Brigade. “It’s a private matter,” before they all then began to vindictively pursue the neighbours who had reported the domestic disturbance as though it were the neighbours who’d done something wrong, potentially turning back the dial on public perception of domestic abuse several decades.
UK politics is broken. The rise of people like Donald Trump who deploy 1984-style fact distorting tactics, re-writing objective truths into so-called “alternative facts”; the ease with which people get angry on line behind anonymous profiles, spreading misinformation before viciously attacking those who pose perfectly reasonable counter-arguments; the modern tendency to hold divisive political figures up as some kind of Messiah figure and rally aggressive mobs to their defence when they hit a bump in the road. Things are bad. They’re worse than I can ever remember them being.
I don’t have an answer for solving all this. But what I will say is remember the words of Chuck Todd, who in 2017 told Kellyanne Conway that: “Alternative facts aren’t facts; they’re falsehoods.”
Try as these people might, with their lies and division and reliance on people who hold them up like Saviours, knowing that the masses will bend and distort the truth to keep those manipulative, self-interested leaders in power, they can never make truth something that is up for grabs. We must never let them make 2 + 2 equal 5.