Over the last few years, I have regularly drawn attention to statements and claims of Conservative Ministers which were simply factually incorrect or designed to mislead.
Of course, I have also drawn attention to Ministers who fail to answer simple factual questions to oral or written parliamentary questions. For example, since 2010, there have been many promises about new house-building; not one has been kept, but not a single Conservative Prime Minister (Cameron, May, Johnson) or Housing Minister (there have been eight of them) will actually acknowledge their failure.
It is in this context that I have advised people to do their own checking before accepting ministerial claims as fact. I have often referred people to independent and trusted bodies, like the Institute for Fiscal Studies (on economic and finance issues), or independent fact-checkers, like FullFact which have only been created and developed to address the moral vacuum created by misleading Ministers, uncritical media, and new social media (across the political spectrum) which is, at best, unbalanced, and at worst, mendacious.
But, last night, the cynical knife was twisted further.
During the first TV debate between Boris Johnson (in which he repeated at least one of his porkies – on front-line police numbers, despite knowing it to be untrue) and Jeremy Corbyn, Conservative Party HQ changed the name of one of its Twitter accounts to factcheckuk mimicking reputable organisations, like FullFact. But, instead of dealing with facts, factcheckuk spewed out more misleading information and anti-Labour rhetoric.
Who can disagree with the commentator who said:
“This is straight out of Donald Trump or Putin’s playbook…the Tories are now resorting to deliberately misleading the public.”
And, then it gets worse…
This morning, instead of accepting a massive error of judgement, which had led Twitter to warn the Conservative Party that it would take “corrective action” to prevent such behaviour, Conservative UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said
“…no one gives a toss” about the cut and thrust of social media.
Meanwhile, Twitter said very firmly that the Conservative Party broke Twitter’s rules by attempting to “mislead people” (their words, not mine) with a fake fact-checking account, and that it would punish the Conservative Party if it ever happened again.
Further, we now learn that factcheckuk was turned on precisely as Boris Johnson told another of his porkies…and not for the first-time…and not for the first-time that the facts have been brought to his attention and his misleading claims corrected by the real fact-checkers.
This soundbite is about front-line police officers.
As a matter of record, Johnson has long form on this issue. When he was Mayor of London, he announced a drive to recruit 5,000 new constables for the Metropolitan Police, leaving the clear impression that these were additional officers. What he didn’t mention was that the Met expected to lose that number of officers through natural wastage. All Mayor Johnson was doing was committing to replace the ones who would leave over the same period. Perhaps he will want this offence to be taken in to account when he is finally held responsible.
In his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson promised to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers to serve on the front-line. This was backed up by a Conservative campaign video in which he said:
“In policing… 20,000 police we’re putting out on the streets of this country.”
It is worth remembering that police numbers fell by more than 20,000 under the Conservatives between 2010 (143,734) and 2019 (123,171). So, even if the new claim were true, the new officers would simply cancel out previous cuts and get us back to 2010 levels. And, as the population grew by 5% over that period, police officers per head would still be lower than 2010.
When challenged over the following days, Conservative Party spokespeople said that the 20,000 new officers would be in addition to officers hired to replace those who left or retired, and the 20,000 “will be additional to officers hired to fill existing vacancies.”
It isn’t true. It’s a big porkie!
When the fact-checkers unpacked the finances – assuming police authorities put up their precepts by 4% each year (part of council tax) and government grant – it revealed that the total sum would pay for 20,000 front-line officers but the total sum wasn’t to go for that purpose. More than one-third of the sum is being siphoned off to pay for other national police services.
Far from 20,000 additional front-line police officers on the streets of this country, the funds will pay for just 13,000 at most.
Johnson has been told the facts time and time again. But he can’t resist a good soundbite, however untrue it might be.
By now, we should all know that you can’t believe a word Boris Johnson says. We simply cannot trust him.
Worse still, it is the ultimate cynicism to deliberately mislead to destroy trust between people and the political process in pursuit of your own personal interest.