Johnson is gaslighting us, his energy pledge is just the latest example

Boris Johnson
Afroze Fatima Zaidi

On 6 October, Boris Johnson announced big plans to make the UK ‘the Saudi Arabia of wind energy’. In what was touted as a huge announcement, he told the nation:

Offshore wind will be powering every home in the country… You heard me right! Your kettle. Your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle – the whole lot of them – will get their juice cleanly and without guilt from the breezes that blow around these islands.

With much fanfare and the requisite amount of air-punching, Johnson went on to promise £160m in funding for offshore wind projects. His speech was further peppered with inane humour – “some people used to sneer at wind power… and say ‘It wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding!'” – and patriotic references to coloniser Walter Raleigh and slave trader Francis Drake. In other words, it was typical of Johnson’s mode of operation. Use oration and patriotism to cover up the shocking lack of substance in his promises and distract from the failures of his government.

The Canary has already reported on the glaring shortcomings in Johnson’s plans.

As the Green Party’s Jonathan Bartley said:

the level of investment proposed by the prime minister is nowhere near matching his rhetoric. The £160m for wind power due to be announced today falls far short of the £48bn that analysts say is necessary.

This also has to be understood in the context of the UK still spending far greater amounts on fossil fuels. In the current climate emergency, the goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 just won’t cut it.

Style over substance

In July, Johnson attempted to imitate New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern by putting out a two-minute video listing his achievements as PM over the past year. Here are just some claims he made which can be easily debunked:

  • Delivering the biggest cash boost in the history of the NHS – an absolute joke considering how the NHS has been systematically decimated over the past decade of Tory rule. The £20.5bn committed to the entire NHS over the next five years isn’t going to be enough to undo the damage. Moreover, it looks paltry in comparison to the £12bn spent just on a privately contracted test and trace system that isn’t fit for purpose.
  • 12,000 more nurses in the NHS – an opportunistic claim considering 12,000 former nurses actually returned to work in the NHS just to help with he pandemic effort. Let’s not forget the Tories cutting the nursing bursary is what caused the shortage of nurses to begin with. And 12,000 is nowhere near enough when considering that as of March 2020, there was a shortage of 43,000 nurses.
  • Started work on 40 new hospitals – in fact, these aren’t “new” but mostly just involve “rebuilding or consolidation” of existing hospitals.
  • £1bn more to transform schools – peanuts when considering the devastating cuts to school funding over the last ten years. In fact, in September 2019 the £7.1bn he pledged to schools until 2023 actually amounts to a 13-year freeze in budgets in real terms.
  • Leaving the EU on 31 January, “we’ve done it” – the reality is that a deal still hasn’t been agreed. Johnson’s government is set to breach international law by reneging on its Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. And a no-deal Brexit combined with the effects of coronavirus could spell chaos for the UK.
Smoke and mirrors

Johnson’s two-minute summary gave just some examples of his claims being more style than substance. Other examples from 2020 have been:

  • Claiming in February that 200,000 people are in work because of Universal Credit. The truth is that this figure was an expectation, not something that had already been achieved. Furthermore, by now the devastating impact of Universal Credit on benefits claimants has been well-documented.
  • Announcing in June that they were making £1.5bn available for hospital maintenance, when the amount needed is closer to £6.5bn.
  • Pledging £100m for transport projects – as reported by the BBC‘s Reality Check Team, “this is “a relatively small amount of money for a large number of projects. And it is not new”.
  • Claiming to make the “most radical reforms of the planning system” for housing since WWII. This is despite WWII ending in 1945, and the UK’s planning system not existing until the Town and Country Planning Act came into effect in 1947.
The truth behind the figures

So, in reality, we can’t take any claims that Johnson makes at face value. Too often the words that come out of his mouth are either outright lies (“stockpiles of PPE”) or a misrepresentation of facts. The pledge to spend £160m on wind energy is just the latest example of him enthusiastically throwing figures out while knowing that the general public is unaware of the wider context for these figures.

The mainstream media has repeatedly failed to call Johnson out on his lies. And moreover, it has failed to critically analyse his claims or contextualise them for the understanding of the general public. This level of deception surely amounts to gaslighting. And the only way to counter it is to keep exposing his manipulation. Luckily, journalists at The Canary and other independent media outlets are here to do just that.

Featured image via Sky News

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