All Tory HQ could rely on during the leaders’ debate was Johnson’s lies, so it took propaganda to a new level

Boris Johnson and the 'factcheckuk' Twitter page header
Fréa Lockley

On 19 November, Jeremy Corbyn faced Boris Johnson in the first TV debate of this general election. While Corbyn remained clam and articulate throughout, Johnson was anything but. He flustered, blustered, and clearly only had one point to make about Brexit. So, perhaps sensing Johnson was losing, the Conservative press office rebranded itself on Twitter. As a bona fide fact-checking outlet. This didn’t go down well. But some responses were utterly brilliant.

Facts?

During the debate, tweets sent out from the Conservative Campaign Headquarters press office (CCHQPress) appeared under the banner ‘factcheckUK’. As the debate continued, CCHQPress offered a series of ‘facts’ to over 76,000 followers. The Independent reported:

Among supposed “facts” represented on the account are claims that Boris Johnson has negotiated a “great new deal”, that he has “kept his promises on Brexit” – and that Jeremy Corbyn’s assertion there will be no deal between his party and the SNP is a “lie”.

It culminated with the declaration that Johnson ‘won’ the debate:

20 minutes after the debate ended, CCHQPress reversed the rebrand.

Kick back

Genuine independent fact-checking sites swiftly stepped in, to flag what was going on:

Not surprisingly, people were disgusted by what CCHQ did:

Not least because in 2018, the electoral commission insisted all online campaigns must have transparency:

The added twist to this story is that Johnson was asked to answer questions about his own honesty and integrity during the debate:

Winning the internet

Despite the dystopian nature of the Tory propaganda, its rebranding effort also created moments of genius. Other Twitter users stepped in to play the game which showed the stunt up for what it truly was. A series of copycat factcheckUK rebrands appeared from people like Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker:

But it was perhaps Ralf Little who won the internet. He started posting as the “Conservative Press Orifice”:

But the following day, it seemed Twitter had started suspending accounts for some of the parody factcheckUK rebranders:

And yet, so far no action has been taken against the key perpetrators, who, let’s not forget, represent an official political party. Certainly, the electoral commission claims to “not have a role in regulating” stunts like this:

And yet a bigger irony still is that the government recently issued a warning to watch carefully for disinformation:

Doublethink

During this debate, the Tories took the power of propaganda to an entirely new level. We’ve entered the world of dystopia, and, as George Orwell wrote: “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”. There’s no doubt now that Johnson’s constant lies have changed the face of UK politics, and the establishment’s prepared to enable rather than challenge this.

What does stand out over and above everything else in this, though, is Corbyn’s integrity and honesty. And that’s what we have to vote for on 12 December.

Featured images via  ©UK Parliament / Jessica TaylorTwitter – CCHQ Press  

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