Dominic Raab trades in ‘alternative facts’. Westminster will soon be as bad as the White House

We aren’t quite at Trump levels of effrontery just yet. But it’s the road Johnson, Raab and their friends are taking us down, and it will lead us to a dark place

James Moore
Thursday 01 August 2019 13:42 BST
Dominic Raab says the British people were told about a no-deal Brexit during the referendum

Oh to be Dominic Raab. No, really. Just imagine what it must be like to have a job that allows you to sod off somewhere a long way away when things are getting hot in your backyard.

If only we could persuade him to stay put in Bangkok, where he’s busy dribbling about trade opportunities as his friends press on with their plans to put up walls between us and our biggest market as part of a no-deal Brexit for which there is no democratic mandate.

The foreign secretary has, of course, got caught with his pants down and on fire after claiming that he and his friends have that because they warned about the possibility at every opportunity during the EU referendum.

Except they didn’t.

The BBC, to its great credit, took it upon itself to do some journalism and assess the veracity of the claim. Its commendably forensic piece of fact checking is currently all the rage on Twitter. Rage being the operative word here, given that it proves Raab was lying.

Should we really be surprised, given his past history and the fact that he’s part of a cabinet that demands ministers’ concept of truth to be more malleable than a jumbo sized put of play doh? Probably not.

Is it worth making a fuss when it’s crystal clear that if, at some point in the future, Raab decides to treat us to some memoirs then Waterstones would be best advised to stock them in the fiction section? Yes it is.

Such lies are having a deeply corrosive effect on British public life.

I used to take issue with those who held that “politicians always lie” because of the truth of the matter they mostly try not to. Or, rather, they mostly used to try not to.

They would duck, and they would dive and they would obfuscate. They would have their people manipulate official figures in their favour, they would send out their spin doctors to blow smoke and they would refuse to answer questions. But direct falsehoods were really rather rare.

The refusal to answer questions is, in particular, something people find very frustrating and I can understand why.

It isn’t a particularly admirable response on the part of politicians when interviewers confront them with inconvenient facts. The way they twist and turn in an effort to hold the party line makes them look shifty and dishonest.

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But when a minister, or a shadow minister, or a spokesman, is bound by collective responsibility to support a particular policy they may very well disagree with, it’s better that they do that than to try and claim that black is white, not least because when a politician can’t/won’t answer a question it usually tells us what the answer is.

However, when they jettison that tried and tested tactic and replace it with flat out lies, and when they go on to combine that with attacks on those who call them out for their falsehoods, it does something different. People like Raab are attempting to set up an entirely fictional narrative made up of what Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway once memorably described as “alternative facts”.

When they and their supporters, satraps and lickspittles, go on to spread those lies via social media, they seek to crush democracy under the booted heel of misinformation.

And it works. It worked during the EU referendum. It worked for Donald Trump during the US presidential election. To win a UK general election, like the one that may be coming, you don’t even need to con a majority. Just enough people who might not keep closely up to date with current affairs, or read the BBC’s fact checking pieces, to get you over the line.

History, as they say, is written by the victors. Or in Raab’s case, it is re-written by the victors.

Turns out that you don’t need Orwell’s thuggish thought police. Just get Winston Smith and the beetle like men of the Ministry of Truth that he described to manipulate it for you and you’re away.

Raab’s flight to Bangkok away from the melee after his lies were exposed shows we aren’t quite at Trump levels of effrontery just yet. But it’s the road he and his friends are taking us down, and it will lead us to a dark place.

We need to fight it.

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