The audience won the leaders’ debate – because they didn’t believe a word of it

When the prime minister told voters that the truth matters, they laughed at him

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Tuesday 19 November 2019 23:26
Comments
Boris Johnson heckled and laughed at during debate after claiming 'truth matters'

None of the answers in the first ever head-to-head, one-on-one UK general election TV leaders’ debate will be worth very much to history. But, in this-is-where-we-are terms, a couple of the questions might.

The very first question, carefully chosen by ITV producers was simply: “Are you really telling us the truth?” For lesser men, lesser liars, this kind of thing might warrant a moment’s hesitation. To consider deviating from the pre-planned script, given the pre-planned script was just to repackage the boiler plate stump speech, and the boiler plate stump speech has now been shown, repeatedly, to all be lies, which is why the question had been asked in the first place.

But Boris Johnson is not a lesser liar. He is the greatest liar of his generation. It is his only talent. So on he would go.

He was still lying when they got to question three, which was: “How can anyone trust you?” And he lied his way through that one too and on to the bitter, untrue end. “Whether you voted for Leave or Remain, people want to get Brexit done,” he said.

Make of that what you will.

“Our inability to fund the NHS is because of our failure to get Brexit done,” was another line, verbatim. People are actually meant to believe this stuff. At one point, Johnson told the audience that the “truth matters” and they all started laughing.

This was – and it is almost traumatic to have to repeat – a chance for the public to decide which of these two men it wants to be its prime minister. We are reminded of the bit in Life of Pi, where the little boy, lost at sea, deliberates over whether to drink the sea water or his own urine.

Boris Johnson is still telling you he’s definitely going to do a free trade deal with the European Union within six months; that absolutely definitely isn’t going to happen. Jeremy Corbyn is still desperately trying to avoid saying anything at all about Brexit, and genuinely thinks he can make you believe that Brexit is all about selling the NHS to Donald Trump. He even had a little prop with him – minutes from discussions about healthcare between UK and US trade representatives – which he imagined to be some sort of smoking gun in Johnson’s grand plan to sell the NHS

Corbyn’s attack line came out within seconds of the debate starting. On the one hand, he said, Boris Johnson isn’t going to “get Brexit done”, because Brexit is in fact a trade deal with Donald Trump that will “take seven years to conclude.” And on the other, Brexit is all about selling the NHS to Donald Trump, who will, of course, be long gone in seven years, as will, in all likelihood whoever wins the election.

So there really is absolutely nothing that can possibly be true to go on.

Johnson called it “complete nonsense, completely untrue”. He did it with genuine anger, too. It was, quite possibly, the only time I can recall him even remotely looking like he might actually be telling the truth.

The only other aspect that history might consider worth remembering was the social media behaviour of the Conservative Party while the debate was going on. On Twitter, the Conservative Party press office for a time changed its name, its logo and its title to “Fact Check UK”, aping the style and appearance of a politically independent fact checking services such as FullFact while carrying on pumping out clear pro-Tory attack lines.

It does matter, this stuff. It was a coming out, of sorts. It was the moment the Conservative Party stated, beyond doubt, what it now is, which is an entirely malignant deception machine.

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A couple of weeks ago, a former Labour minister, Ian Austin, called his own party “not fit to run the country” and advised Labour voters to vote for the Tories. He was absolutely correct. But the Tories aren’t fit to run the country either. That much, as of now, should be abundantly clear.

Trouble is, in just a few week’s time, one of them’s going to. Is the only thing that’s true.

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