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The Top 10: Conspiracy Theories

From ‘Elizabeth I was a man’ and ‘the Pope killed Abraham Lincoln’ to ‘the EU referendum was illegal because the Conservatives stole the election’

John Rentoul
Sunday 25 June 2017 10:44 BST

There have been a lot of them about recently: 46 per cent of Leave supporters said they thought the referendum would be rigged, and there was an online campaign to use pens rather than pencils in case MI5 rubbed out votes. It obviously succeeded in foiling the plot.

Some of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters claimed the timing of the attempt by MPs to get rid of him was to prevent him speaking for Labour in response to the Chilcot report, and Len McCluskey, the leader of Britain’s biggest trade union, said those MPs had been “seduced by sinister forces”, including a public relations company called Portland.

1. The Bisley Boy. Princess Elizabeth died of the plague at Overcourt House in Bisley when the king was on his way to see her. A local boy of the right age and hair colour was substituted for her, the deception was never discovered and he grew up to be Queen Elizabeth I. That is why “she” never married. Nominated by Roger Stevenson.

2. William Shakespeare didnt write his plays. Mark Twain was a notable advocate of the Francis Bacon candidacy, and Twain also thought Elizabeth I was a man. “James Shapiro’s splendid book Contested Will debunks all these conspiracy theories with a mass of evidence,” says Gavin Turner.

3. The Pope killed Abraham Lincoln. Theory propounded by Emmett McLoughlin, a Franciscan priest, in his 1963 book, An Inquiry Into The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln. Pius IX thought Lincoln an obstacle to Catholicism in America, apparently. Thanks to John Rogan.

4. Harold Holt, Australian prime minister, didn’t drown. He was a Chinese spy and was picked up off the beach by a submarine in 1967. John Peters’s favourite.

5. Barack Obama wasn’t born in America. He had to produce his birth certificate during the 2008 election campaign. Donald Trump espoused the theory in an interview in which he said he was considering running for president in 2011. Damian Counsell reminds us of the kind of man running for the most powerful job in the world.

6. Are Militant Atheists Using Chemtrails to Poison the Angels in Heaven? One of the finest of my collection of QTWTAIN, Questions To Which The Answer Is No, from a website called Hard Dawn in 2013, and recalled by Samuel Fawcett.

7. MI5 agents were rude to JK Rowling on Twitter to discredit the cause of Scottish independence. She was abused online for supporting a No vote in the 2014 referendum. Some Nationalists said “secret service plants” could be responsible, as Alastair Cameron reminds me. ‏

8. We are ruled by lizard people from the lower levels of the fourth dimension. According to David Icke.

9. Nicola Sturgeon posed with a copy of The Dandy. Some Scottish Nationalists (them again) refused to accept that their leader had posed with Rupert Murdochs Scottish Sun in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election campaign. They said she had actually posed with The Dandy and the Sun front page had been photoshopped in to make her look bad. (The Dandy ceased publication in 2012.) Samuel Fawcett again.

10. The EU referendum was illegal because the Tories stole the election. Channel 4 News’s investigation into the Tories’ division of election expenses between local and national campaigns prompted speculation that the referendum had been legislated for by an illegitimately elected House of Commons.

Next week: Modern proverbs, such as “No good ever comes of answering an office landline”

Coming soon: Adaptations better than the originals, such as Mary Poppins

Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop, is available as an e-book for £3.79. Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to

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