Boris Johnson has never told a lie. There is no crisis in the NHS. There won’t be any border checks after Brexit. There will be 20,000 new nurses. And on and on it goes, transparent lie after transparent lie. The Conservatives and their enablers in the right-wing media – little more than state propaganda at this point – have spent this election campaign constructing an alternate reality. That’s what the Tories will be selling on 12th December.
This has been a long time coming. Since the 2016 referendum, unreality has become a major force in British life. Yes, to some extent distorting the truth is just part of everyday politics, but even the biggest lies in recent British history, like the justification for war in Iraq, pale in comparison to the industrialised and highly co-ordinated assault on reality that’s now taking place.
We already knew that some Conservatives didn’t live in the real world. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Mark Francois, for example, occupy an adjacent universe built out of their own lies and jingoistic misinterpretations of history. But when Theresa May was prime minister, the government still had a grip on what was actually going on. May’s refusal to live in the hard Brexiteers’ delusional dimension is what doomed her, as she desperately tried to get her party to pass a deal that addressed the facts.
Now Johnson is prime minister, the Tories have pulled up the anchor and sailed away into the ocean of madness.
Ocean of madness
Take Johnson’s quote-unquote ‘better deal’. Johnson made a huge concession to the EU, agreeing to a border down the Irish Sea. Even the DUP, themselves a party well-acquainted with alternative facts, saw through his bluster. Johnson’s deal is worse than May’s, yet the same hardliners who lambasted May rowed in behind it.
Why? Because in Johnson they finally have a leader who embraces the alternate reality. Some time ago, a faction of modern conservatism, on both sides of the Atlantic, decided that its’ conception of the good society was incompatible with the rule of law and democratic norms, so they decided to ditch the latter.
However, conservatives couldn’t be seen to actively campaign for politicised courts and restricted democratic rights, so they create an alternative narrative: There are enemies within and without who want to destroy our way of life, there are traitors everywhere and the will of the people demands we root them out. This faction is now ascendant in the Conservative Party and conservative media. The evidence? Front pages calling judges the enemy of the people, a prime minister lying to the Queen in order to avoid parliamentary scrutiny, an alarming plan to sneak in major constitutional reforms and a government that lies as easily it breathes.
The alternate reality is already in full vigour in the United States where millions of citizens no longer have access to the news but instead consume a steady diet of vitriolic propaganda. This has allowed Republicans in Congress to shamelessly spread Russian conspiracy theories in defence of a president whose actions are a textbook example of impeachable offences. Many of Trump’s supporters don’t live in the same world as the rest of us and when they vote, they vote for unreality. Their vote is informed by Democrats’ ‘treason’, the ‘War on Christmas’, the evils of George Soros, the border wall that isn’t getting built and a generous serving of racial mythologising.
In the UK we see these same seeds sprouting right now. When Boris Johnson says EU citizens have treated Britain like their own country for too long, how is this anything other xenophobic doublespeak? It has no grounding in reality; it rejects the fact that Britons can and have treated European nations in the same way and it makes an enemy out of a group that has never done the British any harm. The fruit of this tree is poisonous and the Tories plan to plant the country thick with them.
Not everyone who votes for the Conservatives on 12th December lives in the fantasy world just yet, but many of them have one foot over the threshold already. Win or lose, the urge to build an alternate reality for their voters will animate the Tories for years to come. Remember Republicans’ treatment of Barack Obama, notorious Kenyan Muslim?
But the fantasists must not be allowed to appoint the judges, to decide on independence referenda, to ‘crack down’ on voter fraud, to make deals with the other fantasists across the Atlantic. For the sake of the country, British voters must reject the Conservatives’ alternate reality.