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by Mandy Rhodes
03 June 2017
Lies and smears have blighted this election

Lies and smears have blighted this election

Watching Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie squirm under questioning by STV’s Bernard Ponsonby about whether he had smeared Jeremy Corbyn by saying he had linked the Manchester terrorist attack to foreign policy, when he hadn’t, highlighted the lies that have come to blight this election. And it was uncomfortable to witness.

It is no coincidence that the personal attacks on Corbyn from the media, political opponents and even from some within his own party have grown with his exponential rise in the polls.

It has become something of an open season with basically anything being thrown at him on the basis that some of it will stick.

Just last week a prominent Scottish commentator wrote a typically arch column littered with the usual vitriol and loose-tongue connections over Corbyn’s links to the IRA. He included a stand-out sentence that said Corbyn believed that French journalists got what they deserved. A particularly vicious line considering our stock-in-trade.

Now, I may question why Corbyn carries an NUJ card but felt sure he would never have celebrated the death of a fellow traveller, so I checked. Corbyn not only condemned the Charlie Hebdo attack, calling for the perpetrators of this “heinous crime” to be brought to justice, he laid down a motion in the House of Commons calling for others to do the same.

Given this was a typically wordy attack-dog piece about how Corbyn lies, perhaps the author felt that lengthy exploration legitimised his right to do the same. Needless to say, that particular line subsequently disappeared from the online version of the story, presumably saving the need for an exchange of lawyers’ letters. 

But when even nice Willie Rennie, the architect of the Sunshine Strategy, can disregard veracity – and as a liberal too – to make a cheap political shot on the basis that ‘well, we all know what Corbyn really believes’, one has to question the depths to which this election campaign has plummeted.

It is hard to believe that it is just two weeks since real evil visited Manchester – and for the record, Corbyn unequivocally condemned those that committed such an atrocity – but the world, despite a softening for a moment, seems no kinder a place.

I accept that sometimes in the wake of sorrow, our actions cannot be rationalised. But there is something much more insidious, more calculated, and more pernicious going on in the continued personal attacks on Corbyn than just the usual political rough-and-tumble of an election campaign. 

This is full-on annihilation. The powers that be are under threat and they are waging a war.

And horribly, it felt like Manchester became a gift to reinforce and justify those casual links between Corbyn and those that seek to do us harm. That is more than crudely cynical, it is downright morally wrong, it ignores the complexities of terror and it disregards the sensitivities of the families of the slaughtered innocents. 

Corbyn is being attacked because he has rocked the Westminster boat. He has challenged the natural order. Political actors, including all those moderates on his own side who thought they knew better, see him gaining in popularity, see him having a chance, and it scares them witless because they were wrong. 

Here is a man that has always been a rebel – as much as you can be when you sit as an elected member of the House of Commons for over 30 years. He didn’t play the conventional game of power or climb that greasy pole of ambition and influence. He has forced a re-examination of leadership. And it wasn’t meant to end this way.

Believing in her own invincibility, Theresa May took a calculated risk when she called this election. After all, how could he possibly win? But she misjudged her own capabilities and that of her opponent. And when you wage an election almost entirely based on a personality that you don’t possess, then you are unlikely to come up smelling of roses.

In a matter of weeks, May has gone from being a bloody difficult woman to having a bloody difficult time. She looks terrible and in contrast, he looks like he is having fun.

And so with days to go, amid the stench of desperation, having exhausted all other campaign paths, we return to where it all began – Brexit. To have the slightest chance of justifying her original, albeit completely tenuous, election claim, that this was nothing to do with having a 20-point lead in the polls, but instead was a vote to ‘strengthen her negotiating hand’ in the smoke-filled rooms of Brussels, she needs a Plan. 

Brexit has been almost entirely absent from May’s campaign. She and her team assumed they’d succeed on the single issue of Corbyn’s competence without ever having to reveal a Plan. Instead, Labour’s campaign, as well as Corbyn himself, has defied the odds. And triumphantly, he has now revealed his Plan.

May is still likely to win a safe majority, no matter the polls, but she has exposed the weaknesses of her leadership, of her competence and that of her team. Her negligent disregard for a public’s appetite for details on Brexit has forced her onto a policy platform that has exposed her record on immigration, education, health and public services while her manifesto has revealed that the splits from deep within her party have never gone away.

And though she may have once wanted to shake off the label of the Nasty Party, she herself has brought it back to the fore. 

The Tories will win the election, this time, but it will be no personal victory for Team Theresa.

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