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Trust has become the real issue in this election

PA images

Trust has become the real issue in this election

In the same week the leader of the Liberal Democrats was forced to deny fake news that she tortured squirrels by firing stones at them from a slingshot while calling them ‘pleb bunnies’, she also revealed a casual enthusiasm for saying she would press the nuclear button.

Jo Swinson is fast becoming the Marmite candidate of this election campaign. Having been barred from the first televised leaders’ debate on the grounds she didn’t really matter, she then managed to make headlines following a post-match interview when she expressed an almost maniacal desire to nuke the world while at the same time insisting that she would not leave our children a “boiling planet” with her efforts to combat climate change.

Setting aside the state of the world after a nuclear fall-out, the Lib Dems have pinned their hopes in this general election on two things: the popular appeal of Swinson and the simple message that she will revoke Article 50. On both counts, they have made a massive miscalculation. And that is now being reflected in the polls.

The man is a charlatan. And yet no one seems to care

When Swinson took over as leader in July, she was, despite her years as a junior minister in the Tory-led, austerity-delivering, Lib-Dem coalition, a relative unknown. Indeed, in the leadership contest, she was presented as the ‘next generation politician’. A fresh face. A new start. Four months in and the more the public get to see of her, the less they like her. Women appear to have a particular aversion, with the most flattering observations branding her a bit school prefect-like and the more damaging, as an extremist and a fake.

Her claims that the Lib Dems would revoke Article 50 have cast her as undemocratic. And her assertion that she could be the next prime minister is now, even by her own admission, just false.

The truth is, that Swinson, despite the pacts she has managed to broker, never had a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming prime minister. Indeed, increasingly, with her dogmatic opposition to both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson, and in her fighting Labour as hard as the Tories, she risks becoming the handmaid that delivers Johnson back into No 10 and the country onto a hard Brexit. And with some in her own party now questioning that logic, her recent gleeful approach to pressing the nuclear button must surely have the Greens in England wondering why on earth they have done a deal with her too?

while voters may not believe a thing that comes out of Johnson’s mouth, he remains the odds-on favourite to win

This is a time for the Lib Dems to be the moderates, to build consensus, and to tell the truth, and while Swinson continues to peddle a future she cannot deliver, she will always be seen as fake. And that is evident when even her most candid admission that she smoked cannabis at university and enjoyed it, simply sounds like something she would make up to impress, because no one believes it to be true.

And there’s the serious point. Trust has become a real issue in this election and strangely, while voters may not believe a thing that comes out of Johnson’s mouth, he remains the odds-on favourite to win.

And the disgraceful renaming of the Conservative party’s press office Twitter account as “factcheckUK” – presenting itself as a credible fact-checking service while it pumped out party propaganda – for the duration of the TV debate is purely symptomatic of how lies have become normalised in our public life.

Perhaps just a puerile, posh boy prank, but it’s one rooted in a contempt for the electorate. Indeed, it’s a deliberate deception based on the understanding that the public don’t trust politicians and it’s straight out of a 1984 playbook.

When the question of trustworthiness was raised during the leaders’ debate, the audience laughed when Johnson said it was something that mattered. He is an undisputed liar. The mistruths slip from his entitled mouth with such ease, one wonders if he even believes himself anymore.

On hospital builds, bobbies on the beat, immigration and getting Brexit done, his promises are as hollow as his soul. A soul that, if Johnson was to be believed, should be by now lying somewhere prostrate in a ditch. But he isn’t. And therein lies a truth.

Here is a man who has been sacked twice for lying – first as a journalist for making up quotes and then as a Conservative frontbencher for lying about an extra-marital affair. He lied to the Queen and yet says that the royals are beyond reproach.

The man is a charlatan. And yet no one seems to care. Even the female Conservative party member who had the temerity to stand up to him at a leadership hustings in Perth, and got booed repeatedly for questioning him on whether disloyalty in a husband and father was something you would desire in a prime minister, is now standing square behind Johnson as one of his candidates. Shame on her.

This is a seismic election. A battle for two futures – aside from viewers in Scotland – and it is a contest pitched between two unpopular men offering two visions for the country that the public already appears to understand could be based on falsehoods.

And while Nicola Sturgeon, like Swinson, may have been excluded from the first debate, her name hung heavy while the contenders to be prime minister spoke of Scotland as if it were some colonial offshoot.

The question for most voters in Scotland is not so much who you trust to be your next prime minister – because you will get who you are given – but who it is you trust to get Scotland’s voice heard by that man in No 10. And that’s no lie.

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