IT’S oddly fitting that Donald Trump should arrive in Britain in the midst of an election campaign that is drawing all the wrong lessons from his example.
The most mendacious US President since Richard Nixon has made downright lies, half-truths, fake news and dirty tricks his way of governing as the world’s most powerful democratically-elected leader.
This means he’d probably grin appreciatively at the way some of our politicians are behaving, because their tactics are straight out of his playbook. Even though he’s mired in hearings to impeach him, the Trump way of doing things continues unabated as he attends the Nato summit in London to mark its 70th anniversary. Every week brings new claims of underhand tactics against political opponents.
Little wonder that Boris Johnson has spent the past few days scrambling to distance himself from a president he has hitherto been only too happy to be associated with. A strange world it is indeed where the endorsement of a US President is electorally poisonous for a Prime Minister.
That’s because it underlines how closely his own party’s election tactics mirror those of the president. There has been disinformation and the manipulation of images. Worse, there have been downright lies.
The veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby spoke for many when he railed at how use of the internet had corrupted Britain’s political debate, saying: “I hate what’s happening at the moment in terms of social media in this country. This election is the most vile election that I’ve ever seen.”
The Tories are up to their necks in this, their latest stunt to use clips of high profile BBC journalists, including News at 10 presenter Huw Edwards and political editor Laura Kuenssberg, in Facebook adverts that could be seen as them supporting the party’s position on Brexit.
The BBC was put in the appalling position of having to instruct its lawyers to write to Conservative chairman James Cleverly to protest and get the adverts withdrawn, at goodness knows what cost to the licence fee payer.
To abuse the strictly impartial nature of the BBC’s news output, in the process casting doubt on the independence of staff trusted by countless viewers, is unworthy of a party of government.
The adverts aimed at 35 to 54-year-olds were viewed more than 100,000 times before being taken down. It’s impossible to know how many of those people were deceived, and whether it sways how they vote. But if the Conservatives responsible hadn’t been convinced that it would achieve at least some effect, they wouldn’t have invested the time, effort and money to do it.
And then there was the nastiness of the reaction to Channel 4 empty-chairing Boris Johnson when he ran scared of appearing on last week’s climate change debate.
Dark threats were issued about a shake-up of the channel. It’s not the business of politicians to threaten broadcasters. That’s the stuff of China or Russia, not Britain, where the public rightly expects those who would lead the country to be subjected to searching questioning.
Lies come too easily to those running the Tory campaign. They have already been reprimanded by Twitter for changing the name of one of their accounts during the televised debate between Mr Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn to make it look like an independent fact-checking feed.
And the election campaign had hardly begun when the party issued a doctored clip of Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, that made it appear he was struggling to answer a question, meeting it with silence, when in fact he had replied immediately.
The Tories’ official reaction to all this when caught out has been disgraceful. They smirk, instead of apologising, because they know perfectly well there is little sanction in the lawless wild west of social media.
It’s already too late when these things are rumbled, complained about and withdrawn because they have achieved their purpose by going viral.
This is the worst sort of hypocrisy from a party which in government threatened action against the social media giants, sending out tough-talking Ministers to rail against online abuse and bullying.
The Lib Dems are also in the dock over fake news, with their cynical campaign literature mimicking local newspapers, a blatant attempt to dupe voters by hijacking the hard-won reputation of our independent press.
But it is online where the dirtiest, most disreputable electioneering is being done, and it’s the party which makes the most noise about decency and upholding proper standards of behaviour that is doing it. If that further erodes trust in our politics, their shrugs and smirks say they couldn’t give a monkey’s. Winning, at whatever cost, is all that matters. Mr Trump would surely approve.