This year has been a political year like no other. Surprise victories, resignations and major decisions made. While the year will most likely be remembered for the wins for the Leave campaign and for Donald Trump as President, it should however be remembered as the year when political campaigning got out of hand. Saying whatever is necessary to win an election was the political fashion in 2016.
Starting with the referendum campaign in June both remain and leave campaigns began the extreme rhetoric and political mistruths. Of course the headline lie, which arguably won the vote for Leave, was the £350 million for the NHS. This was a clear lie because the fact is that the UK doesn’t pay £350 million per week. The UK gets an instant rebate which brings the figure closer to £250m and then the EU spends money within the UK so the country effectively gets some of that back. So this campaign policy would never have been enacted and could only have happened if the UK added spent extra money to the EU savings.
On the Remain side, George Osborne predicted he would be forced in to making a so called, ‘punishment budget’ but partly due to losing position and partly because it hasn’t been required, that budget has not happened. In fact the economy post-referendum has been remarkably resilient which goes against many of the predictions by the remain side on what might happen post-Brexit.
Of course it must be remembered that the UK has not left the EU yet and many fears around the economy persist. The value of sterling has plummeted since the vote to leave which has affected the price of imports and is threatening to raise food and petrol prices. The Bank of England was also forced in to acting by pumping £60bn in to the economy to steady a decline soon after the vote was declared. So although many of the Remain camp predictions haven’t appeared yet, there was significant financial damage done despite the UK still being a European Union member.
The other big mistruth was the immigration policy. One of the Leave campaign’s big promises was a points based immigration system, backed by Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and other pro Leave campaigners. However Theresa May declared in early September that such a system would not reduce numbers and it would not be implemented, making a lie out of the policy and the claim it could lower immigration.
Trump Telling Tales
It turned out that the EU referendum was just the appetiser in political mistruths as Donald Trump stepped up the rhetoric to become President-elect. Trump’s policies could be defined by the chants shouted at his rallies, such as ‘lock her up’ and ‘drain the swamp’ but the 2016 trend of lying to win office means neither of these will happen. Trump confirmed not long after his election victory that he will not be seeking to prosecute and ‘lock up’ Hillary Clinton, the rhetoric merely worked with his supporters during the campaign.
US political satire show, The Daily Show, recently reported on Donald Trump brazenly going back on his election pledges in front of his own supporters. In a speech on December 9th Trump spoke and reacted as his supporters chanted ‘lock her up’ and he told those listening,
“That plays great before the election, now we don’t care right?”
Then on December 8th speaking about the drain the swamp pledge Trump admitted,
“Funny how that term (drain the swamp) caught on isn’t it, I told everyone I hated it…..so a month ago I said it and it plays like crazy. Then I started saying it like I meant it right? Then I started loving it and the place loved it.”
This shows that Trump took the political messaging to a new level even following the EU referendum campaign, saying anything necessary to hit headlines and win votes. The difference with Trump is that he actually admits what he was saying was just a plan to win votes and not what he actually believed or would enact if victorious. This is without looking at his impossible to deliver claims to build a wall on the Mexican border and to ban Muslims from the country.
All of this evidence shows that 2016 was the year when electioneering spiralled out of control and the rhetoric was not only divisive and controversial but unlikely, or in some cases impossible, to be delivered. If any lessons are learned from the year or resolutions made for the new year, politicians should strive to be more factual and make promises that can be believed and delivered. Time will tell if 2016 was the high water mark for the post-truth era but with a Trump presidency on the horizon things may get worse before they get better.