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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Michael Gove and fake news

For a man who helped to win a referendum campaign on the back of some of the most outrageous lies about the so-called benefits of Brexit, you would think that Michael Gove might want to show some self-awareness when he criticises others.

One can hardly dispute his claim that 'social media "corrupts" and "distorts" political decision-making', after all he and his colleagues tested that theory to destruction back in 2016 when they were arguing for us to leave the EU. 

Let's face it, he stood next to a bloody big bus which had the lie emblazoned across it that we would get an extra £350m a week extra for the NHS if we stopped paying into Europe and he argued that we were going to be swamped by 750 million Turks. He dismissed the views of experts and he put forward simplistic arguments that did not stand up to scrutiny. As Hugh Muir said in the Guardian back in June 2016:

As education secretary, Gove was an enthusiast for the great dramatists, and in this, at least, he is consistent. So on Wednesday night, with the dream of Brexit now tantalisingly in sight, he stooped to conquer. Shorn of shame, untroubled by complexity, he fielded voters’ inquiries with a certainty that, as an intelligent, knowing politician, he surely cannot feel. He bent logic to his will with the dexterity of a magician crafting balloon animals, but knowing all the while that the task is beneath him. This campaign has been a marathon, so credit to Gove for staying in character.

If we vote to leave, we will be in an economically stronger position, he said. Leaving the EU is a win-win, he promised them, unruffled all the while, unequivocal. The experts are against you, he was told. So what, we have our own experts, he said, citing Sir James Dyson and the man from JCB, and caring nothing about the weight of opinion stacked against him.

The questioners were probing, but whenever trouble loomed, Gove effortlessly wriggled free with a soundbite. “We believe in this country,” he proclaimed, milking applause from leavers in the audience, and by comparison casting his opponents as quislings. The remain camp is “ramping up the fear”, he said. By contrast, all we are doing, by claiming that Britain pays £350m a week to the EU or that 750 million Turks will soon head for Britain, is giving you the facts dispassionately. The remainers in the audience saw the sophistry, but no matter. You’re off your rocker, said a questioner. “You say the nicest things,” replied slippery Gove.

As somebody who has thrived on fake news, it ill-behoves Gove to lecture us on what we can and cannot believe. If the Environment Secretary is upset at claims about the Tory party's attitude to sentience in animals then he only has himself to blame. He let this fake news genie out of the bottle. He has to live with it.
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