Most of Westminster has suffered a psychological and operational implosion because of the referendum. Many MPs, hacks and charlatan-pundits on both sides have responded to the result by retreating to psychologically appealing parallel worlds rather than face reality.
A subset of the ERG, for example, welcomed the December agreement on the Irish backstop that actually spelled doom for their central ideas about how the negotiations were being conducted. This is the same group now ranting about Chequers — which was programmed by the December agreement, as are the imminent further surrenders in the autumn on Free Movement and everything else! This is the same group that tells everyone that people like me who say that serious preparations are needed to leave the EU are ‘like those peddling the Millennium Bug’. Their ideas on preparations are as accurate as their ideas on the December agreement were; and, of course, in order to avoid facing their tragi-comic blunders of judgement over two years they are constructing parallel worlds for their minds to live in.
Hardcore Remainers are similar. They want a second referendum and this requires de-legitimising the first. They therefore hysterically spread false memes while shouting ‘liars’ at Leavers.
The last 24 hours has illustrated again how the entire story about Vote Leave and data and digital communications has become a great case study in contemporary politics: ubiquitous accusations of lying by people who are entirely reckless about the truth, almost nobody figuring out reality before babbling all over social media setting off cascades of false information, MPs clueless about basic legal issues are also spreading false memes and so on.
A few simple points about the new wave of fake news. Carole Cadwalladr has spread countless factual errors for over a year. When I explained how we had followed best practice to safeguard personal data by quickly deleting the VL electoral database containing tens of millions after the referendum, this professional and ethical behaviour was turned into accusations of me ‘destroying evidence’. This sort of thing has happened repeatedly.
Over the past 24 hours, Cadwalladr has constructed new fake memes now spreading across the world.
1. The latest astonishing ‘crimes’ according to Carole et al is that the VL ads did not have ‘imprints’, were ‘dark’, unethical and illegal. She has tweeted dozens of times along the lines of:
‘No wonder Dominic Cummings wouldn’t come to parliament. No wonder @facebook didn’t want to release this shit. This is truly toxic, dark, absolutely undemocratic shit at the heart of the biggest election we’ll ever see… Look at this stuff. Fake fake fake news. It’s not an ad. It’s not labelled as an ad. It doesn’t say who placed it or who paid for it or who it was targeted at or way. This is the fakiest of fake news. And until today we had no idea about any of this’.
This is totally wrong and reflects deep misunderstandings:
a. The campaigns were NOT legally required to carry imprints in the same way as printed material. Carole is factually wrong about the law again.
b. This is actually irrelevant because the VL ads that Carole claims were ‘dark’ and criminal because they had ‘no imprint’ actually were clearly labelled as VL. The images she is pulling from the FB data dump are raw images — they are not images of the actual ads themselves. The images sat within a ‘frame’ which everyone seeing them on Facebook would see. This included ‘Vote Leave’ and other text and also had a weblink.
e.g Carole posts this as new evidence against Vote Leave — an image ‘without imprint’:
This is how ads actually appear on Facebook:
Thousands of people are now spreading Carole’s memes across the internet. They are shocked and appalled — surely the criminal Cummings will finally be jailed?
2. Amid the data dump of Facebook ads, there are claims that VL promoted BeLeave ads. This is a misunderstanding and the BBC has corrected their story. These ads appear in the 0-999 impressions box in the FB spreadsheet because the actual number of impressions was ZERO. They never ran. In a nutshell: VL did not promote BeLeave ads.
3. Another conspiracy Carole is spreading across the internet concerns Brexit Central. This was set up after the vote (not by me). Darren Grimes went to work on it and merged the BeLeave page into the BC page, hence Facebook labels them confusingly as ‘Brexit Central/BeLeave’. Without asking anybody what it means, Carole and others have screamed ‘aha this organisation secretly existed before the vote and was illegally advertising, LOCK UP CRIMINAL CUMMINGS.’ Wrong again.
There are many other false memes spreading but there’s no point going into all of them.
Also: I asked months ago for Facebook to publish everything in the interests of transparency. Will Will Straw do as I did and ask Facebook to publish everything they have about the Remain campaign? I’m not holding my breath.
The report from DCMS on Fake News makes false claims regarding Vote Leave, AIQ and BeLeave. Despite nobody ever producing any evidence for the loony conspiracy theory that I was secretly coordinating with Arron Banks, Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer, the Committee also asks for yet another inquiry of this; and, of course, they want the police involved to give credibility to their fantasies and legitimise their campaign for a second referendum. The MPs know Facebook has explained to them that VL COULD NOT HAVE used the notorious Facebook data acquired by Cambridge Analytica but they try to provide credibility to these conspiracy theories.
Further, these MPs have littered their report with errors and misunderstandings about the legal framework for elections, thus spreading further confusion. They haven’t even bothered to understand GDPR, which they mis-explain badly. Damian Collins et al have shown no interest in the truth. Now MPs publish a document after months of supposed work that makes basic errors about electoral law which will debase public debate even further.
If the MPs really want to get to the bottom of this, all they have to do is promise to tell the truth. Come on guys, step up to the plate…
If SW1 put one per cent of the effort it’s put into spreading fake news about Vote Leave into fixing the laws as I suggested before Carole’s conspiracy theories got traction, we would be in a much healthier state. But SW1 is rotten.
Hugo Rifkind says ‘Whatever you think of the referendum result, we can’t ever let there be a campaign like this again.’ Tough luck Hugo — if your side gets its way and there is another referendum, Vote Leave 2 will be much much worse for your side than VL1 was. VL2 will win by more than VL1 and the logical corollary will be to morph into a new party and fight the next election ‘to implement the promises we made in the referendum because the MPs have proved they can’t be trusted’. At a minimum VL2 will win the referendum and destroy the strategic foundations of both main parties. The Tories will be destroyed and maybe Labour too. The rotten civil service system will be replaced and the performance of government will be transformed for the better. Investment in basic science research will flow. Long-term funding for the NHS guaranteed by law. MORE high skilled immigrants, FEWER low-skilled. An agenda that could not be described as Left or Right. The public will love it. Insiders will hate it but they will have no moral credibility. Few careers will survive.
Is there enough self-awareness and self-interest among MPs to realise the consequences? Hard to say. I’m more critical of SW1 than almost any insider and even I have been surprised by the rottenness.
So far the MPs have botched things on an epic scale but it’s hard to break into the Westminster system — they rig the rules to stop competition. Vote Leave 1 needed Cameron’s help to hack the system. If you guys want to run with Lord Adonis and create another wave, be careful what you wish for. ‘Unda fert nec regitur’ and VL2 will ride that wave right at — and through — the gates of Parliament.
This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Dominic Cummings's blog