The departure of Andrea Leadsom from the Conservative leadership race was a blow to pundits who claim we’re living in an age of ‘post-truth politics’. According to Michael Deacon, the Telegraph’s political sketchwriter, she was an ideal candidate because she embodied the ‘anti-factual’ mood of the country. ‘Facts are negative,’ he wrote, parodying the attitude of Leadsom’s knuckle–dragging supporters. ‘Facts are pessimistic. Facts are unpatriotic.’
To be fair to Deacon, whose sketches are often very funny, he noted that ‘the war on truth’ is being fought as energetically on the left as it is on the right and singled out a group of die-hard Corbynistas who believe their man is the victim of a ‘Zionist’ conspiracy. But most commentators who wheel out the phrase ‘post-truth politics’ are on the left and use it to sum up their opponents’ cynical disregard for the norms of democratic debate. Indeed, it was coined in 2010 by an American pundit called David Roberts to describe the success of Republicans in Congress. They don’t try to win support for their policy positions by making evidence-based arguments — a form of grown-up debate that only Democrats engage in, apparently. No, they exploit the knee-jerk emotional responses and tribal loyalties of their followers. If the Democrats are in favour of a policy, then it is the duty of all good Republicans to oppose it, and to hell with the facts. Since Roberts coined the phrase it has become a cliché and scarcely a day passes without some left-wing sage attributing the rise of Donald Trump to this shocking debasement of political discourse.
It goes without saying that the losing side in the EU referendum are great believers in the ‘post-truth’ hypothesis. According to this theory, their factual arguments, complete with block graphs and pie charts, were no match for the ‘nativist’ pleas of right-wing politicians and ‘the Murdoch press’, which exploited irrational fear of ‘the other’.