Tory “punch” propaganda backfires

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 09.12.2019

Boris Johnson has had the worst day of his election so far. Confronted with the image of a four-year-old-boy with suspected pneumonia, attached to an oxygen mask, forced to lie on a pile of coats on the floor of a Leeds hospital, the Prime Minister “grabbed” the reporter’s phone and “put it in his pocket” rather than discuss his party’s NHS record. 

Clearly concerned about the growing PR disaster, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was dispatched to the hospital to try and make amends. He was greeted by a small but vocal contingent of Labour activists.

At this point, the Conservatives defaulted to their primary strategy for the past three years: when things look bad, lie. In an attempt to distract the media, they told journalists a Labour activist had punched a Tory staffer at the hospital.

Understandably, this alleged act of thuggery became the immediate story. BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg tweeted that the protest “turned nasty”, and that a Labour activist “punched Hancock’s adviser”. ITV’s Robert Peston said the aide was “whacked in the face by a protestor as he tried to help Hancock into his car”, and that the police were on the scene.

The Mail Online went top of its home page with the story. Twitter was in uproar. And Johnson’s lack of care for a sick child forced to sleep on the floor had dropped from the agenda.

And then a video of the encounter emerged. 

There is no punch. A small crowd of protestors shout as Hancock climbs into a car. One man points at the departing vehicle and the adviser walks into his arm. 

Peston apologised for repeating the fake news fed to him by “senior Tories”, and after frankly too long a delay – and an attempt to maintain that despite the lack of violence it was a “pretty grim encounter” – Kuenssberg followed suit. 

The heat is now back on the Tories. This latest lie has drawn attention back onto their dishonest campaign, their disregard for the norms of democracy, and their attempts to bully broadcasters into submission.

While this is welcome, it’s perhaps more important that we turn our attention back to the NHS. Can we really trust Johnson with protecting it from Donald Trump? Funding it properly? Building the new infrastructure it needs?

The best way to protect the NHS from Trump, to make sure it has the skilled workers and funding to look after us, and the access to new medicines to save patient’s lives, is to stay in the EU.

Don’t let this latest Tory fib distract you from that.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

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