Which story is the April Fool?

After a quick look through the tabloids’ websites, it’s quite difficult to tell.

Oh, we have a laugh, don't we? April Fool and all that. Hyuk hyuk hyuk. The day when you can't believe anything you read in the papers!

Take, for example, this story in the Express: SALT BANNED IN CHIP SHOPS. I mean, we're not really meant to believe it, are we? Come off it. Classic April Fool japery, and very well executed – the casual observer could be lulled into thinking that salt really was being banned! The SALT BANNED headline and the intro "Salt shakers are being removed" make it appear to be a genuine story – but it has all the hallmarks of an April Fool spoof.

Props to the Express, though, for including quotes from the Taxpayers' Alliance and the Monmouth MP David Davies to make the nonsense appear more believable. But really! They'd certainly check the facts before lending their respected voices to a story that isn't all it seems. So, well done to them for playing along in the spirit of 1 April.

Oh.

The date on that "salt banned" story appears to be 31 March, not 1 April. And it seems that it was put out there as a real story claiming SALT IS BANNED, despite the salt not being "banned" at all, but merely tucked away behind the counter.

I suppose if that's a ban, you could say cigarettes are BANNED because they're behind the counter: you know, BANNED in the sense of being "available to customers". That kind of BANNED. The same kind of BANNED that cars are thanks to bonkers Brussels beaurocrats, as reported in Tuesday's Daily Express. When the headline says "Cars face ban from all cities . . . another plan forced on us by the crazy EU", that encapsulates a story in which no one is demanding that cars be banned from any city (let alone all) quite neatly.

If you've tried scouring through the tabloids' websites this morning, thinking to yourself "Which one's the April Fool?" I don't blame you if you've given up in the end. Is it the boy who assaulted someone with a marshmallow? The travelator on the golf course? The poodles dressed as koi carp and a panda? How are we supposed to tell the difference?

April Fool spoofs work because of a level of trust in the other 364 days of the year; if you're largely expecting what's presented to you to be entirely accurate, you could easily be fooled by a plausible enough tale this morning. If you get told about bans that aren't bans on a fairly regular basis, you might look at the April Fool stories and think: Oh well, it's no less ridiculous than what we had the other day.

It's all coming to an end, this annual silliness, for a few reasons. First, because readers can quickly seek out information to debunk the stories. Second, because we're all becoming even more healthily sceptical about what we read in the papers than we ever were. And last, because the EU has BANNED April Fool stories for reasons of health and safety. You couldn't make it up . . .

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.