Tory support rises as Lib Dems fall back in new polls

Conservative lead back up to 10 points in latest ComRes poll.

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Latest poll (ComRes/Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror): Conservatives 11 seats short of a majority.

No fewer than four new polls out tonight, all of which show a rise in support for the Conservatives. The most striking is the latest ComRes survey for the Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror, which has the Tory lead up to 10 points, the highest since February.

The poll puts the Conservatives up 2 points to 38 per cent, with the Lib Dems down 1 to 25 per cent and Labour also down 1 to 28 per cent. If repeated at the election on a uniform swing, those figures would leave Cameron 11 seats short of a majority. But in practice, since the Tories are still likely to perform disproportionately well in the marginals, a lead of this size should be just enough for a majority.

Elsewhere, the YouGov daily tracker has the Tories up 1 to 35 per cent, the Lib Dems unchanged on 28 per cent and Labour down 1 to 27 per cent. On a uniform swing, this result would leave the Conservatives 41 seats short of a majority.

It seems safe to conclude that David Cameron's winning performance in the final leaders' debate has given the Tories a slight boost. At the very least, it looks like the Conservatives can expect to emerge as the single largest party on Friday morning, with the Lib Dems providing "confidence and supply" in a hung parliament.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Hung parliament: Conservatives 31 seats short of a majority.

The latest ICM/Sunday Telegraph survey provides further evidence of a Conservative bounce. The poll puts the Tories up 3 points to 36 per cent, Labour up 1 to 29 per cent and the Lib Dems down 3 to 27 per cent. Labour will be relieved that ICM, like YouGov, suggests the Lib Dem surge is abating.

But there's also a new Angus Reid survey for the Sunday Express that has the Tories up 2 to 36 per cent, the Lib Dems down 1 to 29 per cent and Labour unchanged on just 23 per cent.

Gordon Brown will have to hope that Mike Smithson's golden rule -- that the survey with Labour in the least favourable position is normally the most accurate -- is mistaken this time. On a uniform swing, those figures would leave the Tories just three seats short of a majority.

UPDATE: The final poll of the night, a BPIX survey for the Mail on Sunday, has the Tories unchanged on 34 per cent, the Lib Dems unchanged on 30 per cent and Labour up 1 to 27 per cent.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Fake news sells because people want it to be true

The rise of bullshit, from George Orwell to Donald Trump.

When is a lie not a lie? Recently, the Daily Telegraph reported that university students had demanded that “philosophers such as Plato and Kant” be “removed from [the] syllabus because they are white”. Other outlets followed suit, wringing their hands over the censoriousness of today’s uninquiring young minds. The article generated an extraordinary amount of consternation click bait. Angry responses were written and hot takes were quick-fried and served up by outlets anxious  to join the dinner rush of  ad-friendly disapproval.

It’s a story that could have been designed to press every outrage button of the political-correctness-gone-mad brigade. It has students trying to ban things, an apparent lack of respect for independent thought and reverse racism. It seemed too good to be true.

And it was. In reality, what happened was far less interesting: the student union of the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) at the University of London had proposed that “the majority of philosophers on our courses” be from Asia and Africa, and that the Western greats be approached from a “critical standpoint”. Some might consider this a reasonable request, given that critical analysis is a component of most philosophy courses, and Soas has a long tradition of promoting the study of the global South. Yet a story about students declaring Kant irrelevant allows the Telegraph to despair for the youth of today and permits advertisers to profit from that despair.

People didn’t start pumping out this stuff because they decided to abandon journalistic ethics. They did so because such principles are hugely expensive and a hard sell. Even those of us who create and consume news can forget that the news is a commodity – a commodity with a business model behind it, subsidised by advertising. Rigorous, investigative, nuanced content, the sort that pays attention to objective facts and fosters serious public debate, is expensive to create. Talk, however, is cheap.

Fake news sells because fake news is what people want to be true. Fake news generates clicks because people click on things that they want to believe. Clicks lead to ad revenue, and ad revenue is currently all that is sustaining a media industry in crisis. Journalism is casting about for new funding models as if for handholds on a sheer cliff. This explains a great deal about the position in which we find ourselves as citizens in this toxic public sphere.

What has this got to do with Donald Trump? A great deal. This sticky, addictive spread of fake news has fostered a climate of furious, fact-free reaction.

Press outlets give millions of dollars of free coverage to Trump without him having to send out a single press release. The reality TV star is the small-fingered god of good copy. The stories write themselves. Now, the stories are about the threat to the future of journalism from the man who has just entered the Oval Office.

Trump’s first press conference in six months, held at Trump Tower in New York on 11 January, was – by any measure – extraordinary. He did not merely refuse to answer questions about unverified allegations that he had been “cultivated” by Russia. He lost his temper spectacularly with the assembled press, declaring: “You’re fake news! And you’re fake news!”

Trump did not mean that the journalists were lying. His attitude to the press is straight from the Kremlin’s playbook: rather than refute individual accusations, he attempts to discredit the notion of truth in journalism. The free press is a check on power, and Trump likes his power unchecked.

Writing in the Guardian in 2015, Peter Pomarantsev noted of Putin’s propaganda strategy that “these efforts constitute a kind of linguistic sabotage of the infrastructure of reason: if the very possibility of rational argument is submerged in a fog of uncertainty, there are no grounds for debate – and the public can be expected to decide that there is no point in trying to decide the winner, or even bothering to listen.”

If people lose trust in the media’s capacity to report facts, they begin to rely on what “feels” true, and the influence rests with whomever can capitalise on those feelings. Donald Trump and his team know this. Trump doesn’t tell it like it is. Instead, he tells it like it feels, and that’s far more effective.

Fake news – or “bullshit”, as the American philosopher Harry G Frankfurt termed it in a 2005 essay – has never been weaponised to this extent, but it is nothing new. George Orwell anticipated the trend in the 1930s, looking back on the Spanish Civil War. “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world,” he wrote. “Lies will pass into history . . . In Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie . . . In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they wrote, or they struggled after the truth, well knowing that they must make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that ‘facts’ existed and were more or less discoverable.”

This is the real danger of fake news, and it is compounded by a lingering assumption of good faith on the part of those who believe in journalistic principle. After all, it’s impossible to prove that a person intended to deceive, and that they didn’t believe at the time that what they said was true. Trump may believe in whatever “facts” he has decided are convenient that day. When he insists that he never mocked a disabled reporter, whatever video evidence may exist to the contrary, he may believe it. Is it, then, a lie?

Of course it’s a lie. People who have no respect for the concept of truth are still capable of lies. However, they are also capable of bullshit – bullshit being a register that rubbishes the entire notion of objective reality by deeming it irrelevant. The only possible response is to insist, and keep insisting, that the truth still means something.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era