Maybe he's borne with it? Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Osborne's powder

A bunny costume, "The Red Flag" and made-up politics.

The launch of the election campaign was, on the whole, underwhelming. Nick Clegg released answers before he’d been asked a single question at his press conference. The BBC’s Norman Smith was hissed at and called a “pillock” by Labour activists. And Ed Miliband appealed in vain for questions from ITV and Sky, neither broadcaster considering his Salford event sufficiently inviting to despatch correspondents.

George Osborne appeared to be wearing more make-up than Theresa May or Nicky Morgan at the Tory event. The powder saved the Chancellor from a red face as sceptical hacks shredded a Conservative report accusing Labour of £21bn of unfunded spending commitments.

To Stroud in Gloucestershire and a Labour lunch, which closed with the party’s leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Janet Royall, leading a rendition of “The Red Flag”. The prospect of Labour’s David Drew winning back the marginal seat he lost by 1,299 votes to the Tory landowner Neil Carmichael are enhanced by a storm in a pint pot. Calamity Carmichael “did a Clegg”: posing for a photo with a “Save our pubs” sign, then voting in parliament against protecting tenant landlords. The MP was banned from the Prince Albert on Rodborough Hill, where the licensee has clipped to a beer pump a picture of Carmichael with a Pinocchio nose.

Eric Pickles’s special adviser Zoe Thorogood’s CV boasted that she had worked for the breakfast telly show GMTV when she left the PR outfit Luther Pendragon to spin for the Communities Secretary. One of her ex-colleagues let slip that Thorogood also toiled on L!VE TV, an ill-starred station run by the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie. The Whitehall aide, I hear, dressed as the “News Bunny”, a giant rabbit miming behind presenters. It could have been worse – L!VE TV showed Topless Darts.

The minutiae of NHS regulations will never be boring for Andy Burnham. A snout recalled Labour’s health spokesman working on Tank World and Container Management before swapping the noble calling of journalism for the grubby business of politics. I’ll remind him of that should Burnham ever become transport secretary.

Either Conservative candidates are stupid or the party is treating them like fools. Campaign packs contain instructions on how to pose for photographs, including a shot of Robert Jenrick, the Newark by-election victor, sitting up straight for those too daft to work it out.

Terrified of Ukip, David Cameron has upped the Tory anti-migrant rhetoric. Thankfully, it didn’t extend to the charming eastern European ladies collecting coats for the Conservative Party on the 29th floor of Millbank Tower. 

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 08 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Churchill Myth

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.