Often the most challenging election campaigns are ones where you and your supporters find the appeal of the opposition’s candidate or the force of their arguments so outrageously risible that they fall into anger and derision rather than understanding how to counter their appeal.
So it was when Boris Johnson first ran for Mayor of London. Or when the Brexit camp rolled out the £350m for the NHS line in the European referendum. Winning candidate, winning message both met with anything but understanding and effective counter-argument by the other side.
To illustrate the point about the £350m message to readers who are already thinking ‘but it was untrue’, take the case of Hillary Clinton in the current US Presidential contest.
She is, I strongly suspect, the candidate that nearly all those readers also support. And it’s quite normal to come across, for example, fellow (UK) Liberal Democrats who say of her, ‘I know she messed up on X, but she isn’t Donald Trump…’ and variations on that theme.
That’s just the same excusing of a fault as made the £350m figure so powerful in the European referendum. Yes, it wasn’t true. But yes too, the UK does give money to the EU. Even if it’s an exaggerated number, it was still in the eyes of many a number that captured a basic truth: we give money to something they don’t like.
Of course, if someone who had made the £350m promise had ended up Prime Minister, that would have been another matter because then it would be a question of broken promises.
But otherwise? Voting Leave even though the number was untrue was not really that different to supporting Hillary Clinton despite her own faults.
That’s the reality of choosing which way to vote: perfection is not required to secure a vote. If what is not true still has underneath it a meaning that chimes with supporters’ beliefs, then undermining the claim doesn’t undermine their support. Frustrating, but true.