What is the main take away from ITV’s leaders’ debate? Listen to the news bulletins and it appears to be that the Conservatives have been accused of misleading the public. During the debate on Wednesday night, one of the Conservative party Twitter accounts was renamed (and rebranded) as a ‘fact-checking’ site. Throughout the showdown between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, the account published tweets suggesting Labour claims did not add up. For those who looked, the Twitter handle was still @CCHQPress.
Today there has been a backlash over that decision. While the Tories say it was a mere campaign stunt, the Liberal Democrats have called on the Electoral Commission to intervene. Twitter has also issued the Tories a warning of sorts – promising ‘decisive, corrective’ action if something similar happens in the future. Does it matter? Dominic Raab dismissed the row this morning as a storm in a teacup – saying nobody ‘gives a toss’. He insisted that ‘no-one will have been fooled’ and it’s right that the Tories’ rebut Labour’s claims.
However, there is a reason to believe the Tories need to tread with caution on issues relating to trust. The row over the social media stunt becomes an issue if it plays into a bigger theme. In the ITV debate, the most revealing part of the whole debate was not a soundbite by a politician. Instead, it was the audience laughter. Their laughter highlighted the weak spots of both leaders. The audience laughed when Corbyn claimed his party’s Brexit policy was clear and when he talked about his plan for a four-day working week. This shows how for Labour, Brexit confusion and credibility are two of the biggest problems in the campaign. But for Johnson, the audience laughed when he agreed that ‘the truth matters’. For Johnson, voter trust is an issue. Labour is keen to attack him on this. Even Johnson’s own former colleagues have publicly queried his trustworthiness – with Amber Rudd attacking him over it during the EU referendum campaign. It follows that anything that plays into that narrative could complicate the Tory election campaign.