How the best Brexit book so far nails Leave's NHS lies in just 76 pages
PUBLISHED: 14:12 21 December 2017 | UPDATED: 14:13 21 December 2017
STEVE ANGLESEY on how a book of less than 400 words provides the most compelling illustration of why Leave won
As the news about Brexit continues to get worse; the writing about it continues to get better. What The Hell Happens Now by Ian Dunt, Tim Shipman’s All-Out War and Unleashing Demons by Craig Oliver are among the best true-crime reads of our times.
Frank and forensic all three might be, however, I’m not sure I’ve read a more compelling illustration of why Leave won than Printed Lies (Negative Press London, £10).
A devastating work of 76 pages and less than 400 words, it is a reconstruction in print of the Vote Leave video Which NHS Will You Vote For?, which was screened on all five major UK channels and uploaded to YouTube on May 23, 2016.
This was Leave’s first broadcast of the referendum campaign, and even then it was clear they’d brought out the heavy artillery at the start of the battle. Aimed at Labour supporters and elderly undecideds, the advert established two highly persuasive lies which dictated the shape of the debate from Day One: “Every week the UK pays £350m to be part of the EU” and “that’s £350m that could be spent supporting our doctors and nurses".
The £350m figure is, of course, widely discredited, dismissed as fabrication even by Nigel Farage. Note that now they have been rumbled, Leavers like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove now say the £350m is not money that Britain lost but rather money that Britain “lost control of”. This is like saying you lose control of your wages when you put them in the bank.
But Printed Lies barely mentions this spurious claim. Instead, the genius of the book’s construction is to simply display, over 27 spreads, how the broadcast presented viewers a split-screen showing how an everyday medical emergency would play out post-referendum "Inside the EU" and "Outside the EU".
As a woman seeks attention for her elderly mother’s chest complaint, the propaganda veers between subliminal and crude. Inside the EU, they enter A&E through a busy corridor where overspill patients are seated and one lies unattended on a trolley. Outside the EU, however, the corridor is empty save for a busy nurse dealing pushing a patient into a ward.
Inside the EU, reception is manned by a bored-looking black nurse. Come on Outside and she’s been joined by a white colleague. Both look heavily engaged. Back Inside, the woman and her mother join a queue, while on the outside they’re dealt with straight away.
And so it continues: Paperwork, queues and sad-looking people Inside the EU (even the black nurse’s hair is out of place); smiles and production line efficiency Outside it. The old girl is on and off a ventilator and virtually skipping home in the Outside world while, trapped on the Inside, she’s still waiting to be seen and growing increasingly frail.
Seen side-by-side here, the frames frozen and set on black backgrounds, the messaging takes on a sinister tone. Inside the EU’s hospital is host to a black guy with braided hair and an bandaged-up elderly woman who looks like she’s been mugged (by who? An immigrant?). There’s also a threatening-looking bald man, seemingly of foreign stock, who fixes the camera with a stare. Inevitably, he’s seen first by the doctor.
Created and directed by 25-year-old advertising agency content creator Alexander Thompson, the ad proved so effective that it was shown in all four of Vote Leave’s broadcast slots. Thompson told Campaign, the ad industry bible, that he knew they were onto a winner when one member of the first focus group it was shown to cried.
Which NHS Will You Vote For? has caused plenty of tears since. As Printed Lies makes clear, for all the talk of social media bots and memes, it could be that this deceitful, hateful, shameful piece of work was the Brexiteers’ most effective weapon in establishing and promoting the untruth which won the referendum.
Printed Lies is published by Negative Press London at £10 (incl P&P); available at www.neg-press.com/shop