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Opinion & Analysis

‘When half-truths become propaganda’

Pic by Eyleen Gomez

By Rafael Benzaquen

There's a saying, old as politics itself, to the effect that a half-truth told often enough becomes the truth. Donald Trump is good at this sort of thing for example, calling his election defeat fake news, left-wing propaganda and all the while insisting the election was stolen from him. As someone once said when one lies, "one should do it big and stick to it".

Propaganda. What is it? Well, Britannica defines it as the systematic effort to manipulate other people's beliefs. In other words, an attempt to persuade people to further an agenda, which may not be objective.

Keith Azopardi 's party political broadcast published on social media on July 7 was, by that definition, propaganda. It attempted to manipulate facts to further a narrow agenda, that of installing him in No.6 Convent Place. Let me give you an example of that.

Mr Azopardi dedicates a significant proportion of his broadcast to berating the government for going over spending limits. He uses superlatives and expressions of outrage at this state of affairs, to the extent of branding the government "spendthrift" and "irresponsible": "It was irresponsible of the government not to keep to their own budget", Mr Azopardi declares.

Yet, he omits to mention that departmental deficits were almost always created by departments where no spending ceiling is possible. By that I mean, for example, health. Does Mr Azopardi expect the GHA to turn people away for being over budget? That is not the GSLP way of doing things. It may be his.

What about the education budget? Does he expect scholarship applications to be rejected for budgetary reasons? Never. Whether or not the department is above budget.

Vacuous as such GSD arguments are, what transforms them into "propaganda" is the vision of seeing them rehashed online even after logical deficiencies were pointed out in the budget House debate by the Chief Minister. Mr Azopardi seems to function on the basis that if you repeat sophistry often enough, voters will fall for it.

Even more surprising is Mr Azopardi's economic illiteracy.

Mr Azopardi pointed out at the start of his broadcast that he doesn't blame all of our ills on the government - and inflation has to be one of them because we share a currency with the UK.

UK inflation is currently at 8.5% and the value of the Euro had been steadily increasing against the pound for a long time now. Its value has also been decreasing against the US Dollar due to the vulnerability of the EU's energy markets to Russian pressure.

Should the next UK government proceed with tax cuts as announced by just about all leadership contenders other than Rishi Sunak, the upward pressure on inflation will have an inverse effect on the Sterling rate, with all of this placing increasing strains on Gibraltarian households. This is because a significant number of purchases by Gibraltarians, including supermarkets, are made in Euro, making them vulnerable to the Sterling/Euro bear market.

Mr Azopardi correctly identifies inflation as a scourge in our city, but then proceeds to offer up an increase in wages as a panacea. This is senseless. A wage increase will only serve to fuel inflation further, thereby perpetuating the misery on our population. Is that all Mr Azopardi has to say on the matter?

Those tuning in to the budget debate online will have been struck by the good grace in which the Speaker and Chief Minister suffered the ignominious language hurled at them by the GSD.

Firstly, we had Daniel Feetham refusing to comply with an order of the Speaker to withdraw an affirmation that the Chief Minister had "lied" and which the Speaker was graceful enough to let pass without sanction. I wonder how John Bercow would have reacted to that.

Then, seeing the stand-off between Mr Feetham and the Speaker, we witnessed the Chief Minister, with incredible generosity of spirit, proposing language tending to allow Mr Feetham to maintain his accusation of "lying", but in a manner acceptable to the Speaker.

This is tragic. Mr Azopardi seems to have concluded that the best way of campaigning for the next election is by damaging Fabian Picardo by ad hominem attacks consisting of half-truths. The result is division, cynicism and a breakdown of important debates into the lowest common denominator

Rafael Benzaquen is a barrister.

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