Labour's Welsh Leader Says His Party Is Being Damaged By Fake News

    “The left’s been slow; the far-right has taken up social media more quickly than the centre-left."

    Oli Scarff / AFP / Getty Images

    The first minister of Wales has said that false stories on Facebook are boosting anti-immigrant sentiment and making it harder for Labour to put its case across online.

    “We are in the post-truth era," said Carwyn Jones, the Labour leader of the Welsh government. "People will treat something they’ve read as a rumour on Facebook with the same weight as something that leads the news on one of the major news outlets."

    He told BuzzFeed News he was increasingly having to argue against complete untruths while out campaigning on the doorstep, making it harder for Labour to get their case across on issues such as immigration: "The younger people are, the more they’re influenced by it. I’ve heard young people say ‘I saw this on Facebook’ and I have to say it’s actually untrue.

    “The left’s been slow; the far-right has taken up social media more quickly than the centre-left. We’ve been slow. We've got to catch up."

    Jones, who is the only Labour politician to lead a devolved administration in the UK, said it could limit Labour's ability to put across a positive case on issues such as immigration.

    “My fear is that people will lose the ability to distinguish between rubbish and what has actually happened. They expect newspapers to come at things from a certain angle – if you read the Express you expect it to be Brexit-mad and make allowances. But people are not used to making those allowances online.

    “The problem is being able to tell people that you can’t treat Breitbart in the same way as the BBC; they come at it from a very different perspective."

    Jones warned there is "no earthly way" a trade deal with the EU can be done in the two-year period after the UK government declares Article 50 and starts the formal process of leaving the EU. Despite attending multiple meetings with Theresa May's team he is still in the dark as to the UK's negotiating stance.

    “You can’t have complete control over migration or access to the single market. My feeling so far is they are moving away from overemphasis on migration to a stronger emphasis on [the single] market.

    "We need to be in position where there are some agreed positions before the UK begins those negotiations; surely it’s in the UK government’s interest to do that.”

    He also advised UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to reach out "beyond London" and focus on "sounding authentic".

    "At the moment people would struggle to know what Labour’s programme for government would be in Westminster," said Jones. "I’ve made this point with Jeremy – we’ve got to have a programme for government. We’re not in that position yet across the UK.

    "It means a ruthless focus on the things that matter to ordinary people. Immigration matters to ordinary people. It means being robust on workers’ rights, on issues such as pensions, and not accepting that the whole world is an enormous free market."

    He also repeated his attack on Nigel Farage, whom he dubbed a "poppy-less popinjay" after the former UKIP leader appeared on TV without the traditional symbol of remembrance for members of the armed forces.

    "It was Remembrance Sunday and he stood there without a poppy. Here is a man who flies the flag and talks about patriotism and on the very day we all remember those who lost their lives he couldn’t actually acknowledge that he was too concerned with his own ego at that point."

    Asked if he thought there was any way Labour could win the 2020 general election, Jones sighed and said "I hope there is" before adding "It’s a long way away yet."

    Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

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