How on earth one of the country's most senior politicians manages to repeat a complete misunderstanding (while adding, "I am not making this up", which is at least accurate inasmuch as it was someone else who made it up) in a speech at her party's annual conference is a bit of a mystery. I mean, we've all said things which weren't true because we were repeating a story that we had heard or misheard, but most of us don't have fact-checkers poring over our words all the time. A full debunking of the story can be found here, but what for me is even more remarkable is that the Daily Mail, which had previously reported the story and been corrected on it by the Press Complaints Commission, is continuing to report the story as if it is true.
Can they seriously not know that this story is false? Can they just not have properly researched it, and are happy to take the Home Secretary at her word? Because surely they wouldn't deliberately publish a story which they knew to be false? Is the veracity of the story less important than the fact that it confirms their worldview, or that it can be used as an evangelistic weapon?
It's a story that panders to many important right-wing principles of the moment; that there are too many immigrants, that, "human rights" are a farcical idea, that European legislation is threatening British sovereignty. Believing it to be true is self-affirming for the Mail and their readership, in the same way that I follow blogs that make me laugh smugly and feel superior about my enlightened outlook on life the universe and everything. Don't we all? Seek out people and communities that reinforce our own opinions and the way we live out lives? And isn't it easier to overlook inconvenient truths than to discard a highly useful piece of evidence which affirms and strengthens the rest of the evidence you've already gathered?
Perhaps this kind of deceit is terrifyingly human. And perhaps it's more common than we realise.