Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Lies. Lies. Lies. Can Politics Recover?

Trust.  Perhaps the most important aspect of human relationships. Without it we are sunk.  Friends, marriage, business.  Especially the politicians who want to represent us, who are usually in politics for the most honourable of reasons.

But we have a problem.  It is becoming the norm that in the quest to win, honesty is given the heave-ho.  Lies and half-truths abound. Two recent examples, one from the left of politics, one from the mainly right.:


These last few days has seen the Labour party rightly exposed for what they said about Student Finance. Corbyn himself might be "innocent" but the Labour party certainly isn't.  Hodgson in particular, who the Guardian's 'FactCheck' says sent a "highly misleading tweet".  Sadly I don't remember Corbyn denouncing this

In any case, I spoke to several younger people just before they voted in the General Election.  Graduates and under-graduates.  They weren't interested in other options. They were voting Labour for one reason only. Their Student Finance.  Lies, ambiguity or simply misunderstanding?

Nonetheless two key points arise:
  • Would we have had a hung parliament had this topic not surfaced?.
  • Will the trust of younger voters in politicians, and the Labour party in particular, be lost forever?


At the other end of the political spectrum we have the Brexit bus.  The Leave campaign were still promoting this even after Nick Robinson showed that £350million was the gross figure.  The real figure net, after money we get back as rebate and grants, was just over £100 million.  Even then, this money would only be available if tax receipts held up.  Forecasts are tax will drop by a larger amount. The bus really should have said "Leave and there will be less money for the NHS".

I certainly overheard one person, a couple of days after the Referendum, saying they had voted Leave primarily because of the bus.

Would Leave have won without it?


Trust in politicians has always been low.  But has trust ever been lower?

A key problem is that the Advertising Standards Authority has no authority over politics.  Here is their explanation of why not, despite attempts to cover political advertising.

Nor is there any equivalent of the Financial Conduct Authority.  Documents published by quoted companies need to include suitable warnings about the reliability of forecasts.  Key statements and forecasts need to be independently reviewed before publication.  Directors who make false statements can be criminally liable.

UPDATE: Lord Sugar has made the same point in comparing statements made by politicians with those made by directors.

It would be good if key political statements, like the two above, could be reviewed independently by a "Political Conduct Authority".  Representatives of political parties would then need to abide by the agreed statements.  That would have the added bonus of not contradicting each other.  A suitable caveat would need to be shown against any forecasts and opinions, which for oral statements would be like the 'small print' hurriedly spoken in radio adverts.

The difference with politics is that an election is a rapid onslaught of statements and counter-statements, especially in the last few days.  Could a process of independent review be practical?

Or is it a matter for a voluntary Code of Conduct that might include, for example, publication of an web page for every individual significant policy statement.  That could include any independent support, perhaps published previously, and any relevant caveats.

Frankly I'm thinking aloud.  Just to start a debate.  Because if we don't solve the issue of trust, politics is down the pan!

UPDATE Thursday 27 July:   The New European today has an article on p28, not yet online, titled "The Psychology of Lies and Why We Fall For Them".  This explores the relatively recent phenomenon of the use of blatant lies in politics.  As the author Louise Chunn says "In previous decades, politicians might evade or spin to their advantage ... but they tended to stay away from bold statements that could be easily disproved.".  She gives the recent example of Nigel Farage and his Article 50 lie, where he held up wording that wasn't even in that clause whilst broadcasting for LBC.  The words came from a briefing note, but missed further words which changed the overall meaning.  Whilst LBC deleted their tweet about it, Nigel hasn't.

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