Now, I had this idea to solve the problem of being fed bad information by politicians and the media and what that means when it comes to voting, it turns out it’s actually not a very good idea at all, but hear me out and let me know what you think…
Zac Goldsmith said recently [ref]http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b052n6bh[/ref]
“Lying is a staple here in parliament, you can lie to get elected, you can then behave in any manner you want in parliament, you can do whatever you want, you can break every single promise you made and there is nothing your constituents can do about it”
A striking statement from a sitting member of parliament; in his opinion you can lie to get elected, it’s commonplace. If you look at the Daily Mail or the Sun their coverage of Ed Miliband is hostile, bordering on the vindictive. In the case of the Daily Mail article about Ralph Miliband[ref]http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2435751/Red-Eds-pledge-bring-socialism-homage-Marxist-father-Ralph-Miliband-says-GEOFFREY-LEVY.html[/ref] it was undoubtedly vindictive. Look at the referendum on AV, the No campaign ran a blatantly unprovable and emotive ad about how a vote yes would deprive babies of maternity care.[ref]http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/feb/25/no-to-alternative-vote-baby-ad[/ref] A look through any newspaper in the country shows a litany of stories using dubious facts to make dubious points. This leads to an ill-informed public, it’s almost impossible to separate fact from fiction if you choose mainstream media as your news source or listen to what politicians tell you. This isn’t a new phenomenon, the Sun claimed that fans were urinating on dead bodies at Hillsborough, [ref]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillsborough_disaster#The_Sun[/ref] a claim defended and defended by Kelvin McKenzie then apologised for by James Murdoch at the House of Commons Select Committee dealing with the News International phone hacking scandal in 2012[ref]
A YouGov poll this week[ref]http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/9251[/ref] found that 59% of people are opposed to state funding of political parties, given the choice between the current situation of big business funding the Tories and the unions funding Labour people prefer the current situation by 63% to 37%. Why? This makes no sense to me, the current system allows for business and trade unions to influence policy; taxpayer funding removes that. One side allows for corruption of our politics and the other removes that. More evidence that the public are not informed about serious issues.
Being ill-informed about something should not normally be any sort of barrier; my badly formed opinions on who should play left back for England have never held me back from debating it, but my opinion in this case does not matter; the only opinion that does is Roy Hodgson’s. The problem is brought into sharp focus when it comes to voting. These lies, half-truths and misleading articles influence the outcome of votes and can have a seriously detrimental effect on the society we live in.
Let’s imagine for a moment that we have a vote to bring back capital punishment, an actual life or death vote. Should you be able to cast your ballot without being in possession of all the facts?; Is there any evidence that capital punishment works as a deterrent? How many people (in other, similar countries, have been proven innocent after being executed), is the law robust enough and does it have enough safeguards to make sure that only guilty people of sound mind are sent to death? Can we trust our press and elected officials to present the facts honestly to us to make a decision?
What’s the solution? Well, politicians and the media cold stop lying, that would be best really, only ever tell the truth about things, print real stories with facts in them, but that seems unlikely (I should say here that a great many MPs and journalists do tell the truth, the phone hacking scandal highlights this perfectly, on one side you have corrupt journalists breaking into the public’s phones and the other you have journalists like Nick Davies fighting for the truth)[ref]http://www.spiked-online.com/review_of_books/article/hack-attack-how-nick-davies-saved-the-world/15780[/ref] How about competency tests for voting? What if, whatever the vote was, you had to register for it and it was open for a month and you had to answer a series of questions before you were allowed to vote to make sure you understood what was going on? It’s not taking the vote away from anyone, it’s a safeguard to make sure that you know what you’re voting for and can make an informed choice. You may find out some information and totally change your mind.
I see some obvious flaws in this argument as I type. Who is going to pull the facts together? Who is going to decide what’s relevant? What about serious concepts that can’t be explained easily? Is Keynesian economics the way out of a recession or is austerity the answer? (This is what our elected representatives should be doing for us, but they’re twisting the facts to fit in with their ideology)[refhttps://fullfact.org/health/live/2015/jan/number_12_hour_wait_hospital_bed_accident_emergency-38409[/ref] Ok, it wasn’t a particularly good idea. What else can we try? How about we fund a public fact checking service (there already is an excellent website at https://fullfact.org/) that is working live during, say PMQ’s, there’s a big screen and a team of people checking everything as the politicians speak and if they’re lying a big eegh eegh sounds and a cross comes up like in Family Fortunes, or if we can’t do it in real time then check it after and they have to apologise for lying next week. The same could work for newspapers and television the first 5 minutes of each news programme will be apologies for a while until everyone just decides that it’s easier to stop lying and just tells the truth. Or, fines for lying?
When I started writing this I thought I had half an idea, but I don’t really, it’s so complicated and manifold that it’s going to require a bit more thought, but the fact that it’s complicated doesn’t mean I should stop thinking about it, or that you should. It is unlikely that anyone who benefits from this system will find a solution for it. The changes are going to come from you and me, from normal people who have a desire for change, who don’t want to keep seeing politicians and the media lying constantly.
It doesn’t matter that this or any problem is huge and seemingly impossible to solve, they can all be solved, but we all need to demand the change and demand the systems and policies we desire. We have people like Zac Goldsmith campaigning for parliamentary recall[ref]http://www.zacgoldsmith.com/category/recall/[/ref] (unfortunately defeated in the commons) , but we have to do our bit, otherwise we will never get real change, just facsimiles of the same unfair corrupt bullshit we’ve got now, but with a shiny veneer on them.by