As parties and candidates start their campaigns for June’s general election, there are many things that I could beg for, but top of my list is that they tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The Brexit bus is an example of what happens when these principles are not upheld. This broke all of those truth rules. It was an inaccurate figure, to start with. It was also presented without context. And it was tied to a statement that turned out to be a lie. Whether this was idealism or wilful manipulation is the subject of much debate, and this specific case is not really something that concerns me right now; that ship has sailed. But the principles behind it are still pertinent.
My case study for today is state education. On one side, education unions are telling us that schools are in crisis, due to underfunding and teacher shortages. The government’s rebuttal to the unions’ arguments is straightforward and based on facts: that more graduates are entering the profession, and that more money is being spent on education than ever before. Using these facts makes the unions appear to be lying. Facts are by definition true, after all. But it is not the complete truth.
What the government’s rebuttal fails to include is reference to teachers leaving the profession, and rising costs. If more teachers leave than enter the profession, the total goes down. It’s not rocket science. And more money might be spent on education, but that doesn’t factor in rising costs of national insurance and pension contributions, the apprentice levy, changes to teachers’ pay scales, increasing costs for technology, and most crucially, the way that the government’s pet education project, free schools, hoovers up more cash in start up costs. The people in control of schools’ budgets are telling the government, desperately, that they do not have enough money to keep going as they are. Staff are being made redundant, courses are being cut, class sizes are increasing. This is the news from the front line. And yet, the government sticks to its line: more money is being spent on education than ever before.
A fact without context has limited value. So why keep deploying it as their standard rebuttal? Is it denial? Ignorance? Or just spin? To me, it seems like just another way to dismiss unions’ and headteachers’ concerns, to paint them as liars, undermine the teaching profession, and manipulate the information to present a favourable narrative. This has to stop.
When a complex issue is reduced to a trite sound bite, it does a disservice to voters. It is an egregious dumbing down, and a patronising assumption that voters can’t handle the truth. It reeks of a weak position that cannot be defended with the complete truth.
I feel the same way about political manifestos filled with empty buzzwords, which rely on emotive appeal rather than providing anything concrete. All parties should tell the complete truth in their promotional materials. If they don’t – well, they either seem ignorant and naive, or as if they are assuming that people wouldn’t vote for them if they knew the truth. So which is it? If you think no-one would vote for you if you told them what you were planning to do, either change your policies to make them more appealing, or give voters the chance to make decisions honestly. But covering them up with spin is a trick, an attempt to dupe voters into taking your side. It is a perversion of democracy. We should be above this.
Let’s make this an honest election. Give the electorate some credit and present material that allows us all to make informed choices. The old party lines have blurred; there is less of a tendency to vote for one’s ‘tribe’ any more. Traditional demographics can’t just be relied on any more. But we do not need to be duped. Besides, after the last few years, I’d wager that we are all a fairly cynical bunch, so it might not work any more…
So, current and prospective MPs: earn your votes with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or it will be a hollow victory for whoever happens to win, and the divisions of this nation will continue to fester. If you don’t trust me on this, perhaps you’ll trust Gandhi: “Truth never damages a cause that is just”.