“Part of him was beginning to understand that his readers might have a very relaxed attitude about the guilt of politicians but were red hot on things like the size of the weather”
These were the musings of William de Worde as he set out reporting for The Times in Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Truth’. Fiction is very good at throwing a light on the direction of our society or as Pratchett would put it:
” Sometimes a fantasy author has to point out the strangeness of reality.”
I was raised in a home where the BBC was seen as the number one (literally) tv station of choice and very rarely did the channel change, certainly not for the news. The BBC news was seen as reliable, not always unbiased but pretty much the fairest you could get. Certainly as far as its reporters, journalists and news readers were concerned as ‘to be believed‘. Over the years that faith in the state broadcaster has been eroded and this process has accelerated from the Scottish referendum in 2014, General Election 2015, Scottish Election 2016, EU Referendum 2016, local elections 2017 and now it has reached fever pitch with the General Election 2017.
Helping them out with their answers, pushing their propaganda for them by not questioning them on either their policies or their past record is slowly eating away at our democratic process. People who once went to the BBC for their news no longer do so. Young people especially tend to get their news online from a variety of sources. Holding politicians to account is a crucial role for journalists. It is also the responsiblity of the electorate.
But this is not about the complicit role BBC News and the Main Stream Media has had in pushing a one vision fits all austerity agenda for the UK. This column is about our role in the electoral process: We The People.
I have been reading Al Franken’s book ‘Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them‘: it is solely about American politics and because of that I struggled with some of the references but the tactics used in US Presidential Elections have crossed the Atlantic.
“this book brings to a new level the politics of personal destruction that have come to define our era.”
It does just that – it documents and cross references meticulously how smears, misinformation, and down right blatant lies have been used very successfully with a Murdoch dominated media machine to massage public opinion. Push polling, which has made an appearance in the UK is ‘a sneaky way to spread lies about your opponent whilst appearing to keep your own hands clean.’ Push polling is where an elector is posed a question by an independent polling agent who says they are wishing to gather information. But they are neither gathering information nor are they independent. What they will do will be to frame a question in such a way as to perpetuate a smear against a particular politician.
Then are any polls reliable anymore? What is their purpose? Is it to sway public opinion as in ‘there’s no point voting for them because they will not win’? Is a poll of 1000 people who have landlines and are indoors during the short summer months in the UK any reliable account of current public opinion? And despite their astonishing failures to predict results over the last few years they have remained as a source of ‘facts’ and their ‘facts’ spread over TV, radio, Newspapers and online often being treated with a reverence that they no longer deserve (if they ever did).
Entering into political language over the last few years is the macho verbiage of conflict. All the political parties apparently are claiming to be ‘stronger’ for us. And while they do so it is our democracy which is weakening. Claiming the 2014 Scottish referendum where more people than ever in Scotland became engaged in politics and openly discussed the issues around a self governing small nation as divisive is a disgraceful statement for any politician to make. No one got killed during that Referendum. Just a lot of discussions some of them more heated than others – but discussions about the future direction of your country.
Contrast that with the EU Ref where the language of hate was stoked up by little generals keen on ‘making history’ – well they did just that with the murder of the MP Jo Cox as she went about her normal business of dealing with local community issues.
Violence has entered our electoral process with the tragedies of Manchester and London taking innocent lives from their families, from us. UK Government arms deals with Saudi Arabia, facilitating drone attacks in Libya and Syria, the appalling instablity in Afghanistan where a few days ago 90 people were killed when a massive car bomb went off – our hands are not just dirty, they are blood red filthy. And the response by the UK Government is to prevent those fleeing violence in their own countries to find sanctuary in ours and to seek ways to censor the internet. The public’s only way to find sources of information other than from the state.
At a more local level I would ask you to read the leaflets that come through your door and do so with a critical eye. Out of the 5 political parties standing in Orkney and Shetland 4 of them are standing against independence and it fills their leaflets. The SNP leaflet, rather disingenuously considering what the main aim of that party is, does not mention it at all. How bizarre. The 4 parties: Liberal Democrats, Labour, Conservatives and UKIP who do go on about stopping an independence referendum seem to be ignoring the vote in the Scottish Parliament which voted in favour of such a referendum taking place. Maybe they do not accept the legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament only elected a year ago and by proportional representation. And then there’s the SNP leaflet with no mention at all of independence, their founding aim.
All the leaflets claim things they cannot do. This is a General Election so all those claiming to improve Scottish Education, the Health Service or getting rid of the council tax – all that is rubbish as those are devolved matters and who we vote for in Orkney and Shetland will have no competency over those issues.
What is missing? Any real discussion of Brexit which this snap General Election was supposed to be all about and which will have a massive effect on Orkney and Shetland. The Liberal Democrats don’t even discuss Brexit they just want another referendum on exiting the EU – a referendum that was truly divisive stirring up hatred towards those who have chosen to make the UK their home. And after their sell out to the Tories in the coalition Government of Cameron and Clegg what can we believe if anything of the promises they are making.
I haven’t mentioned the dodgy graphs on both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaflets. They are simply ridiculous.
The decision is yours and yours alone. We do get the politicians we deserve if we don’t engage, if we don’t question, and if we don’t look with a critical eye at the promises they make and the language and tactics they use. Your vote is the most powerful weapon available. It was hard won. Don’t disregard its strength.
As Al Franken says:
“We have to be more vigilant. We have to fight back. We have to expose those who bear false witness for the fake witness bearers that they are. And we have to do it in a straight forward, plainspoken way. Let’s call them what they are: liars, Lying, lying liars.”
Or as Terry Pratchett would say:
” the truth has got its boots on…It’s going to start kicking.”
Opinion Piece by Fiona Grahame (The views are entirely my own.)