When the British people get a rare opportunity to play “democracy” on anything as significant as the EU Referendum, we should be able to rely on truth and factual accuracy in order to make an informed choice. Sadly, that is not the case in British Politics, which is driven more by populist media than cogent argument. It was only well after the referendum that we finally had the admissions:
“No we won’t get £350m a week for the NHS.”
“No, Brexit will not allow us to curb immigration.”
“Sorry, I forgot to mention we always have had sovereignty”
UK immigration law is a very complex and ever-changing area of law. It’s also really expensive, especially for non-EU/EEA visitors and workers – who make up more of the net migration figures than our EU counterparts. Nevertheless, immigration was at the forefront of many people’s minds, and was placed there increasingly by the “Leave” campaign. The public were led by claims that immigration was severely affecting access to housing, education and jobs. Moreover, it was migrant workers and UK employers who were blamed for driving down pay for UK unskilled workers by as much as 10%.
Well, anyone would be naturally worried about that. And threatened. Which is exactly how scapegoating works – and exactly why people like Nigel Farage enjoyed standing in front of a Nazi-stylised poster to drive home the point.
When “Democracy” becomes “De-MOCK-racy”
Sir Stephen Nickell carried out a study in 2015 into the effects of immigration on the pay rates of UK nationals in unskilled jobs. His research concluded that the resultant difference in pay was negligible, and in fact as low as 1%. Furthermore, this difference was spread over an eight year period.
That 1% figure not the same as the 10% that was repeatedly quoted by the Leave campaign “significant misunderstanding.” Even worse, Sir Stephen was “not allowed to get cross” about the misinterpretation. He was effectively silenced from correcting people who made such misinterpretations.
If someone lied about something I had written and deliberately represented me, my work, or used my work in a “misunderstood” manner, I would have recourse to take action. I might be able to use Intellectual Property law (copyright), or possibly even defamation law to pursue damages. But what action can be taken against government officials – allegedly in a democracy – who clearly lied to the public as part of a democratic process in order to influence the vote?
Sadly, it is clear that it is an accepted practise to lie to the electorate, and not enough of the population are annoyed enough about the fact that no-one seems to hold the politicians truly to account. That’s what makes it a mockery of our democracy: a de-mock-racy.
How to Hold the Politicians to Account
The people are in the best position to hold politicians to account, but they simply never do. The people – or the electorate of the people – could take more care over their vote and better inform themselves. But how can they better inform themselves if the information being put out to the public is effectively falsified, or at the very least, badly misunderstood? What can happen if after an election it becomes clear that manifesto claims were untrue?
In transactions, we have statutory rights that protect us from products and services being other than described. We can get a refund. The perpetrator might have to face legal action – especially if they have broken the law, and even more so if they repeat the offence.
But if we all we get is a single vote and have no way of changing it once we find out the truth – which is what happened in this case – how can we hope to be “well informed” enough to actively participate in our democracy?
Isn’t it time we made politicians legally accountable for the claims they make in manifestos and campaigns? Should we not insist that an independent fact-check is made? We could insist that laws about factual accuracy are created and adhered to…
…but we all know who makes the laws, and changes them when they just don’t fit with their agenda. Cast your mind back to the way that Theresa May tried to circumvent UK law and trigger Article 50 without a Commons vote.
There is no easy answer to the problem of a dirty democracy, where lies are told and the voters’ voice becomes entirely devalued by deliberate acts of misinformation.
We should expect better. We should demand better.
And the only way we will ever get it is by having a system that requires ministers – and especially cabinet ministers – to be qualified to do their job. That way, they might not need to use dirty democracy, and so they will have less need – or temptation -to resort to lying.
After all, in a democracy it should be what the people want, and not just the politicians trying to extend their unqualified privileges.
You might also be interested in our previous post: Brexit Timescale Tripped up by Cheap Rhetoric.