openDemocracyUK

Do voters deserve to be misled by their politicians? Full Fact is aimed at us as well as them.

A new project aims to fact-check the media and politicians so voters can make up their own minds.
Patrick Casey
24 June 2010

This is a point implied by Stephen Glover’s Daily Mail column today.

With a budget containing tax rises Lib Dem and Tory voters didn’t sign up for, and deficit cutting on a scale unannounced pre-election, should we be asking ourselves why politicians feel compelled to such apparently misleading actions?

Though laying more of the blame on the politicians, Glover suggests that voters may have deluded themselves as much as being misled by their political leaders. Unable to accept the need for cuts or tax rises, we would have deserted any party who dared to be fiscally forthright.

He argues: “Maybe they treat us like children because we act like children. We have to be protected from ourselves.  We can’t face the whole truth. No doubt we should accept our share of the blame."
Likewise, the necessity of compromise has seen both parties of Government jettisoning commitments to voters.

So we are left with two problems potentially undermining the quality of our democracy.  A political class who feel unable to give it to the voters straight, and a Government whose programme for government was not put to the voters.

In the coming months Full Fact, a new not-for-profit organisation will be campaigning for solutions to these issues.

No doubt there are pollsters and political strategists who agree that when it comes to the facts, voters act, and deserve to be treated, like children. Full Fact rejects this council of despair.

Rather, we believe that than while the medicine may be hard to swallow it will always do more good than the sugar.

This required pressing for more information from our politicians, and the media who interpret and communicate their message to the public. It also means checking that the information provided, and the surrounding arguments, are accurate.   That is why we have been fact-checking claims on a daily basis since our website launched.

But keeping the politicians in the coalition to their word poses other problems.

The policy transplants, skin grafts and amputations achieved by the coalition’s near-chimerical programme for Government, have left an agenda which no-one directly backed, but in which Conservative and Lib Dem voters have a stake.

The only pledges the coalition has made to the public are in this document. But come the next election, the component parties will again campaign on separate agendas despite their shared record – leaving no one in to bat for the coalition programme.

Nevertheless it can be argued the coalition still has a democratic duty to deliver on the pledges within that document. 

That is why Full Fact will soon be launching a web-based pledge tracker to enable voters to check, and update progress on all the coalition’s promises.

By crowdsourcing the process, the public will have the ability to hold the current Government to account for pledges neither party will ultimately defend in their entirety in five years time.

While the Lib Dems and Tories may have gone against some of their own pre-election pledges, there will be no excuses for the coalition.

If these fact-checking and pledge-tracking campaigns are a success, there will be little room for the kind of justifications suggested by Stephen Glover for treating voters like children when it comes to the truth.

Patrick Casey is a researcher with fullfact.org.

Trade deals, Brexit and disaster capitalism

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Nick Dearden Director of Global Justice Now and author of 'Trade Secrets: The Truth about the US Trade Deal and How We Can Stop It'

Caroline Molloy Editor of openDemocracyUK and ourNHS

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