Illustration by Hannah Robinson
This general election is taking place at crunch time for some of the most important issues of this century. It is fitting that it falls in the final month of this decade, as we face critical junctures in so many key areas that have been affected by government policies over said past decade. Between the crisis in our underfunded and understaffed NHS, the entire Brexit debacle, and the high noon that we face on the climate crisis, this election is shaping up to be one of the most important elections of our lifetimes.
Yet the current political climate does not foster the grounds for good quality, factual debates. The dichotomy of referenda creates a divisive political culture in which outcomes are viewed as solely a binary choice. Despite the two-party system that we operate through, perpetuated by the first past the post voting system that I considered in my last column, there are always more than two potential solutions to the problems we face.
However, the election that we are now amidst is not building or supporting empirical discussion. As Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon argued “evidence-based arguments have somehow stopped being important in political campaigns and in public discourse”. In so many instances the arguments that are being presented in this election are not truthful.
Take for example the Conservative party’s manifesto promise of 50,000 more nurses for the NHS. Commentators from across the political spectrum have highlighted the untruth in this claim; Piers Morgan called the policy “all smoke and mirrors” and the Guardian editorial have condemned this as a “duplicitous claim”. The figure of 50,000 more nurses is actually only 31,500 nurses as it included 18,500 nurses who are already employed in the NHS whom the Tory party claims it will seek to retain.
Trust in politicians and the political systems is at an all-time low. Fabrication of the figures behind policies is a massive contribution to this. In one of the most recent televised leaders’ debates, a question was posed about whether or not the public could trust both Johnson and Corbyn, and the audience laughed at the Prime Minister’s suggestion that they could. Trust is shaping up to be one of the key themes of this election.
During this debate, the Conservative party press office rebranded their twitter page as “fact checker UK”; this was a deliberate and calculated attempt to mislead the public. Social media poses a great number of threats to our political system due to the ability it has to spread false information and lies.
‘The Great Hack’ is a Netflix documentary that exposes the Cambridge Analytica scandal that involved use of social media advertising to deliberately target and mislead specific individuals during elections; most crucially in the 2016 US presidential election and the 2016 UK Brexit referendum. The documentary highlights the shrinking ground between political consultancy so as to assist electoral campaigns, and utilising platforms so as to deliberately mislead the public.
Debate must comprise of facts and evidence. Without empirical debate we cannot have an informed electorate, and this threatens the very nature of our political system. This election falls at a critical point in our political debate; without truth we can have no democracy.