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Opinion

Stop the lies and restore honesty to political communication

04 Sep 2023 7 minute read
A recent post by Andrew RT Davies to X (previously Twitter)

Martin Shipton

I’m thinking that it might be time to resurrect an idea first mooted by Adam Price 16 years ago when he was an MP at Westminster.

In 2007 he published a draft Bill to make it a criminal offence for politicians to lie.

At the time he wanted a provision that would have seen elected politicians in the European, Westminster and devolved parliaments face prosecution if they knowingly misled the public.

The proposal, needless to say, got nowhere. One objection could have been that there were insufficient prison cells available to accommodate all those likely to be convicted.

But although there would clearly be practical difficulties in enforcing such a law, Mr Price’s idea has considerable resonance today in a nation and a state that have been lied to with impunity on so many occasions.

He had, of course, been the leading figure in an attempt to get Tony Blair impeached for making the UK join the US in invading Iraq. Parliament went along with the invasion after being told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but that wasn’t true.

One estimate suggested that between 2003 and 2011 there were 460,000 deaths in Iraq as a direct or indirect result of the war, including more than 60% of the deaths directly attributable to violence. That’s a lot of lives lost as a result of political misinformation.

When Mr Price resurrected the idea of criminalising lies told by politicians in 2019, he said: “Over half a century ago we made it illegal for companies to lie to us with the Trade Descriptions Act. Sadly, it looks like now we need the same principle to apply to politicians.

“Honesty is the most important currency in politics. We have to restore it, before we bankrupt our whole society. People have lost faith in our politics, and we have a duty to restore it before it’s too late.

“It’s depressing that it has come to this, but if we need a law to stop politicians from lying then that is what should be in place.

“I proposed a similar draft law over 10 years ago, when the lies that led to the dreadful Iraq war were surfacing.

“Our politics, once again, faces a crisis of confidence thanks to the fake news, fake views and fake figures that have been peddled, particularly by the main two Westminster parties.”

Boris Johnson

Once again, of course, the idea mooted by Mr Price got nowhere. He’d proposed the law for the second time when Boris Johnson was at the height of his popularity, having peddled lies about the wonderful economic future Britain faced after Brexit. The lies about lockdown parties in Downing Street were still to come.

Since Johnson was unceremoniously bundled out of office, there’s been a big increase in the number of people saying that Brexit was a mistake. But there’s little chance of our returning to the EU – or even the single market – any time soon, especially after Sir Keir Starmer’s assertion that a Labour government will “make Brexit work” – another lie.

Here in Wales we have, in Andrew RT Davies, a leader of the Conservative Senedd group who stood by his hero Johnson right to the bitter end.  A prolific user of what used to be known as Twitter, Mr Davies is not averse to spreading mischief via the channel.

Not content with hyperbolic claims that the introduction of a modest tourism tax would wreck the industry in Wales, Mr Davies has been making multiple and regular posts about a claim that at the very least represents a gross distortion of the truth. In one of the tweets a few days ago, he wrote: “Probably a good time to remind everyone that Labour want to pay illegal immigrants £1,600 a month.”

Any unsuspecting reader might be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that every “illegal immigrant” that Keir Starmer or Mark Drakeford could track down and capture would be handed £1,600 a month from the Welsh Government’s depleted budget with no questions asked, perhaps even using money originally earmarked for the Children’s Hospital for Wales.

The fact of course is that £1,600 a month is being given as part of a pilot project to every young person leaving care, a tiny proportion of whom could conceivably be young asylum seekers who had been unaccompanied when entering the UK.

I am far from alone in believing that Mr Davies’ tweets are an example of Johnsonian-style messaging, designed to deceive.

Maybe the Tory Senedd group is running masterclasses in such an approach, for it seems that Mr Davies is not the only Conservative MS using such a modus operandi.

Leaflet

A Labour councillor has drawn my attention to a recent leaflet distributed in his North Wales region by Tory MS Sam Rowlands. Because it was dressed up as a survey to seek residents’ views on a number of issues, its cost was met by the Senedd. Those returning completed surveys by post could do so in an unstamped envelope, again at the expense of the Senedd.

As the survey questions are read, it quickly becomes apparent that this is not some disinterested exercise aimed at informing Mr Rowlands in his role as a public representative, but a vehicle to push anti-Welsh Government messages. As a politician, he has an absolute right to do that, of course, but in my view the cost of the leaflet should have been met by the Conservative Party, not the Senedd.

The survey poses eight questions, but provides no context or explanation about the policies mentioned:

* Do you support the Welsh Government’s decision to cancel all new road building and upgrade projects in our area?

The Welsh Government insists it has not imposed a total ban on all road projects.

* Do you support the Welsh Government’s new, blanket 20mph speed limit?

Not every road has a 20mph speed limit and local authorities have the power to make local variations.

* Are you concerned about a lack of affordable housing around Deeside?

Few would say no, but what is Mr Rowlands’, and the Conservative Party’s, solution?

* Do you support the Welsh Government’s decision to make Wales a Nation of Sanctuary and welcome unlimited numbers of asylum seekers?

This implies that the Welsh Government has powers over immigration, when the issue is non-devolved. Asylum seekers are dispersed around the UK by the Home Office.

* On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is very dissatisfied and 10 is very satisfied, how satisfied are you with Welsh NHS services?

Predictable

Given the troubles of Betsi Cadwaladr health board, the response is predictable. But what is Mr Rowlands’ prescription for improvements?

* Do you agree with plans to increase the number of Welsh Parliament members from 60 to 96, at a cost of £100m?

The figure of £100m appears to have been plucked out of the air. In September 2020 the Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform published estimates about the additional costs of extra Senedd Members. An additional 30 Members would cost in a typical non-election year between £10.387m and £11.682m, and in a typical election year between £11.672m and £12.905m.

* Do you agree with Welsh Government plans to increase the cost of meal deals?

No mention is made about the rationale for the policy on health grounds.

The eighth question is an unexceptionable one seeking residents’ views on which three of the Welsh government’s responsibilities should be prioritised. It would, however, have been helpful if details of current departmental spending budgets had been provided.

Spurious surveys of this kind are no more than a crude attempt at propaganda, do not help to inform the public and are a waste of public money. They amount to misrepresentation.

Will they continue to be produced? Almost certainly yes.

Measured against the monumental deception in play at the time of the Iraq invasion and Johnson’s lies over Brexit and during the pandemic, Sam Rowlands’ leaflet may appear as small fry. But it somehow symbolises the way in which political discourse has been trashed.

Things won’t get better until there’s a wholesale and genuine return to honest political communication.


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Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
7 months ago

A wonderful article exposing yet more Tory filth. If they are allowed to waste OUR public money on THEIR propaganda, the rules must be changed. I heard someone only recently recycling the £1600 a month to illegal immigrants lie with no understanding whatsoever of what the scheme was about. Why is it that Tory misinformation hogs the entire stage whilst the truth remains bound and gagged in the dressing room?

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
7 months ago

Things won’t get better until there’s a wholesale and genuine return to honest political communication.

That would require a large-scale medical intervention – the implanting of integrity in a large swathe of the political class.

Windy
Windy
7 months ago

Before a person gives evidence in a court of law they must take an oath to tell the truth and the whole truth, the most important part of that oath is “THE WHOLE TRUTH” it is this that politicians seem to ignore they occasionally tell the truth but not the WHOLE truth, only the parts that they want you to hear, they intentionally mislead it’s about time this was stamped out by making it a criminal offence and should carry a substantial prison sentence, we frown on other countries using this type of propaganda but we allow it to be… Read more »

Llyn
Llyn
7 months ago

Sadly the Welsh Tory party is these days a Trumpian far-right/right-wing culture war obsessed post truth cult with no moral compass.

karl
karl
7 months ago

But its not just polticians. The fact the press fails to pull them up on blatant lies is worse. There is no scrutiny going on. We need the polticians to stop the lies and the press to have honour also. The two go hand in hand for me.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
7 months ago

Anti-Welsh Self-hater Andrew RT Davies like Welsh Secretary David TC Davies before him are despicable xenophobes & racists who fan the flames of hatred towards asylum seekers & minorities for political gain now pick on the most innocient victims , their children. You disgust me!

huwevo
huwevo
7 months ago

I entirely agree with Martin’s analysis. But it does not help that at the foot of the page it states that Nation.Cymru is ‘sponsored by Welsh Government’. I have no doubt that the support has not influenced Martin’s take on things but not everyone will share that view. Public funding for public interest journalism is essential but the source of that support needs to be independent.
 

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
6 months ago
Reply to  huwevo

Not necessarily. The Nordic countries pursue some interesting policies along these lines: https://www.nordicom.gu.se/en/facts-analysis/nordic/factsheets/direct-media-subsidies-news-media-nordic-overview

At present, as far as I am aware, NC is the only news organisation to receive a government subsidy, without which it would no doubt struggle. So long as any such schemes are transparent and used for the express purpose of maintaining a diverse news media that is capable of holding government and politicians to account, then I don’t see any issue with it being direct government subsidy.

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
7 months ago

A return to honest political communications? When were these halcyon days when politicians were honest?

adopted cardi
adopted cardi
6 months ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

with Corbyn, not so long ago.

Glen
Glen
7 months ago

Both the Scottish and European referendums were nothing more than lying competitions, with the side prepared to tell the biggest lies winning,

Rob
Rob
7 months ago

Ironic that Mr Shipton should use an editorial about lies in public life to perpetuate the logical fallacy that Blair lied to get the UK in the Gulf War in which 460,000 died, therefore 460,000 died because Blair lied.

Silence!
Silence!
7 months ago

You may as well try and stop the tide. No politicians are honest. There are just variations in the degree to which they lie.
We don’t need honesty in politicians. We need them gone

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