I’ve been thinking a lot about this election. About my decision on who to vote for. Whether to tactical vote or not.
A lot of that thought has been about why I’ll vote the way I’m going to. Specifically, why do I think the things I think, and make the decisions I make.
I’ve had this conversation with a number of people. Not even about being educated in politics, rather being smart about the information to which you pay attention. We live in an age where political parties have no issue with straight up lying to the public - whether that’s making campaign claims on the side of a bus, or whether its changing the handle of your press team’s Twitter account to pretend that you’re an independent fact checker.
It’s easy to feel as though there is no point in paying attention to anyone.
The way I see it, that’s a monumental problem. It makes your default position your only position; one based on old ideas, assumptions, and prejudices. It’s the kind of thinking that means you believe Labour are the party for the poor - despite their leader having consistently voted against allowing local councils to support those who are unable to pay their income tax. Or that the Tories are the party for economic stability, despite *gestures wildly at everything*. (But no, seriously - we are in one of the most damaging periods of austerity in history, two-thirds of the children living in poverty in the UK are in working families, and the Trusell Trust reports that the number of food parcels issued in 2016/17 at 1.2 million, up from just 42,000 in 2010.)
Yes, we might live in an age where it’s easier to be fed bad information. But that’s only because we live in an age where it’s easier to do literally anything.
I don’t think this is an excuse. I don’t think that the fact that the Conservative party can straight up lie about the number of starter homes they have built is any reason for you as a person with an internet connection and a brain to not know that there is an actual answer to that question.
Screen grab from the National Audit Office’s Investigation Into Starter Homes
Zero. The answer is zero of the 200,000 starter homes promised by the government in their 2015 manifesto have been delivered. And that is not something that I know because a left-wing voice box yelled it on Twitter. It’s a fact I know because I saw it on several different sources, who themselves are reporting on information from the National Audit Office - which incidentally you can read for yourself here.
Yes we are all busy. And yes most politicians lie to us most of the time. But they have failed us, and so we need to be better than them. We need to educate ourselves and think critically about the information we are being spoon-fed. We get such a tiny amount of influence on the way this country is run. Don’t let your influence be blind.
I don’t believe that it is good enough to simply parrot back things that your party’s press team is spewing. It’s not good enough to sit in the pub and have a debate, without once trying to verify what you’re talking about. Statements like “Labour ran this economy into the ground” or “The Tories are thinking realistically about the future of the NHS” are meaningless unless they can be backed up with evidence.
I’m not saying there is a right or a wrong way to vote in this coming election. As a matter of fact I don’t care who you vote for. Your decision is your prerogative as a citizen - you should be allowed to vote for whomever you believe will look after you and yours.
But I also believe that you need to understand the power that comes with your decision. I believe you should understand that the reasoning behind your decision is different from everyone else’s - and you should understand that reasoning. You need to know that a vote for your party is going to negatively impact the people who would vote for other parties in one or multiple ways. You have a duty to understand the effect you are going to have, and make your peace with that. If you are going to take a stand and do something as important as cast a vote in a democratic election, you need to appreciate what that means. That is the price of democracy.
With all this in mind, I’ve made a pledge to myself. I will not make statements in a discussion or debate - whether that’s online, in a blog, or on a WhatsApp thread - unless I can verify that claim via two different and independent sources. For me, it forces a real consideration of the point that I’m making - even to the level of questioning whether this thing that I “know” is actually a position I want to hold.
It’s not a pledge that is going to change the world, but it is a decision that I think is important.
It’s all well and good saying that people need to be sensible and make decisions based on good information. But part of the problem is that it’s difficult to find what that is. When the mainstream media overwhelmingly appear to favour the incumbent institution, how can you ensure that you’re getting more fact than media spin?
There are a lot of great resources out there, independent of mainstream media and political affiliation. Organisations like Full Fact aim to provide independent reviews of statements made by politicians. In a similar vein is Reality Check from the BBC (though of course whether the BBC counts as an “independent” source of information is a question that you should be asking yourself).
You might also find They Work For You interesting. They provide an easy way to find out how MPs voted across all Parliamentary proceedings. Particularly as the election draws nearer, it is sometime enlightening to understand how various incumbent’s statements and promises match up with their voting history.
If you’re on Twitter, you might want to give Simple Politics a follow. They aim to give non-bias coverage and commentary on current political affairs. Do take note of their pinned tweet though.
I don’t have all the answers - and in any case, if you haven’t read this and asked yourself “who the hell is this guy to tell me what to think anyway”, then you haven’t been listening. I’m just a guy with an opinion and an internet connection.
All that aside, the facts and statistics are only half the story. You can do all the research you want, from all the sources at your disposal, make your decision based on all of that, and you will have done your civic duty admirably. But it’s only part of the picture.
There are people behind those numbers. Real stories with real outcomes. Do you have the capacity to care about each one of the 67 million people, in this country alone, that this election is going to impact? Of course not. You’d go mad trying.
I guess my point is, for all the preceding 1,300 words on the importance of getting good information, make sure you remember that there are real people behind them all.
And if you’re reading this on or before the 26th November, please don’t forget to register to vote.