By Guy Brandon, 29 April 2015
The saying, attributed by Mark Twain to 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (falsely, appropriately enough), goes that there are ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’. Being economical with the truth is nothing new for politicians, but even Twain might have raised an eyebrow at some of the positioning that’s going on now, just eight days away from what promises to be the messiest General Election in a century.
As we career closer to the finish line, it seems that the parties are struggling to outdo themselves with more and more outlandish promises. That there will be no increase in income tax, VAT or national insurance before 2020 (something that surely relies on the economy remaining relatively stable for that time). That energy bills will be capped (which depends on the price of oil remaining the same, amongst other things). That both Labour and the Conservatives really can win a majority, despite the fact that the polls have barely moved in months and both the major parties look set to lose seats.
One of the reasons it’s easy to make policy promises is that no one will need to keep them. A coalition or minority government of some form is practically a certainty, so any flagship policies stand to be diluted or forgotten in the course of the negotiations that will inevitably follow the election. Yet even here, parties are swearing – unconvincingly – that they will not work with each other. The SNP say they will ‘lock David Cameron out of Downing Street’ by voting down a confidence vote in the event of a Conservative win, but Labour say they are ruling out any kind of deal with the SNP too. The Lib Dems will happily work with either Labour or the Conservatives, but say they will not be a part of any government that includes UKIP or the SNP. Clearly, if all of these hold to their word, there is very little chance of a stable government of any form.
On May 8th, barring a sea change in the polls that have remained static since before the beginning of the year, someone is practically guaranteed to have to swallow their words and back down – doing what they have promised before the electorate not to do.
One of the reasons for the fragmentation of the political landscape over the past 10 years has been widespread disillusionment over the lies and spin of mainstream politics, leading to the rise of the protest vote. To reference another famous quote – this one, falsely attributed to Einstein, ‘You don’t solve a problem by using the same thinking that got you into it.’
Or, as the Bible says, ‘nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light’ (Luke 8:17) and ‘Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, “Yes, yes” or “No, no”; anything beyond these is of evil.’ (Matthew 5:36-37).