Checking out fact checking!
Fact-checking sites have recently become a part of our political culture. They are to be welcomed. They scrutinize the words – spoken or written - of politicians to test the accuracy of any factual or statistical claims. The Conservative Party has recently come under severe criticism and official censure for misleading readers over what claimed to be a neutral fact-checking site. It was in fact a piece of Conservative electioneering.
Perhaps the most notorious ‘fact’ which has been ‘checked’ was the claim made during the Brexit referendum that leaving the EU would allow us to redirect an extra £350 million a week into the NHS. It was a blatant lie. So too the claim that tens of millions of people from Turkey would be flooding into our country when it became an EU member. At present Turkey would not accept an invitation even if it were proffered. To be fair, ‘Project Fear’ was working across the political spectrum.
Fact-checking can be a healthy addition to our political landscape. But it is not enough. When voters go to the polls in the UK on December 12, they will not make their cross simply according to the checked facts. Other factors will be in play. Doubtless, political operatives will be working on our algorithms seeking to manipulate our thoughts. The personality and perceived trustworthiness of the national party leaders will be a major factor. The commitment of the local MP to his/ her community will figure. Traditional family loyalties will count for something. Tactical voting will probably be more important than ever.
But there are also what I might call the ‘algorithms of the heart’. Instincts, intuitions, hopes, loyalties, anger, a loss of a sense of community, envy – and more - will also play their part. Allegiances are changing. Some high-profile politicians have announced that they will change the habit of a lifetime and vote on this occasion for another party. Many of us will have a ‘gut feeling’ about casting our vote. Some will be voting in line with their ‘guts’, opting sometimes uncomfortably. For many of us none of the options are perfect.
This should not surprise us. In all the significant areas of human activity, it was ever so. In matters of morality, art, religion, there are no ‘facts’ which can be objectively checked so that the truth stares us in the face. In much of life we have to opt. Opting may be a bit different from ‘choosing’ which implies a cool, rational approach to a decision. Opting is more instinctive.
In the 2019 election in the UK – and in any election anywhere, anytime – check the facts by all means. Check all the promises of a better life. But check also your heart. Poverty, justice, community, peace, environment – how can we best approach the desperate need around us? On the urgent need all around us all are agreed. Fact. Checked.