This is the first in a series of posts attempting to answer questions and comments put to me by family and friends around the General Election.
I’m a member of the Liberal Democrats, so obviously I have some political bias. But one of my main principles is a commitment to democracy and the idea that voters should have access to as much information as they want in order to make better decisions.
Crucially, that information needs to be accurate and political parties need to be transparent, if we are going to get results that accurately reflects the will of the people. It’s a shame that much of the activity at election time – from most, if not all, of the parties – aims to obscure rather than clarify the facts, confusing people with claim and counter-claim.
Anyway, the objective here is to answer the questions as openly and neutrally as possible – my political bias having been declared.
The first question is:
If I want to find out about all the issues that policies relate to (e.g. free market, inheritance tax, etc), where are the best places to do that?
This is one that comes up a lot. What tends to happen at election time is that even media outlets become more partisan. We’ve already seen this, for example, in the way the Tory press has been attacking Ed Miliband, but you can also see it in the way that different papers cover the same poll, or the attention given to different policy announcements.
As a political consultant this is something I have to work hard to do. Much of my job is interpreting the grey areas left by policy announcements, or sifting through the commentary to find the nuggets of real interest. I appreciate that most people don’t have the time to do the same. So here are some simple tips:
- Go to the original source. If a policy is being announced, it will be “spun” by different media outlets to emphasise different things. The best way to avoid this is to read the original announcement. Usually that will mean finding the relevant press release on a party’s website. (Unfortunately, political parties also put spin on things – so you still have to be wary. But at least you know there’s only one layer of spin to cut through now.)
- If that’s too much effort, then reading different stories on the same policy will help you to get a sense of how it’s being interpreted to fit other people’s agendas.
- If that’s still too much effort, then I’d recommend finding a good, relatively neutral policy guide. Generally speaking, the BBC is pretty good at avoiding spin, and their policy guide is as comprehensive as any out there.
- There are also some good, relatively neutral organisations dedicated to fact-checking statements and claims by politicians. Two particularly good ones are Full Fact and Channel 4’s FactCheck Blog. These often move rapidly with the news agenda, meaning that they will often respond well to current stories and help you unpick things.
Hopefully that’s helpful – but feel free to continue the debate in the comments!