General election: Why you must now fact-check everything, including this column – Ayesha Hazarika

Chancellor Sajid Javid is supposed to be one of the saner politicians (Picture: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
Chancellor Sajid Javid is supposed to be one of the saner politicians (Picture: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
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The scale of deceit, manipulation and downright lies from all political parties is now so huge that voters shouldn’t take any claim at face value, writes Ayesha Hazarika.

‘Lies, damned lies and statistics” – there is no phrase which better sums up the state of British politics.

The origin of the saying, rather appropriately, was the subject of fake news. Mark Twain made it popular in America but mistakenly attributed it to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Apparently it originally came from an anonymous writer. At least that’s what it said on the internet, so it must be true, right?

Political spin and misinformation are nothing new, but if feels like the balance has tipped to the point where you genuinely cannot trust the majority of political information you see now on social media or hear on the television or radio – especially if it comes from any of our main parties.

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Outright political lies are now the norm. And I don’t know if we can ever go back. Chancellor Sajid Javid was at it yesterdaymorning. He told Sky News that the 165 per cent rise in homelessness since 2015 – when the Conservatives won a majority – was the fault of the Labour Party, who lost power in 2010.

The Conservatives have since issued a statement saying that he “misremembered” a statistic, but it was more that he got caught red-handed telling a flipping great fib. And Javid was meant to be one of the saner ones. But maybe there are none. And maybe we don’t want any.

Feeding our biases

All our political parties are indulging in the worst kind of deceit and manipulation. Spin and propaganda have always existed but when you genuinely need to fact check everything our political leaders say, you’re off to the wacky races.

But do we actually care? Or are we so deeply polarised and entrenched in our camps that we are happy to feed our not-so-unconscious biases and feast on our daily diet of manipulated truth and misinformation?

Do we even bother to fact-check anything as individuals, or is that prospect as appealing as getting a new quote for your car insurance – because that may be something we all have to think about doing far more in the future.

And there’s an interesting generational divide. According to new research by Intuit Research, the older you are, the less likely you are to fact-check a news story. Only 46 per cent of over-55s polled said they would check facts to confirm the truth of a story, compared with 78 per cent of 18-34-year-olds.

Given that older people are more likely to vote and lean towards the right and Brexit, you can see why the Tories are shamelessly pushing their fake news marketing to the limit. This is a vital voting group for them, and they are being ruthless.

And it’s not just the Tories. Jeremy Corbyn has told us anti-semitism is all sorted. Jo Swinson has told us she’s going to be Prime Minister and is on course for a landslide.

I don’t think there is way back. There never was a halcyon era in which the public had unwavering faith in what their politicians said, but we are now entering a Black Mirror world of wilful deception.

I once did a panel with Brian Stelter, who hosts the show Reliable Sources on America’s CNN. He said the art of fake news is to not tell a ludicrous lie. It was to gently shape the facts so they become what you want them to be. Or to trade in what Donald Trump’s aide Kellyanne Conway famously called “alternative facts” back in early 2017.

We laughed then. We are not laughing now. Trust no one. And check your news.

Ayesha Hazarika is editor of the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary