Whenever anyone shares data, stats or facts with you, ask yourself this: why are they telling me? Information does not occur in a vacuum, so why is someone telling me this particular thing, not some other thing? Whilst I don’t hold with the idea that there are lies, damn lied and statistics, it is true that someone can wave one piece of data in front of you to prevent you from focusing on or finding out about another. It’s a magician’s sleight of hand. A pickpocket’s carefully placed wrist pressure. Direct you towards one thing and you might not notice another.
Political propagandists are cunning enough not to lie flat out, well not generally, but like Trump’s interpretation of Sadiq Khan’s calls not to be alarmed, they can place facts somewhere shorn of context such that they give you a false impression. So what to make of the above infographic?
Well for a start, Labour were only in power for the first four months of 2010 so that doesn’t fill me with confidence as to the trustworthiness of the source. The minimum wage is set in October so the 2010 figure is one set under a Tory government. The Low Pay Commission reviews the NMW each year and make recommendations to the government so I’m not absolutely sure it can be held up as a great example of Tory policy especially when you consider that the Conservatives objected to the introduction of NMW in 1998. Hold onto that. If you spot things awry with a piece of information you want to ask, how thorough has this person been? Is this a mistake they’ve made or have they quite deliberately told me something not quite right and if so, why?
For the purposes of this short post I’ll leave out the annual deficit figures. What I will flag up is this, why cite the deficit and not some other figure? In February 2013 David Cameron was reprimanded by the UK Statistics Authority for confusing the deficit with the debt. Debt has increased under the Tories which is why they’ll tell you the deficit has reduced and why they’ll try to elide the difference between the two.
So, looking at this table, I’ll just briefly do three things. 1. Fact check, site sources 2. Adjust for inflation 3. Put some context back. After doing one and two, the table looks like this:
National minimum wage information here: https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates. Note that it does change depending on age. In all cases I’ve taken that for the oldest category at the time
Information on the NHS budget is from https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/nhs-in-a-nutshell/nhs-budget
For the tax free allowance I used the HMRC’s website. For the GDP and unemployment stats I used the Office for National Statistics
So, first the remaining stat on the economy, the GDP. Inflation adjusted, it doesn’t actually look as if the Tories are making the increases they claim to be. Even if it’s less than a decade ago, bear in mind prices change.
Second, the NHS. Under the Labour governments of 1997-2005 there was the highest sustained increase in funding since the NHS was established. Contrast this with the Tories who are allowing increasing amounts of privatisation, whether it be by putting contracts out to tender to firms such as Virgin Healthcare or selling Plasma Resources UK to Bain Capital, a private equity firm set up by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. And if you’re curious about the tenders by private companies for NHS services, have a look at the number of Tory MPs sitting on the boards of private healthcare firms who might profit from large NHS contracts. Of course one could argue that the NHS needs not just cash but more reform and that might include allowing in private companies. But if that is the case, why do these figures concentrate on the budget alone? Whoever devised this table of data, why did they just tell you about the NHS budget without any other information?
Third, with regard to NMW; tax free allowance and unemployment, for context we can discuss these together. Once inflation adjusted you can see that actually, the rise in NMW under the Tories is small and that in fact direct comparison is complicated because the age brackets were changed. Also, the rise is put forward by a separate body, not the government of the day.
Under the Tories and the coalition, the numbers of self-employed, part time employees and those on zero hours contracts has risen. Yes, they may well be off the unemployment register, but how secure are the jobs they’ve got? Added to which, the Tories have set about dismantling employee rights to make it easier, basically, to sack you. To be honest, I’ll take a full time, secure contract over a slight pay rise, job insecurity and part time or no work any day.
So why then are these figures being given to us? What do you notice about them? They concern the economy, workers’ rights and the NHS. They are all things which Labour voters will worry about. So if you want to pull those voters towards the Tories, you have to convince them that these things are safer with the Tories than they were with Labour. You have to show that look, the NHS budget is higher, NMW is higher, the deficit is down. What you don’t do is mention the actual state of the NHS; the denudation of employment rights and what’s happening with the national debt, as opposed to the deficit.
After the 1867 Reform Act, which saw an increase in the numbers of largely middle-class male voters, Robert Lowe, 1st Viscount Sherbrooke, is rumoured to have said “we must educate our masters”. Actually, it seems likely that he didn’t say it but the idea that he did fits a neat narrative that saw increased access to education in 1870. If you can vote, you should be educated. What worries me, almost 150 years later, is that the right wing press have worked out that few people are taught how to spot propaganda and how to deal with it. Of course, this post might just be more propaganda but for the other side. Nonetheless, whatever side you voted for, or might be about to vote for, I would ask you this, when someone shares information with you, take a few minutes to ask why and dig further. There will always be a reason, and it might not be the one you think it is. Vote or not, we cannot be masters of politicians if we fail to understand how they manipulate us.