How politicians mislead the public

In yesterday’s article, “Politicians don’t lie.” I outlined the evidence that seems to refute the assertion we constantly hear that politicians lie. After searching for politicians who have been caught lying … and accounting for the huge interest when they do, I have to conclude that as a group they lie far less often than any normal person.

Today I will try to list specific ways politicians mislead the public (apparently almost never actually lying).

Why do we have this belief that politicians lie, when the evidence seems to suggest otherwise? A strong contender is that the media is constantly suggesting politicians are lying so we naturally all assume that they are. But why are the media so interested that they are constantly making these accusations of “liar” against politicians? The simple answer must be that we as a society are absolutely besotted with the possibility that politicians might be lying to us.

But they don’t seem as a general rule to make statements that can be proven to be intentionally false – which is very different from concentrating on the statistics which favour their viewpoint and ignoring those that don’t. So why do we think they are dishonest?

How politicians mislead

Having discovered yesterday that politicians almost never lie (in the strict sense), I shouldn’t also just assume they intentionally mislead. So, I started this inquiry by examing a leaflet that popped through my door yesterday. And it is not long before I find:

“Every Liberal Democrat MP will fight the Tories’ extreme Brexit and be a champion for their local community”

First, it’s a blatant lie to credit the Tories with Brexit. Second, the only thing anyone voted for was the option of leaving the EU … no one voted for any half measures, there was no third option on the ballot … thus to use the Lid Dem misnomer, no one voted for anything other than an “extreme” Brexit. Brexit is brexit and it comes in only one flavour which is leaving the EU. There was no other option on the ballot, and if the Lib Dems wanted anything less than completely removing ourselves from the EU, then the Lid Dems should have fought to get than alternative on the ballot. Third, if you’re a European, almost by definition your “local community” is the UK … so being a “democrat” who is “a champion for their local community” means supporting the will of the people to leave the EU.

I am happy to confirm that this first leaflet is so clearly misleading that I don’t believe I am misconstruing politicians in saying they mislead.

A list of how politicians Mislead

The following list was created after reading a few political leaflets, looking at some “research” trying to paint anyone with views academics dislike as extreme and articles on how politicians avoid answering questions. It will not be complete so please add comments on further suggestions.

Cherry picking data or stats
Picking the one survey that shows their party ahead and ignore the dozen that don’t

Quoting selected figures

Statistics can be quoted in numerous ways. For example, if there is a year with a higher number of crimes than other years, this can both be used to suggest a rise (by using the higher number as the end) or to suggest a fall (by using the higher number as the start). Likewise, by selecting statistics for specific groups, it is usually possible to find one that bucks the overall trend. So, e.g. “knife crime amongst young inner city men has … ” may be a way to select the only statistic on knife crime that favours the politicians point of view.

Cherry picking communities to cherry pick the facts
If the UK voted to leave the EU (but more Scots voted against the UK leaving)  and you are a pro-European UK party … then suddenly your leaflets start referring to “we” in the sense of Scotland as that means you can say “we never voted to leave the EU”.

Stating the bleedingly obvious as if it’s a problem
“Our NHS is under pressure” … any public service is always squeezed for money … and that is why our NHS is so much more efficient than for example the US health service which costs double the amount and doesn’t deliver for huge numbers of people.

Implying “risk” where it doesn’t really exist
The other party risks causing severe problems by its policy X. The statement requires no evidence to support it and can be said about anything without fear of being called a liar. “The policy to cut political corruption … risks undermining the political system” (because people will be less incentivised to become politicians).

Big lies
If a party repeats something often enough, then people begin to believe it is true. Take for example: “Liberal” in Lib Dem. Then compare it with their actions of attacking free speech for anyone who doesn’t agree with their PC agenda, of preventing men and women competing fairly where men have a natural advantage (strange how equality is only cited where men do well … but where men do badly such as numbers in prison … I hear no feminist demanding equal quotas of women in jail as they would about traditional male working areas).

A similar lie is that to want control on immigration is racist. Another is that standing up for families is homophobic. Such accusations get made so often by some media, that many people genuinely can no longer distinguish the difference between, for example a debate on immigration numbers and skin colour based “white” racism (even though many immigrants are indistinguishable by skin colour).

False terminology
In 2016 we voted to leave the EU. So, technically that is what Brexit is. As such there is no such thing as a “hard Brexit” because what the Lib Dems mean by a “hard brexit” is brexit. And any agreement after we leave is just the run of the mill type of arrangements all countries have with other countries. So there is no such thing as a “soft brexit” … there are specific areas where we might agree treaties with the EU … but that isn’t a “soft Brexit”.

Making patently absurd statements based solely on supportive newspaper comments
The Lib Dems have a habit of cutting out selected quotes out of context from friendly (Lib Dem) journalists. And when for example four words are lifted from an article without seeing all the caveats or context it is being dishonest. In essence, they are no more meaningful than the candidate making up their own silly quotes.

Falsely attribution the action of one group to another
the people voted for Brexit -> The Tories are taking us out of EU. The reason for this is clear. The Lib Dems hate Brexit, brexit belongs to the people of the UK, but if the Lib Dems attacked the people who wanted Brexit, they are attacking the electorate (and whilst they are daft, they seem to have figured that’s a bad thing).

One way that politicians in authoritarian regimes use, whether dictatorships or modern PC fascists, is to answer questions ambiguously. So, to use a classic example,

Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, …  said, … “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Mt 17-21

The issue here is that the Roman coins showed the emperor as divine, but there were also coins minted by Jewish authorities. So what Jesus is really saying is: if you use Roman coins, then you should pay Roman taxes. But this also implies, that if you don’t want to pay Roman taxes, you should not be using Roman coins.

Ad hominem Attack

When confronted with a question that cannot be answered, one common way for politicians to avoid answering is to attack the credibility of the questioner or opponent. This both distracts from the question and also attempts to delegitimise the opponent and thus their question/attack.

Association with others particularly the dead

A simple technique used to mislead people is to try to associate the individual or party with a celebrity (who usually plays along because they believe they support them) or with someone who is dead (where consent is not needed). The aim is purely to suggest that if one person was liked … then those associated with them ought to be similarly liked. The ploy can be used the other way, to for example associate opponents with those groups or individuals who are disliked.

Claims based on family association

When an individual has done nothing meritorious themself or indeed, they can seek to suggest that they are part of actions by their family, likewise opponents can seek to smear by family connection.

Babies and Pets

Many politicians try to mislead the public by getting the press to photograph them with “cute” babies or pets. Apparently this goes down well with women.

Parallels: Talking about an issue as if it was related without directly saying it is

When Nick Griffin from the BNP was on question time, Jack Straw talked at length about fighting “Nazi-ism” clearly implying that because the Nazis were racist, that because the BNP stood up for the indigenous British (just as feminists stand up for women), that the BNP were racists and like the Nazis. This was extremely misleading because he knew he could not directly say they were Nazis as this was not correct. In retrospect, the interview reminds me of early sex-education films – everyone was so scared to talk about the subject – that the core issues were never really discussed. We have moved on since then!

The “Are you a Nazi” question

Before the public debate on immigration was won, those like the BBC frequently used this kind of attack on any politicians who wanted to control immigration. The aim was not to illicit any meaningful response, but merely to slur the opponent.

The use of academic stooges to produce “research” to use as attacks

Another common attack mechanism, is to get compliant academics to produce “research” papers that are intended purely to generate headlines of “research says”. This was used extensively during Brexit and is a common feature of climate academics.

Obfuscation by complex language

By dressing up the simple in complex language or obscure terminology, that is deliberately written to be difficult to understand, many people will assume that the speaker is more educated than they and so they are not in a position to judge and therefore assume the speaker is correct. In contrast, such approaches usually hide bullshit – the only risk being that the few people who are familiar with the obscure terminology may call them out.

Pretending to part of the people by language or actions

Many public school politicians intentionally change their language when speaking in public to hide their privileged background. Likewise, many politicians have had snaps taken of them eating “working men’s” food.

Claims to victimhood

From the earliest recorded history of the UK we see women leaders such as Boudica. Today, men die earlier, more commit suicide and more end up in Prison. As such the quality of life of men on these most important measures is considerable worse than women. Throughout the ages men have fought and died to protect their families, so that in WWII, millions of men died, whilst women stayed in relative safety at home. Until the advent of modern health care and smaller families, Women stayed at home looking after children (which was their want) and men were forced to go out and do backbreaking work to support them.  Today many women claim that they are the victims of a male dominated society – one where they have freedom to work in traditional male workplaces, whilst women still dominate traditional female work places like infant teaching and nursing. One where men cannot even have one male golf club, yet women all across the country go to “mother and toddler groups”. The only victims here are the men who fall for women’s “victimhood” claptrap.

Misappropriating support

A common technique is to run a series of opinion polls trying to get the public to agree to a variety of statements. These statements do not explicitly support a party’s policy, but by stating them along with the policy the casual listener can be fooled into thinking they equate.

One dimensional politics

A classic way for larger parties to edge out smaller parties, is to suggest that politics has one dimension typically left or right (but in other areas like the SNP – nationalist versus unionist). The aim here is to remove all other issues from debate.

“Far” Politics

A classic ploy for those trying to maintain they occupy the “centre ground” … which is itself intended to suggest anything else is extreme and therefore tainted … is to describe any opponent as “far” as “far right, far left” or an extremist of some other form. So, for example, even after it was shown a  majority of Britons agreed with the key UKIP policy of leaving the EU and that they therefore occupied the centre ground of British politics, they were still regularly referred to as “far right” by many journalists. This use was clearly intended to portray UKIP as extremists even after they were shown to be supported by the majority.

Planted questions & biased “impartial judges”, surveys etc.

During the US presidential race, it was revealed that supposedly impartial chairmen of debates on TV were discussing questions with one side (Clinton) before the debate. This is again another common tactic: to create the illusion of impartiality and then fix the debate to favour one side. The BBC use this technique frequently to stuff audiences full of “PC” groups and to exclude anyone who does not agree with the BBC point of view. For example, they will bring in “scientists” to discuss climate … when they know these people are extremely biased and in many cases have done no research in the area. The aim is to suggest certain people are impartial when in fact they have extremely biased views. A similar technique is to use dubious polling. There are always ways to manipulate the questions or polling method to bias the result. And it is well known that many companies hire pollsters that will provide a particular result.

Not answering the question or just not saying anything

One of the simplest ways that politicians mislead, is to not talk about something. In an interview, this means answering a different question from that which was answered – thus implying they have answered without actually giving an answer. In general that means not discussing contentious subjects. A notable example is the decades during which immigration was never allowed to be discussed.

False indignation (aka going to war)

When pinned down many politicians feint indignation trying to suggest that the question is insulting or otherwise contemptible. Another approach is to rant and rave or start a fight. Sure it doesn’t look very statesmanlike, but it avoids answering difficult questions.

Answering a question that relates to a subset or superset of the subject being discussed

BBC stooge: “did you believe in old labour” Bliar: “I believed in the values of the labour party”.

Here Bliar both changes the the question from “believing in labour” to “believing in labour values” but also answers not specifically for “old labour” but for a more universal “labour party” (which is not specific in time).

When asked about Grammar schools May responds with an answer about supporting education.

Swapping Hypothetical & practical

To avoid talking about specifics, politicians may talk about a subject in general. To avoid talking about subjects in general they may answer about a specific. They may also intentionally be ambiguous as to whether the answer is specific or general.

Rephrasing the question to one that they wish to answer

“Did you threaten your civil servant” is answered as if it were “did you instruct your civil servant”.

Stalling, delaying, trying to throw people off the scent, trying to hide actions.

  • A good day to bury bad news (quote on day of 911)
  • At a time the labour party were particularly frantic, the labour spin doctors were lent to the parents of Madeleine McCann. This was a classic example of trying to change the public interest away from something else
  • After many so called “consultations”, politicians delay publishing the results – indeed, many “public consultations” and inquiries are themselves attempts to kick issues into the long grass

Public consultations

There’s a well known psychological phenomenon that if an individual thinks they have been a worthwhile part of a decision making process, that they will support the decisions, even when they disagree with them. This is largely the mechanism by which elections work: we think our vote is meaningful, we think we have been part of the conversation … so even if we disagree with the government produced, we are more willing to accept them.

However, politicians also use this method to fool people into accepting decisions they have already made. One notable example was a public consultation on the Scottish parliament. It turned out later that the architect that was supposedly chosen through the process had been hired before the consultation began. A similar approach was used during the UK House of Lords Consultation. The process was supposed to create support for the government preferred outcome which put them in the driving seat. Instead, large numbers of people rightly saw it as a stitch up and a significant percentage of responses rejected any form of political involvement. It was quietly dropped.

In essence, many supposed consultations should really be seen as a way for government to keep their opponents busy in a bureaucratic process designed to be arduous to opponents, with questions entirely stacked to get the response the government want, thus allowing government to get on with what it always intended doing. And at the day – often people – despite totally agreeing with the result – seriously believe there was a consultation and as such are far less likely to complain.

The hired lunatic & rent a mob

The hired lunatic (and some are so stupid they don’t get money) can be used both to attack opponents aka “rent a mob”. This allows politicians to get people to say things about opponents that they could not say. For example, it’s obvious that many crowds are instructed to chant various insults about racism etc.

An even more dubious tactic is to use such crowds to intimidate opposition parties from conducting campaigns. This is dishonest in the sense that it falsely suggests there is little support – whereas in truth there can be a great deal of support – but it’s too timid to come out and face the rent a mob.

Another approach is to pretend to be supporters of the opposition and so by getting these vile people to pretend to support an opponent, their vile behaviour will blacken the name of the opposition.

Industrial espionage, insiders, etc.

Of course politicians use insiders, contacts and occasionally we also see evidence of covert techniques to get as much information on the opposition as they can. but these are not in themselves misleading to the public. Instead these dishonest techniques are used as part of a wider campaign.

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