Brexit and the case for an Election Misinformation Act

by Ray_North on November 23, 2017

I was sitting in my car yesterday when I heard the headlines from Philip Hammond’s budget – like everyone else, I heard the depressing figures for growth and wages and living standards, and initially, I just let them pass me by because I wasn’t surprised by them.

Then, I considered them further and the implications of a continued prolonged downturn in our economic fortunes and the effects that this would have on the services that we rely upon, the prospects for my children, the chances of us creating the type of society that we can all be proud of.

And it was at this point that I wanted to scream.

Then, sadly, as I often do, I found my mind wandering back to Brexit – for which Philip Hammond has had to put to one side £3billion of money to enable us to cope with our withdrawal from the European Union – and I remembered the Brexit campaign, and the promises that a vote for Brexit would see £350m per week spent on the NHS.

And I wanted to scream even louder whilst placing my fist in my mouth and chewing my knuckles in anger and exasperation at the way in which the people of the UK have been treated.

I remember saying at the time, that this was palpably nonsense, I remember saying at the time that it couldn’t possibly be true – that even if it was justifiable in terms of maths or economics, the Tories ideology would prevent them from ploughing that amount of money (over a billion pounds a month) into the public sector.

Sadly, that claim, together with many others that were peddled with flagrant lack of honesty by the Brexit campaign proved to be enough because now, 18 months or so down the line we are embarking on the most ill-advised political misadventure that our country has ever seen at a time of breathtaking economic turmoil.

Should we just stand by and allow this all to happen?

Well, actually, save for a massive campaign to halt Brexit, there appears to be little we can do to stop ourselves from being pulled over the cliff. And when that happens what will the likes of David Davis and Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson do? Will they come before us and ask for forgiveness? No, of course not. Will David Cameron apologise for his appalling lack of judgement in putting his own personal ambition before the needs of the country? No.

There will be no comeuppance, there will be no remorse.

And, the absence of any kind of process by which an electorate can hold to account those who have knowingly made false claims and counter claims to them is, in the twenty first century, troubling.

In British Law, we have no crime of Electoral Misrepresentation. If someone knowingly lies in the pursuit of votes, and in due course obtains those votes, we, the people, have no sanction in criminal or electoral law to use against them.

In New Zealand and South Africa there is written into their constitution a rule by which a politician who knowingly propagates false information during the course of an election can be charged with fraud.

In the past, such a law has been resisted in this country, with the argument being used that often facts cannot be readily checked and that, in any case, the people are too clever to fall for lies.

Well, sadly, in the days of Twitter and Facebook, false news and depressingly poor and partial media, it is extremely easy for a politician to hide behind something that is demonstrably false, and it is all too easy for the falsehood to become, over the months, a ‘truth’, like ‘Vote Brexit and get £350m a week more for the NHS’ and the other lies about how we were going to be ‘flooded by Turkish immigrants,’ and how our courts are being undermined by foreigners.

It is time that we enshrined into statute a law that any politician or political party who knowingly repeats a fact in the course of a campaign that he knows to be false, or has no reason to believe is true, with the intent to gain votes is guilty of a fraud. At the very least, this law would ensure that all politicians are more careful with the propaganda that they pursue, and disasters such as Brexit might have been averted.

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