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'The Truth' & 'Common Sense': Where do you hear it?

‘We are the only political party that tell the truth’. Have you ever heard that before? Was it Nick Griffin, or was it Nigel Farage? Was it even a Green, or the SNP? ‘The truth’ seems to be a weird concept in British politics, it seems only extremists and populists are allowed to tell the truth. No matter what their ‘truth’ is, you can be assured that it’s just ‘common sense’. So why isn’t anyone else ‘telling the truth? Do they not have any ‘common sense’?

 

 

Firstly, all of these parties have two things in common: they’re populist and they’re anti-establishment. Claiming to be ‘telling the truth’ is a useful tool for a populist; it allows you to simplify and sensationalise, while connecting with your audience.

 

It took Kilroy-Silk exactly half a day to start ‘telling the truth’ about foreigners upon his short lived defection to Ukip, maybe the fact that the ‘truth’ was rather racist was just a coincidence? No, it was not. Many harbouring legitimate concerns about immigration feared being branded racist if they spoke out, even if they were not racist. Kilroy-Silk touching on these issues while claiming to ‘tell the truth’ legitimised people’s concerns, while making Ukip seem like the only party they could trust.

 

Simultaneously, claiming to ‘tell the truth’ works very well when you don’t like the establishment. By implication, they’re lying. People that are willing to listen to populists quite like the idea that the establishment are lying somehow. For the more radical, these lies form a conspiracy rather than stupidity. To the BNP ‘it’s the PC establishment and their agenda trying to stifle our free speech’, while in the case of others it is an elaborate Westminster conspiracy involving the press and the secret service.

 

Secondly, ‘telling the truth’ is an easy way to make your ideas seem legitimate if no one agrees with them. If, like Ukip or the Greens, your ideas are pretty much an unfunded half-baked brainstorm from a GCSE Citizenship lesson, people are less likely to notice that your ideas are significantly less deep or rounded than your opposition if you just claim that they’re away with the ideological fairies.

 

Then there’s common sense. ‘Scotland would be more prosperous if it were independent’, ‘The UK would be better off outside Europe’, ‘giving everyone a universal benefit regardless of their need for it is the moral thing to do’; how often do these statements end with ‘it’s just common sense’? Well, there’s good reason why.

 

If you say something’s just ‘common sense’, you’re implying that those that disagree have no common sense and that their arguments are invalid. Without question this is one of the reasons members of populist parties take criticism of their parties as personal criticism (famously, over 50% of SNP members take criticism of their political party personally), and believe their leaders, candidates and members can do no wrong and should not be argued with.

 

You’re also encouraging people to simplify the issues. When the Greens call for things like a ‘common sense’ universal benefit, they’re calling for people to come up with policies with little consideration for any viewpoint or economic or political factor other than simply what they and their members reckon. ‘Common sense’ policy is policy designed to make people agree, because it sounds great to those that don’t have enough time to figure it out, and it fits best with how their target audience sees their world.

 

In the case of the Greens, ‘common sense’ thinking evidently doesn’t include rudimentary A-level economics; an interested 17 year old could tell you that redistributing money as a flat benefit across all income brackets is regressive as it effectively redistributes money away from the poor towards the rich- virtually all money governments have to spend comes from taxation, and the poor pay taxes, while the opportunity cost of such a benefit would be scheme that would benefit the poor. In effect, it’s a socialist ‘common sense’ policy that redistributes wealth away from the poor and gives it to the rich. Indeed, the only Green MP Caroline Lucas knows this and has openly questioned the policy.

 

So are the establishment ‘telling the truth’? Usually they are. However, the issues politicians deal with are so complex that they are presented to us in a simplified way by the press, and then are simplified further for populists to apply ‘common sense’ logic to them. If someone says they’re the only ones ‘telling the truth’, or seriously puts forward a ‘common sense’ cure all for a series of complex problems, trust them no more than you would trust someone claiming that the world’s going to end next Tuesday because they found some maths in the bible. Politics isn’t that easy.

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