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Friday 9 October 2009

Dawn Butler MP and Barack Obama

The total irrationality of a lot of political debate deeply worries me. We have seen the debate in the USA over healthcare seems to have been seriously divorced from reality: with all this stuff about death panels, the forced euthansia of Stephen Hawking and numerous accusations of Nazism.

Over here, we had a small example of a similar conspiracy theory when Dawn Butler MP met Barack Obama and grabbed his autograph in Downing Street. Several bloggers tried to make out that he had never met her, which as you can see from the photo below he did.

At least most people would see that he did, but some of the people who maintain political blogs apparently would see evidence of a forged image of a meeting that never happened. In the case of Dawn and the President, there aren't any serious consequences, but sometimes this can get serious.
The Liberal Democrats are famed for raising these baseless accusations about non-existent tower block applications, healthcare and police closures, threats to the Freedom Pass and so on. They have as much credibility as Sarah Teather's election promises or the rightwing nutters in America claiming that Obama wasn't born there.
The trouble is, how do combat this kind of thing when political discourse so often doesn't report the facts at all? Reported the horse race is easier than reporting the policy. Reporting personal details about who claimed for what makes better copy than the dry administrative details. Journalists these days often interpret "impartiality" as meaning "he said this, she said that", even where it means "he said the Earth goes round the Sun; she said the Earth is flat." Too often, the actual facts don't get reported at all.
Maybe it has to do with the rise of relativism, but the effect is corrosive on democracy. In local government, there used to be one remaining bulwark against Teather-style irresponsibility, and that was taking power. If you formed an administration and failed to implement your promises, you could get hammered at the next election. However, these days fewer and fewer people know how local government woorks and the Liberal Democrats have become adept at pretending they are campaigning against their own administration.
I don't know what the answer to all this is, but the system is seriously broken.

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