If anyone needs any more evidence of how sustained media lies and distorted agenda setting has created a people out of touch with its own country, please take a look at this piece of work by IpsosMori and King’s College London.
It is a survey of what British people think are the facts behind some of the important issues facing Britain.
For example, asked how many teenage girls get pregnant before they are 16, the public think it is 15per cent. If they divided that by 25, they would be right – 0.6percent.
More than half of people think violent crime is rising. It is not.
Around a third of people think the government spends more on JobSeeker’s Allowance than on pensions. In fact pensions takes up 15 times the budget of JSA.
Benefit fraud is another area where myths are more powerful than fact. The public think that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently, compared with official estimates of seventy pence out of every £100.
Overseas aid is another one. Spending on aid accounts for just over one per cent of government spending. A quarter of Brits think it is in the top three spending items. Asked to name the issue that costs the most, more people chose aid £in fact £7.9bn) than pensions (£74bn) and education £51.5bn.
Religion has the mythmakers in charge of opinion too – we think a quarter of the population is Muslim. It is actually five per cent. We think 34 per cent classify themselves as Christian. It is 59percent.
Doubtless some of these impressions are driven by their own lives and experiences. But much of it is down to the fact that the papers they read, and the broadcasts unduly influenced by said papers, tell them lies often enough so that they believe them, or regurgitate them even if they don’t.
This is bad in itself because a country whose people do not actually know what is happening in their own land is not, to quote John Major’s goal for Britain, which recently he said he failed to meet, ‘a nation at ease with itself.’ But it is also bad because too often the politicians feel they have to meet the demands of this false agenda rather than the reality of problems facing Britain, and that can lead to them pursuing the wrong priorities, and making the wrong decisions.
Out on my bike this morning, as the rain started, I took a break at a cafe in Regent’s Park, and picked up a copy of the Sunday Times, where I read of yet another crackdown planned by the Prime Minister on immigration, yet another target or quota or cap, yet another attempt to curb the shift of Tory support to UKIP.
But if Cameron had challenged this agenda rather than pandered to it, he would not have to keep pandering some more. UKIP are to him what the SDP and Lib Dems used to be to us, irritants, skilful protest vote scavengers who pick up good poll ratings and the occasional mid term win but, because they are not a credible party of government, tend to fade as election time comes. Now that the Lib Dems are part of the coalition, clearly they can no longer play that role. In allowing UKIP, and the largely isolationist and possibly xenophobic right wing press to set his agenda on both Europe and immigration, Cameron has got himself in the position of making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons, not a good place for a leader to be.
His objective is economic growth. His strategy is austerity. His political strategy meanwhile is to blame Labour, Europe, immigrants and anyone else he can find for the fact that the growth strategy is not working as planned.
Instead of listening to Nigel Farage, or the bilious and deliberately ill-informed, ill-informing lie machines in several of our newspaper HQs, he should listen to the Domino Pizza boss who said recently he had a thousand jobs to fill, but despite high unemployment levels he could not get Brits to fill them. He should listen to those who sat on the LSE Growth Commission and cited immigration as one of the three main reasons – along with competition policy and investment in public services and infrastructure – why Labour delivered ten years of growth and prosperity before the GLOBAL (my emphasis to rebut the crap about ‘mess we inherited’ mantra) financial crisis.
The politics of immigration are tough, always have been. But in basing his political strategy on myths and lies, he is putting his economic strategy at risk.
Similarly he no more wanted to be in a position where the UK (with or without Scotland) left the EU than he wants to get rid of private schools and their embedded advantages for the rich and powerful. But that is precisely the position he has got himself in because of his tendency to be driven by the media weather rather than make the weather himself, according to what he really believes. So he has to ‘take on Europe’ because it bans straight bananas, wants to abolish the British Army, not to mention Cheddar Cheese and fish and chips. The fact that it has helped deliver lasting peace and rising prosperity for millions of people should not be allowed to get in the way of the myths and the lies. The lies might sell papers (though the evidence is inconclusive on that.) But they should not guide policy.