The big idea: should we have a ‘truth law’? Today’s politicians mislead with impunity

Sam Fowles in The Guardian:

Truth is democracy’s most important moral value. We work out our direction, as a society, through public discourse. Power and wealth confer an advantage in this: the more people you can reach (by virtue of enjoying easy access to the media, or even controlling sections of it), the more likely you are to bring others round to your point of view. The rich and powerful may be able to reach more people but, if their arguments are required to conform to reality, we can at least hold them to account. Truth is a great leveller.

The problem is that our public discourse has become increasingly divorced from reality. The pollster Ipsos Mori conducts regular surveys on what the British public believes about the facts behind frequently discussed issues. In one memorable study it discovered that, in the words of one headline, “the British public is wrong about nearly everything”. Among the concerns was benefit fraud: people surveyed estimated that around £24 of every £100 of benefits was fraudulently claimed, whereas the actual figure was 70p. When asked about immigration, people estimated that 31% of the population were born outside the UK, when in truth it was 13%.

Members of parliament have played a prominent role in getting us to this point.

More here.