It’s been a drawn out, slow and painful death, but fact based politics in Britain were laid to rest when everyone’s least favourite humanoid Michael Gove said this:
Whilst job-hunting recently, my partner asked me what my absolute ideal career would be. It was an easy one. In an ideal world I would be paid handsomely to follow Mr Gove around in his everyday life, with this clip queued up ready to go. A plumber comes round to fix a malfunctioning boiler. “What ever you do, Mr Gove, don’t switch your heating on until I come back tomorrow.” Just before he agrees, I hit play. Gove goes to the doctor and is told that he has diabetes. As he reaches out to the pharmacist to collect his insulin shots, I snatch them away, and press play. I mean, it’s only a pipe dream, but my word it would be amazing.
But Mr Gove was merely stating what has been clear for a long time. We live in a post-fact society, one that would rather hear what they want to hear than accept that the world isn’t how they view it. It’s been a long time since any of the newspapers have done anything less than pander to their audience, and the ratings game on broadcast news has meant playing these sound bites on a loop. During the referendum, every time a pro-Remain campaigner said something factually accurate, the BBC would publish a story about Boris saying something utterly untrue, in a incredibly damaging tit-for-tat in the name of “balance”.
This trait began years ago in America, and we are seeing the fruits of the ignorance of fact in the current clusterfuck of an election cycle over there, spearheaded by the king of “gut over head” politics Donald Trump. The seeds were sown by the likes of Reagan, Clinton and even JFK. Who needs to state any facts when you can have highly polished sound bites played over and over again on every news channel? You can’t win an election by saying “actually, things are going pretty well at the moment, my predecessor has done a great job. I’m going to continue their good work.” You need to lie.
The problem with ignoring facts should be incredibly obvious. If experts were roundly ignored the life expectancy would surely be down in the 30’s. We’d be living in a Game of Thrones version of medieval times, with no technology, no common sense and no civilisation. Yet we decide who leads us, and in the case of Brexit, where we stand on the world stage, by ignoring experts and creating our own reality. Why?
We’ve all been guilty of only reading and engaging with things that fit our worldview. The majority of people I know were shocked by the Brexit result due to their social media feeds and immediate friends all firmly on the side of Remain. But those are the people we decided to surround ourselves with, and we didn’t get a balanced overview of the public mood, because we did not want to engage with Leave supporters. Boris Johnson has garnered a huge amount of support down the years, despite apparently never really standing for anything. It’s because people like what he says and the way he carries himself. Same with Le Pen, Farage, Trump and Abe. Even Jeremy Corbyn, though admittedly with a friendlier rhetoric then the previous examples, is often short on facts and heavy on crowd pleasing during his speeches.
So, maybe we are guilty of only listening to what we want to hear, without bothering to find out whether these sound bites are true. How we, as a society in Britain, can resurrect fact-based politics I don’t know. But I worry we could have our own Trump in 10 years time if we don’t.
Jonathan is a writer from London. For more of his work, check out http://jonathanhatch.co.uk/