At last we’re off

Everybody knew that it was going to be May 5th.

But now, finally, the waiting is over and the General Election has been announced.

What’s it really going to be like? There will be flurries of promises and counter promises, accusations and counter-accusations. The desperate will play dirty tricks, and likely as not lose whatever trust the electorate had in them.

But this time things are subtly different. This isn’t just an election about government, it’s an election about politics itself.

Do people really care? Do they trust anyone enough still to vote for them?

One major political party (you can probably guess which) has an average age of membership of over 65. How many of them will be out on the doors? Another is still smarting from the colossal loss of support from its own grass roots after the war in Iraq.

Let’s be certain about this. The hard left and the hard right have nowhere to go but their own parties. Well, the hard right have UKIP, but after the Kilroy-Silk affair no-one is betting on them winning a Westminster seat. The question about the hard left is, will they bother to vote at all?

Politics itself is on trial.

At this election the electorate are not asking ‘who do I trust most?’ but ‘who do I trust at all?’

No political party can really claim to have been pure and clean in all its dealings over the past four years.

But one party does stand head and shoulders above the other two. The Liberal-Democrats said what they meant and meant what they said. Consistently. Whether it was popular or unpopular. Because trust has to be the gold-standard in politics for politics to be worth anything at all.

This election, go for gold.

Kilroy-Silk confuses honesty and truth, and misleads himself

See: BBC NEWS | Politics | Sketch: Kilroy unveils the truth

Stranger things have happened, but there can be few things which carry their own irony quite so far. Robert Kilroy-Silk has launched his own party Veritas — a name that already sounds like it ought to be a lawyer’s union or an expensive recruitment agency — with the claim that its members will only tell the truth. He is claiming that other parties — including his own former UKIP — pedal ‘lies, evasion and spin’ on immigration and Europe.

It was entertaining to hear Kilroy-Silk on the PM programme defending himself. The journalists must have been queueing up to take him on. Here is a man who is admitting that, while a Labour MP, he lied. He is also effectively admitting that he lied for UKIP as well, since if that party was as committed to the truth as he now claims to be, he would never have had to leave it. So we have a man who has made a career out of lying now telling us that he (and anybody else who will join him) are now the sole guardians of truth in politics.

It begs so many questions that it’s hard to know where to begin. Will there be an entrance examination for people who wish to stand for his party at the general election? How will they prove that they people who will only tell the truth. Of course, he could be very trusting and just take their word for it, but how would he know that they weren’t lying about their honesty?

Or, how about this one: Kilroy-Silk was asked if someone would be chucked out of the party for lying. He said ‘yes’. But then he immediately said that it would depend on the circumstances. Leaving aside the ‘oh yes they will — oh no they won’t’ quick U-turn, what can he mean by only requiring that his members stick to the truth in some circumstances? How will we know, when one of them makes a pronouncement, whether these are ‘mandatory truth’ circumstances or ‘lying permitted’ circumstances.

How would we react if, in court, a witness was asked ‘do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?’ and replied with: ‘well, I probably shall, in most circumstances’?

Of course, the real problem is much deeper. What Kilroy-Silk is pedalling with his new truth-emphasis (the political equivalent of sodium pentothol?) is a platform of rudeness, bullying, and making the kinds of statements that are bordering on inciting racial or religious hatred.

But are these things more ‘true’ for being undisguised? Put more simply, is ‘truth’ another word for ‘honesty’? Will the blunt really inherit the earth?

People may not trust politicians, but anybody who has been around them for a long time knows that two people can passionately (and therefore honestly) believe two opposing ideas without either of them being dishonest, a liar or a fool. On political ideas, the truth is something hard to come by. This is why we have democracy. If it was simply a question of going into a laboratory and conducting an experiment to determine the most true course of action, we would not need politicians, only scientists. If the truth could be established by forensic means, we would only need a coroner.

Certainly there are things which are true, and things which are not. But if anybody knew how to spot them with 100 percent certainty, then many of the problems of the world would have been dealt with long ago.

No, Mr Kilroy-Silk, you have not established a claim to truth. And, given your track record, even your claim to honesty must be taken with rather more than one pinch of salt. You are fooling only yourself. At least — we would like to think so. Truth to tell, there will probably be quite a few people who imagine that because your ideas are reprehensible, they must be more true. More fool you, Mr Kilroy-Silk, and more fool them.

You made the problem yourself, Mr Blair

See BBC NEWS | Business | Half of refugees ‘miss job help’

Jane Kennedy, junior work minister, has said that the government had to better to integrate those given refuge in the UK, after figures showed that only half of the accepted refugees are given the support they need to find work.

But the problem of refugee integration is one that the government has exacerbated itself – if not created. Since before the 2001 election, Labour and Tory politicians have talked tough about asylum seekers, propagating the myth that Britain is a soft touch and that we take more than our fair share of refugees. Legislation such as the infamous Section 55 have made it progressively harder for asylum seekers to survive the fraught process of application and appeal.

As an example of what asylum seekers have to go through, anybody who fails to declare themselves at Liverpool or Croydon within 48 hours of arriving in the UK forfeits the right to benefit while they make their application. But for most people arriving in this country through ‘agents’, or, more accurately, people smugglers, it can take several days to discover this piece of information – let alone find away to fulfil it.

Britain takes about half the proportion of asylum seekers that France does, and we treat them far worse through the process.

If an asylum seeker is granted refugee status, they can still be deported as there is no effective process for the various parts of the system to inform each other that the individual has a right of residence.

Labour’s own policies for discouraging asylum seekers treat victims of torture and persecution like criminals. Is it surprising that government agencies then struggle to win their trust and integrate them into society?

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