#RoadToRuin: political misrepresentation in an age of social media

By Jill Segger
January 5, 2015

For as long as there has been organised government, there has been satire. From Aristophanes to Steve Bell, power has been mocked: it is a mark of the spirit of freedom.

The launch of the Conservatives' first election poster has been met with widespread criticism and derision. It is not unfair to observe that they have brought much of this on their own heads by underestimating the intelligence of the electorate and the power of social media. The poster quickly acquired the hash-tag #RoadToRuin while several sources have pointed to the video of the Talking Heads track 'Road to Nowhere'.

The Conservative poster shows a long, straight road bearing the slogan “Let's stay on the road to a stronger economy”. This exhortation is supported by three claims: “1.75 million more people in work; 760,000 more businesses; the deficit halved”.

All these claims are questionable. The first and last are linked by a logical failure to which I will return. The second takes no account of the large number of 'new businesses' which are in fact the involuntary self-employment of underemployed people. Nor does it invite consideration of how many of these unhappy enterprises fail.

George Osborne's claim to have halved the deficit has been savaged by Fraser Nelson in the (Conservative) Spectator magazine. Nelson castigated the Chancellor for defining deficit as a percentage of GDP in making this claim, as opposed to the arguably more realistic choice of expressing it in cash terms. The Tories, naturally, reject the latter measure while apparently not recognising the same logical inconsistency inherent in their claim about the record number of people in work – there being of course, a record number of people in the country. Then there are the 1.4 million on zero hours contracts, the similar number on 'workfare' and the 900,000 JSA claimants who were sanctioned last year. None of these appear on the unemployment figures.

There was even falsehood in the image itself. Despite George Osborne's insistence that “It's a British picture, a British road”, the photographer who took the picture has revealed that it shows a highway near the central German city of Weimar, photo-shopped to take out the cracks in the road surface. In an age when the internet has made fact checking and sharing easier than it has ever been, it seems that power has not yet realised that their deceits can be easily uncovered and widely mocked.

The fixed term parliament legislation has delivered us a very long election period. There will be claim, counter-claim, mendacity, distortion and scorn in abundance over the next 17 weeks. It is perhaps some comfort to have evidence that the wool is not pulled.

* More on the upcoming General Election from Ekklesia here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015
Views expressed by individual contributors on GE15 do not necessarily reflect an official Ekklesia view.

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

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