More honour, less cleverness needed in the Election campaign

By Bernadette Meaden
March 27, 2015

Today, (27 May 2015) Conservative Campaign Headquarters sent out an email to supporters. It began, "Do you think the last Labour government spent too much?" and continued, "The Labour government that literally left a note saying 'There's no money left'." The problem is, this is not true.

The note referred to is the one written by the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne to his successor, David Laws. Writing these notes is something of a tradition, and they have traditionally been kept confidential. But David Laws chose to tell the press, "It was a one-sentence letter which simply said 'Dear Chief Secretary, I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.''’ In some newspapers this story was illustrated with a picture of a roll of banknotes being burnt.

The note Liam Byrne actually wrote, as you can see here, said, "I'm afraid there is no money." This may seem a rather trivial difference, a pedantic distinction. But the two give quite different impressions, and the Coalition has been very happy to let the false version become the accepted version.

If a child says, "I have no sweets", it is a simple statement of fact. If a child says "I have no sweets left", we infer that it had sweets and has eaten them all.

The Coalition misquoted the note and allowed the false version to become notorious, using it as evidence that reckless public spending had created the deficit. It diverted attention from the enormous cost of the bank bailouts, helping to convince people that public spending (particularly on welfare) had caused our problems, and austerity and cuts were essential.

The fact that Conservative Campaign HQ is still promulgating this misquote for political ends, five years after the event, does not bode well for the election campaign. Perhaps they think they are being quite clever, using a subtle linguistic trick. But in this instance they should listen to their own MP Charles Walker, who said in the House of Commons yesterday, "I'd rather be an honourable fool than a clever man".

The least the electorate deserves from all parties in the coming weeks is to be given reliable information. A little less superficial cleverness and a lot more honour would be greatly appreciated.

* More on the issues in the 2015 General Election from Ekklesia:

© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Views expressed by individual contributors do not necessarily reflect an official Ekklesia view.

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