Preface: Enlightened self-interest n. the principle or practice of furthering one’s own interests while simultaneously benefiting others
Body: The recriminations of the recent Brexit Vote continue to reverberate throughout the world with many in both camps lamenting; “How did this happen?”. One could clearly argue that an informed Electorate, by sufficient margin chose to leave the EU of their own free will. Others (including myself) will argue that the use of Dubious Data, Questionable Facts and Hyperbolic Rhetoric duped the majority of the Electorate into believing they had no other choice in the matter because their futures were being threatened by the Bogy Men (and Women) of the EU and other imagined threats to UK sovereignty. How could this come to be?
The UK has for some time been at the forefront of promoting the notion of Data-driven Government as the solution to many societal and governmental challenges. It has invested heavily in Digital, Data & Analytics initiatives, along with promoting educational & research-based endeavors which are designed to “raise all boats” in respect to competencies and acumen in the use of digital, data & analytics for insights & decision making. It has done nothing however to change the tone or tenor of politics in respect to using Data & Facts inappropriately to support their positions and to refute arguments by the Opposition. In the Scottish Separation Referendum of 2014, the General Election of 2015 and most recently in the Brexit Referendum (2016), politicians of all stripes abused & corrupted data & facts to fit their particular agendas; all with little or no oversight nor any real repercussions. This behavior cannot continue if any Government wants to call itself either Data-driven or Fact-based in its Decision making, much less claim the high ground in any debate or formal findings. The erosion of Trust in Government is directly correlated to this behavior and many now question any Data or Facts originating inside (or outside) of Government. Factual reporting or fundamental analysis of key issues & options for consideration.
The notion of enlightened self-interest has been a foundation of politics for many, many years. It is the grand bargain that Political Parties make with their members and those who financially support them. In the recent examples that I have cited there has been none of this. It has become a “winner takes all” battle of ideologies with collateral damage on both sides of the arguments. As one might suspect the first casualty of these battles is always the Truth, but now it has begun to erode basic Trust in Government and not just Politicians. The Electorate is now manipulated by Dubious Data and Questionable Facts at every turn and are voting against their own future well-being in an irrational manner.
How to reverse this course seems clear to me? There must be a rebuilding of the firewall between Government and Politics to such a level that a true “air gap” exists. Arm’s length will no longer suffice if Trust is to be re-established and maintained. In the Brexit run-up both Politician’s (Remain and Leave) and Civil Service Officials were complicit in creating Dubious Data and Questionable Facts (if not outright lies) for consumption by the Electorate without any real Arbiter of the Truth having a voice in the process. The Press, Special Interest Groups, Lobbyists and Self-promoters were all guilty of regurgitating this bogus & misleading information in wholesale fashion. All with no consequences. My recommendation is to put a stop to these behaviors immediately and to create an official body within Government who is the only source of the Truth when it comes to data, facts & reference information. This body must not only be non-partisan, but above reproach and influence. Those bodies that exist today such as ONS have been corrupted beyond redemption and must be not only held to account for their behaviors as “enablers” but stripped of their power by this new “Department of Truth”. Politicians, Detractors and Advocates will all have to use the same “blessed data” and “straight-forward facts” to support their rhetoric. Going forward the Electorate will only hear “the unvarnished truth” regardless of their appetite or appreciation of its implications.
The approach that I advocate is neither naive, nor uninformed by the reality of Government & Politics. It is simply the most straight-forward solution to the challenge. In the end, the Truth must prevail and it should not take an Act of God to get to it.
- – An edited version of this posting appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Information Age (www.information-age.com)