Tactical Political Lies

There is a dangerous form of political lying where the aim is not to have the lie believed but for it, corrections of it and discussion about it. This post is about the art and power of the lie, it isn't meant to reopen Brexit discussions but be a warning for future cases.

We need to recognise that in a world where everyone is seen as liars that there is no longer shame in lies. We need to fear the world where the middle ground between groups is seen as truly moderate or the location of truth especially when one or more sides are extreme.

Why the Brexit Bus slogans were a success

  1. They weren't a complete lie, there was a gain of truth in a bucket of deceit as it did represent the amount that would go to the EU if the UK didn't receive a rebate.
  2. "Balance" meant the media felt it had to find something the Remain campaign had said that wasn't 100% accurate to report along side it, even though it wasn't the central message on the side of the campaign bus in 6ft high letters.
  3. If you aren't used to government spending and how it compares to actual NHS spending it sounds like a lot of money. And even the corrected to post-rebate figures it still sounds like a lot of money. Creating these discussions about whether it is £170 million or £350 million per week was a victory for the Brexit campaign.
  4. Hundreds of millions is the most that people can really picture and in some ways sounds more impressive than £18.2 billion. Making it a weekly or daily figure made it more effective than just giving the annual total (£18.2 billion is £350million times 52).
  5. The secondary point that the money "could" be spent on the NHS creates at least three additional points of debate to take up airtime. Firstly that the Brexit side can't have any power over that, secondly what else it might be spent on (this brings the assumption at least for the argument that the money could exist) and finally whether it is what any particular politician would spend the money on.
The Brexit campaign changed the slogan from £350million per week to £50million per day to bring it back into the news again. That it was a lie had been pointed out and discussed, they chose to stick with it even when repainting the bus. They chose to reinforce and keep the lie rather than step away, they didn't care that the lie was called out, it was meant to be!

The bus in £50m per day form.


I feel the Trump statements about Mexican criminals are a very similar case although it may have been less calculated. The response to a claim that most were criminal the media then reported the inaccuracy by providing data on the numbers that do commit crime which while provably not "most" (a very long way from it) may be a big enough number that persuadable voters still get the impression that many are. The existence of a discussion of the number of illegal immigrant criminals is a victory for the anti-immigrant candidate, the more air time it takes the less other stories get, healthcare.

Proper Response

While I recognise the effect and the nature of these lies I don't know what the response should be, either from the media or the opposition. The left I feel is mostly too honest to practice this trick and different wings within the left would attack each other if they used it. I think the best that they can do is to put pressure on the media not to spend more time than absolutely necessary covering the issue.

The media is the part with the power, they need to get better and resisting the manufactured story, quickly point out that the information is incorrect and move on rather than getting rounds of pundits to discuss exactly how it is wrong. If one side to an argument is lying more than another then they must say so.

Interviewers and presenters have to feel confident to call out lies the very sentence after they they have been uttered, and not feel the need to give a right of reply. Only that way will politicians avoid the lies during discussions. As it is it seems that if they put at least two lies in a sentence one, if not both will go unchallenged.

Watch and Be Aware

Vigilance to lies and deliberate deceit is all we can really do but unfortunately they are effective.

Blame for Brexit

I’m angry and disappointed about the vote for Brexit even a week later. I still hope that it won’t actually happen but I struggle to see which political leader might stand up and say it shouldn’t happen (or engineer a situation for another referendum). I have a long list of people that I’m angry with about getting us to this situation. They aren’t principally the people who voted, I’m more disappointed and sad about that but those both who have lied to achieve the referendum result and those who built the situation that led to the result.

The principal blame must lie with the immediate causes of the referendum and the result. Two Etonian, Bullingdon boys have brought us here, despite neither (I believe) actually wanting to leave. Both gambling the country’s interest for either their own or their party’s benefit. David Cameron feeling the need to offer the referendum both to hold some unity within the Conservative Party and limit the impact of UKIP in the election. I think that he almost hoped for another coalition with the Liberal Democrats who would have blocked the referendum. Boris Johnson on the other hand calculated that campaigning for remain would boost his popularity with the Conservative membership. He expected to lose but with a higher profile and having been on the correct side for most members. He saw that as the route to the Conservative leadership when after winning the referendum David Cameron stepped aside in a couple of years time. They should both be ashamed of themselves for taking such a big gamble with the country, with people’s livelihoods and lives. Their actions, more directly than others I will list led to this, which make break the union (with Scotland), diminish Britain in the world and do much harm beside. I feel no pity for David Cameron, he gambled not just with his future but with ours, not for the country’s gain but the Conservatives. Besides this both these characters will come up again in this blame list for other aspects of the blame.

The Leave campaign told mendacious lies and gave misleading information throughout the campaign. Most clearly the £350 million per week for the NHS. Not only are the payments to the EU less than that (after rebate) but much of that amount is spent in the UK in various ways anyway. In addition to the outright lies there were huge amounts of wishful thinking expressed as fact, the assertions that the UK will get a good deal with all the benefits and non of the responsibilities of a European state which is simply unrealistic; access to the single market will have a code whether it is free movement of people or a potentially increased contribution to the budget. They also accused the Remain campaign of “scaremongering” but the interesting thing is right or wrong the estimates now the vote has taken place are at least as bad suggesting that the estimates were really believed. Boris, Gove and many others are smart enough to have known that much of the campaign was based on lies. They fought a dishonourable campaign and it is isn’t OK. They should feel ashamed of the lies and I hope that they will be held to account by the leave supporters but I fear it will be forgotten or excuses will be found.

The press, particularly The Mail, The Express and The Sun but also to lesser degrees The Times and The Telegraph have day after day for several decades been publishing negative stories about Europe, some spun, some given undue prominence and some outright lies. Of course Boris also has personal responsibility in this area too, almost having invented the genre of borderline truthful stories and even complete lies, to the extent that he was sacked from The Times. The power of Murdoch and Dacre is undemocratic and damages civil society. In my view there need to be real constraints on the concentration of media power. Despite falling circulations the papers have a significant impact in setting the agenda for TV, Radio and online news. It isn’t just the impact of individual articles but the daily drip of xenophobia, anti-European and anti-immigrant stories and headlines that distorts views.

The broadcasters and their interpretations of impartiality are also to blame. The belief that if one economist or businessman speaks for Remain that one must be found to speak for Leave. If the overwhelming majority is on one side there should not be a need to provide balance, in fact balance is bias when it isn’t representative. There was similar with regard to the fact checking on broadcast TV of the campaigns. There seemed to be a need to balance the comments between the sides event when the mistruths were imbalanced. e.g. Leave’s £350m pledge is bad maths. In’s claims that it will cost everyone x per week is well within the range of most forecast but some disagree. They need to be stopping every interview or speech every time a lie is told, they need to give numbers of lies that can different for each campaign or candidate in an election. Too many were left with the belief that they “are all as bad as each other” and that isn’t good enough. Broadcasters must be clear about who is lying most and ideally call out each specific lie. If that interrupts every interview then so be it, politicians will learn that lying in those situations doesn’t work. There is also an education problem about the EU that the broadcasters could help with, there seems little awareness that the most power lies with the member states in the Council of Ministers where the elected leader of each country has a democratic say and much of the rest lies in the European Parliament and between the two they appoint and direct the European Commission. It is a democratic institution and while not a perfect seems like a better attempt at democracy than the UK Britain with the over-mighty Commons, the unelected Lords and the monarchy.

Politicians have been blaming Europe, for all sorts of things for decades, often when it is only an excuse. In other cases I suspect that the British government has laundered unpopular policies it wants to introduce through the EU so that it can be blamed despite the fact that the British government introduced it. The other unhelpful behaviour is the treatment of negotiations where the presentation is of battling over red lines and Prime Ministers acting as if they are saving us from something awful rather than discussing how by working together they can make things better for every country. The EU policy is rarely explained, justified and celebrated by the politicians.

Much of the Leave vote came from disadvantaged areas, there are large parts of this country that have been left behind as economic growth has focused on the richest and on London and the South East. Much of this is the result of government policy and inaction over my entire lifetime, at least back to Thatcher. The destruction of industrial communities, the high unemployment (acceptable cost for low inflation), sale of government assets, particularly the council house stock that has been hugely depleted without adequate investment to rebuild. This then plays into the immigration issue because housing is expensive and council homes unavailable. Solving the employment issue and people feeling prosperous is going to be harder especially with increasing automation of many jobs. My blame in this area definitely includes New Labour which always allowed itself to be too constrained, it felt the need to join the attacks on those claiming benefit, to penalise and in place vilify. They failed to rebuild the social housing, preferring to support home ownership and the rising debt that went along with it leading to the credit crunch (the Torys had the same policy and would have done no better).

And the final person I blame is myself. I didn’t actively engage with the remain campaign, I didn’t go door to door. All I did was wear an IN sticker when was being handed out near work, send a couple of tweets (probably ineffectual as most followers agree or are outside the UK anyway), discussed it at work (between a number of us we persuaded one wavering voter) and with some friends (I don’t think I shifted the couple of leavers although may have reinforced a couple of votes). I could and should have done more which is why I’m on the list.

Short version:
Boris and Cameron
Leave campaign lies (Boris and Gove)
Right Wing Press (Mail, Sun, Express mostly, also Boris)
Broadcasters interpretations of impartiality
Politicians blaming Europe
Governments since the 80’s allowing increased inequality

British Political Parties need Reformation

This post is going to be somewhat broad brushed, I’m aware there are fine degrees and other issues. I’m also not expecting this to happen,

There are three key policy areas from my point of view, Europe (in-out along with immigration), Austerity and civil liberties (vs security).

Current status

Labour is split between a real left wing party that believes austerity as it stands is unnecessary and harmful (Jeremy Corbyn, the unions and a majority of party members) and in the New Labour wing which is the majority in Parliament. They are largely EU positive although some on the left are concerned that it is too much under the control of big business. On civil liberties they have been fairly weak at least since New Labour with a high willingness to favour security over liberty although there are fair numbers who do care about civil liberties.

The SNP are very similar to the Corbyn wing of the Labour party with the obvious exception of their wish for full independence for Scotland.

The Conservatives share a belief in austerity but with varying positions on the extent of public services and spending if the economic times were better. Their instinct is generally to cut taxes before investing in improved services. There is a huge and obvious split on the EU, with a majority of members anti-EU and split roughly in half in Parliament. On civil liberties most lean towards the security side but there are notable exceptions.

The Liberal Democrats are largely grudgingly accepting of austerity, pro EU and lean to the civil liberties side on security issues.

UKIP is obviously anti-EU and anti-immigration, they mostly favour security over civil liberties and I’m not up to date on their economic policy. Farage is very financially

As I write the Labour party is tearing itself apart. MPs have been briefing against Jeremy Corbyn continuously since before he was elected by the membership, union members and paying supporters (I’m one of these). The fundamental issue is whether Labour is to be a party of the left, opposing austerity, skeptical of foreign military interventions or to continue the New Labour direction of aiming for the centre, prioritising victory to then be in position to slightly mitigate the effects of globalisation and rising inequality rather than attempt to achieve true social justice.

Imagined Alternative structure

In my personal view there needs to a party articulating a true left position, opposing austerity and fighting for true social justice. This is critical for several reasons even if it is hard or impossible for such a party to win a majority as without it the other parties are pulled relentlessly to the right. Without a party holding a realistic leftwing position there is no centre for the New Labour type parties to triangulate themselves to, and the risk is that the Conservatives move further right to distinguish and differentiate themselves. It is also essential that there is a party prepared to stand up and argue for the marginalised, whether those on benefits, refugees or other migrants.

Given all that I think that a more natural arrangement of parties would be for the Labour party to be Corbyn’s and the membership’s left wing party fighting for disadvantaged, for greater equality and an end to austerity. I can imagine it cooperating closely on many issues with the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru.

The Blairite, New Labour wing has more in common with much of the Conservative party. I feel that  a centre-right (although they would think themselves the party of the centre) party could be formed; lets call it the Popular Party. I’m picturing it taking maybe 150 of the current Labour MPs and 100 Conservatives. I could imagine it becoming the official opposition, possibly in a highly pro-EU stance working with the Liberal Democrats. If it didn’t oppose Brexit it would push for a close relationship even if some element of free movement was required.

Then comes the bulk of the Conservatives, largely anti-EU, very keen on privatisation and business deregulation. It would probably subsume many of the non-racist elements of UKIP.

Now while this may better fit the political views across the country and Parliament than the current status the first past the post electoral system acts against it and major party realignments are rare and usually harmful to the parties involved. Having said that anything seems possible at the moment and I feel that there has to be a split in the Labour Party. Whether the Conservatives also split may depend on how unpopular their next leader.

Bombing Syria

True statements

  1. ISIS deserve to be bombed.
  2. The UK can bomb ISIS in Syria.

But that doesn't mean the UK Should Bomb ISIS

Whether to bomb ISIS is the controversy at the moment and I've been shuffling around on the fence for some time. On the one hand ISIS are clearly dangerous, vicious, evil and if they can be destroyed or defeated it will be a better world. On the other bombing is never clean, surgical or free from collateral damage; non-combatant men, women and children will die.

Shoot to Kill

I don't think anyone is suggesting that a terrorist using automatic weapons on the public or police they should not be stopped as quickly as possible and if it costs the terrorist's life very few tears will be shed.

A shoot to kill policy is different, it is a preference for dead bodies over arrests and trials and this should never be the policy in civilised countries.

I would describe my view as being that the policy should be shoot to protect and to save lives. Where shots are taken there are likely to be deaths but they are not the aim or the policy.


For those too young (or insufficiently British/Irish) to be aware there was considerable controversy about whether a shoot to kill policy was in operation particularly with the SAS with regard to the IRA and was particularly controversial when the [3 IRA members were shot dead in Gibraltar](http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/events/three_ira_members_shot_dead_in_gibraltar).

Language About Terrorism and ISIS


This is just an asinine description for suicide bombers. These are people expecting to die for their beliefs. There isn't a shortage of descriptions that really can be applied to them, vicious, barbaric and murderous to suggest just three. To use the cowardly just devalues both language, whatever arguments you are making and any other words.

ISIS is Islamic

ISIS is clearly Islamic,([Very Islamic](http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/)) they talk about Islam all the time and they follow large parts of the Qu'ran to great precision.


Islam is not ISIS. There are clearly a wide spread of views amongst those regarding themselves as Muslims and a vast majority are opposed to ISIS. That ISIS exists is no more the responsibility of most Muslims than the existence of the [Westboro Baptist Church](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westboro_Baptist_Church) is the responsibility of a Church of England congregation in the UK (it isn't their responsibility).

Some things I Think

Some of these things I don't normally say mostly because I'm don't want to offend people but today je suis Charlie and if people are going to take offence at this they should be offended. These are some things that I mostly don't say where I know or think that there might be people who disagree or might be offended. Comments are enabled for you to express your disagreement.

Father Christmas doesn't exist (OK I only avoid saying this around children).

God doesn't exist. And this statement shouldn't be more shocking than the previous one even if you disagree.

Unquestioning belief is harmful. If you are on a mission from god how can that be reasoned with and debated.

If you believe in god I find it hard to see how it can be anything other than unquestioning (pre-renaissance god or gods might have appeared logical).

Unquestioning belief combined with power is scary (I'm thinking Tony Blair and GW Bush here in addition to those with power in ISIS).

Svbtle vs. Posthaven

I’m giving Svbtle a try having used Posthaven for a few months. This is a quick comparison of how I find the two and a little commentary on some of the alternatives I’ve considered but haven’t yet tried. See this post on Svbtle.


I’m fairly new to blogging, I’d been meaning to set up a blog for some time either off based on an existing open source blog/cms or creating my own basic one in Rails or Django but I hadn’t got round to it. I liked the attitude of Posthaven when it appeared, we will charge you money but you get to keep your name for life and I think it came out of the experience of one of the founders losing control of Posterious and it’s shutdown.

Posthaven Summary

  • Costs $5/month for upto 10 blogs
  • GUI post editor (a little clunky but it works)
  • Commitment to long term platform
  • Comments supported


  • Permanence/business model
  • Manage multiple blogs including anonymous and/or private blogs and posts.


  • Some of the Posthaven features require Facebook, Twitter, Scribd, Google Analytics scripts in the page and these are loaded (with associated privacy issues) on all your pages.
  • Not yet any way to theme/customise design which I don’t need for my general blogs but may want for special ones. # Svtle Summary
  • No cost (or business model)
  • Clean (bare) design

Svtle Summary


  • Clean UI very clean (bare but I like it) page design.


  • Lack of business model, no confidence in it staying ad-free and free in even the short/medium term.
  • No hit count - only Kudos.
  • Seems to add editorial subheadlines for you “Read this first”, “More by Joseph” # Alternatives
  • Wordpress is obviously the monster but feels over complicated and reportedly nasty to write plugins for so I personally wouldn’t want to get too deep into it. You can get it hosted or run local.
  • Medium which might be worth a look but requires a Twitter login so I haven’t tried. I also got put off by many of the articles on HackerNews that were linked to there being poor.

Self hosting

I hadn’t got round to getting set up myself so this would sort of defeat the purpose but there are a few options that I would consider.

  • Ghost seems like quite an interesting option that I should look at although it is Node so I might need to learn some Javascript if I was going to modify it at all. Hosted cost $5/month even for a single blog. Officially it only supports SQLite and MySQL - Postgres works but isn’t high enough priority to delay releases.
  • Octopress / Jekyll is probably where I should be going in the short term. I could self host or push to Github pages for this sort of thing and it supports Markdown which I am increasingly comfortable with.
  • Something hacked together with Rails or Django. No time to get it set up or support it in future.


I’m not quite happy with either for different reasons, will probably self host in the future.

The scripts from Google and Facebook will probably cause me to move away from Posthaven fairly soon. I use Noscript to avoid them when I am browsing and I would prefer not to impose them on readers as that would be hypocritical (although it does work fine without them if they are Noscript users).

As for Svbtle while I quite like the design and using Markdown but the lack of current business model bothers me and I’d rather migrate at my time of choosing than when they announce some new policy.