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Why the #makelyinghistory campaign is bad for politics

There is a new celebrity campain making it’s way into the spotlight. Move over Band Aid, you’ve had your 15 minutes and frankly, both me and Adele weren’t really feeling it this year. It’s time to turn our attention to the new, sexy ‘Make Lying History’ campaign; the brain-child of Jolyon Rubinstein, a comedian from TV’s The Revolution Will Be Televised.

In a short video, filled with pretty celebrities, Jolyon Rubenstein explains that “it’s completely legal for a politician to lie in parliament” and that we should “make lying in parliament history”. The pretty people then urge us to sign a petition.

I hate politicians talking through their arses as much as Professor Green and Jack Whitehall apparently do. I really care about democracy and I particularly care about democracy being honest, open and fair. Also, I’m not ashamed to admit that I have a very strong and very real love for Russell Brand, who is one of the celebrities supporting this campaign. However, all these points considered, there is something about the ‘Make Lying History’ campaign that does not sit well with me.

Firstly, it is misleading. At best, that makes the campaign ironic and at worst, hypocritical. Entitling a campaign ‘Make Lying History’ suggests that the aim is to make lying history. The first line of Rubenstein’s petition states:

‘If I were to lie in a court of law, I would go to jail. But it’s entirely legal for an MP to lie in Parliament. Doesn’t sound right, does it?

And yet if you scroll down, Rubenstein states that “I’m not launching [this] as part of a campaign to have this law passed.” He claims that it is about starting a debate. But staying true to our 140-character-attention-span generation, people don’t read to the bottom and already this petition is being shared widely by people who think that they are signing to turn this petition into law. It really isn’t clear enough. Of course it’s good to have a debate about political honesty. But we need to call a debate a debate. Don’t hark on about how misleading people is bad and then mislead people yourselves. It reeks of condescension.

In some ways, it is a huge relief that Rubenstein isn’t actually fighting to make lying in parliament a crime, because that would open a can of worms so big that, if passed into law, we’d be pulling worms out of our hair for generations to come. The infamous Nick Clegg, Tuition Fee pledge is used by the campaign as a prime example of when a poitician has lied to our faces.

As a student, I voted Lib Dem because of that specific pledge and so I feel personally betrayed by Nick Clegg’s broken promise. But would I want to see him go to prison for it? No. There is a difference between telling a lie and breaking a promise you fully intended to keep. It would be almost impossible for a Judge to be able to differentiate between a lie and a broken promise in a Court of Law.

Also, if we start making promises legally binding then where does it end? If we follow it to it’s logical conclusion, in forty years time, we could have thousands of ten year olds in prison, charged for not handing over their sweets to a friend after making a pinky-promise. It’s only a pinky-promise officer! Please don’t lock up the little ’uns.

Most importantly, we do already have a system for getting rid of lying politicians. You may have heard of it? It’s called ‘voting’. It’s been around a while, the old ‘voting’ thing and absolutely anyone over 18 can do it. If a politician keeps lying to you, you don’t have to deal with them for the rest of eternity. You can actually tick a piece of paper which means they won’t be able to lie to your face anymore. Until we sort out the embarrassingly low voter turn-out in this country, maybe we should stop blaming the system for being broken. If we get 100% turnout then you can complain all day long, as far as I’m concerned.  And if you think our voting system is broken, vote for a party that believes in electoral reform!

Whilst I have no doubt that this campaign was started with good intentions, it really hasn’t been well thought through. If celebrities don’t do their homework before launching a hashtag-phenomenon-come-political-campaign then they will begin to lose credibility at an alarming rate. And contrary to popular opinion, I believe many celebrity campaigners do fantastic work. Leonardo Di Caprio and Emma Watson are great examples of the good that can be manifested from a high profile.

The ‘Make Lying History’ campaign makes a lot of good points, but political debate doesn’t benefit from an unclear and over-simplified campaign. It makes Rubenstien and the celebrities involved look, well… a little bit stupid, which from his TV programme, it is clear he is not. Let’s reform democracy, but not like this.

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