Lies, damned lies, and politicians - how to check the facts

Now that the 2005 UK general election campaign has officially started, Channel 4 has produced a timely website to keep tabs on our friendly politicians. FactCheck has been set up to "scrutinise interviews, speeches and manifesto pledges - informing public debate by creating a popular resource for an information-hungry electorate". Its aim is to test the veracity of claim and counter claim by the country's leading politicians.

The new website ( is based on the American fact-checking website, originally set up in 2003, which enjoyed widespread acclaim during the US elections with its unbiased scrutiny of the accuracy of political speeches, interviews and press releases. It quickly established itself as a trusted monitor and was widely quoted by political parties and journalists.

The Channel 4 version has already uncovered false claims made by Patricia Hewitt, Trade and Industry Secretary, in relation to Conservative childcare policies: she "alleged twice on Easter Monday that the Conservatives had "backtracked" on plans to give parents £150 a week for childcare costs. She first made the allegation during a BBC Breakfast TV interview and repeated it at a press conference a few hours later. The only problem was the Conservatives never actually said it in the first place":

Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin was also caught out with his claim that Labour has "added about a quarter of a million extra bureaucratic posts in this country. That's not teachers or doctors or nurses or army personnel or anybody on the frontline serving customers but people behind desks dealing with pieces of paper." FactCheck showed that these "bureaucratic posts" included matrons, librarians, and laboratory assistants:

Other politicians being economical with the truth include John Reid, Health Secretary, who is claiming that "the Conservatives would abandon a central principle of the NHS and charge people upfront for operations. He warns that under the Tory proposals people would face the stark choice of waiting for months in an NHS system or pay extra for private treatment if they want to be treated quicker. He also claims resources that would be spent on the NHS would be given to the private sector, which would put it at a disadvantage and force patients to go private. However, FactCheck has established that the proposed Conservative policy won't bring patient charges for operations":

At last we can keep election lies in check (The Observer, 3 April 2005)

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