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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking Dodgy British Claims

Every now and then, we like to check in on what our British cousin is up to, just to remind ourselves that Americans have no monopoly on political spin.

The FactCheck Blog is a project of a TV network, Channel 4 News, and it regularly skewers British politicians for false, misleading or exaggerated claims. It’s written by political correspondent Cathy Newman. The politicians’ names are different, but the issues and the malarkey will sound familiar.

  • The head of Britain’s biggest labor union claimed the United Kingdom’s budget deficit is "not high by either historical or contemporary standards.” Verdict: "Len McCluskey got it wrong. The deficit is the highest for nearly 70 years, and the national debt is the higher than for 50 years."
  • The conservative prime minister suggested Britain could ease the pain of £1.28 per litre petrol (English-to-English translation: $7.72 per gallon gasoline) without costing any tax revenue. Verdict: David Cameron’s idea "could be very costly for the Treasury and … industry insiders say it would be a cumbersome, impractical measure."
  • The leader of the Labour Party claimed that the government’s austere deficit-reduction program "is what is inhibiting growth in this country." Verdict: "Ed Miliband made a schoolboy error in stating that the cuts had choked off growth when they haven’t even started in earnest yet."
  • As an example of public-sector waste, Cameron claimed that a local police force was "just about to buy a £73,000 [$116,000] Lexus" as a police vehicle. Verdict: The price was actually closer to £50,000 [$80,000] and the car had been purchased a year earlier.

It’s good to know that the U.S. isn’t the only country struggling with big deficits, rising debt or high prices for auto fuel (though ours are cheap compared with those in Britain). We also find it oddly comforting that citizens elsewhere contend with politicians — liberal and conservative — who can’t resist trying to bamboozle the voters. In fact, the spin that comes from British politicians is sometimes hard to distinguish from what we’re used to on this side of the Atlantic. On the immigration issue, for example, Newman reports:

FactCheck Blog, April 30, 2010: The Tories and Labour call it an “amnesty for illegal immigrants”, the Lib Dems call it an “earned route to citizenship” with “tough qualifying criteria” that will lead to only a “small percentage” getting British citizenship. It boils down to how you define an amnesty.

One final note. Since we at FactCheck.org are constantly straining to find synonyms for "baloney," "malarkey" and "bunk," it’s nice to find some fresh (to our American ears) expressions. We have our own annual roundup of political "whoppers," while our British cousin’s roundup lists "dodgy claims" and the "daftest political utterances of the year." In one piece, Newman accuses the prime minister of wielding a "statistical sticky wicket" to justify his proposed cuts in funding for school sports, and another article — ridiculing one official’s excuse for a less-than-promised economic performance — asks, "was it the weather wot done it?"