General Election Report — Introduction from the Director

Published: 3rd May 2015

The election has been factchecked

Full Fact's General Election Report is genuinely ground-breaking in offering both a view from Full Fact's election centre, which has been factchecking the election campaign from 6am until midnight every day of the campaign, and in making available independent analysis from some of the country's leading research organisations.

Politics is what you do with the facts: your priorities, your principles, your appetite for risk. We offer our General Election Report as a guide to the clashes between the manifestos; the real and apparent contradictions. It is also a toolbox of information to help voters navigate through the hazards of political claims that we have spotted during the election, with concrete examples of why they matter.

Unanswered questions

Significant questions remain than factchecking alone can answer: that's one reason why we asked for contributions from organisations with deep subject expertise. And it's astonishing that some of these vital questions remain unanswered.

On the economy, the Institute for Fiscal Studies describes voters as "in the dark". Perhaps this is the last election when that is the case if the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) does begin full costings of parties' manifestos.

One of the biggest issue for people deciding how to vote is the NHS. In our report, the Nuffield Trust sets out three unanswered questions on the parties' NHS funding pledges.

On housing, England will have 220,000 extra households every year between 2012 and 2022 according to official projections. Manifesto commitments for house building fall short of that number, let alone providing extra homes for existing households.

What goes unsaid could matter just as much as the statements actually made. While ambitions for education often focus on international economic competitiveness in terms of young people's skills, the National Foundation for Educational Research points out that if we want a competitive workforce, international evidence shows we need to focus on adults acquiring skills throughout their lives too.

Finally, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford reminds us that many of these policies target an uncertain world. Even clear aims and election promises may not always be successfully delivered in reality.

Voters, experts, and the media should all be concerned that we do not yet know what we are voting for—and take the next few days to pursue more credible answers to some of these concerns.

Can we trust politicians?

Not everything we factcheck is inaccurate and outright cynicism does not appear well founded. In carrying out our work we publish what we find either way and we've spotted instances of all three main parties taking care to avoid repeating errors they have previously made.

A factchecker's experience is that a cockup is at least as useful an explanation as conspiracy for the inaccurate things politicians say. One of the problems Full Fact therefore exists to help solve is how difficult it is for most of us to distinguish what we can rely on from what we cannot.

Nevertheless, the public's belief that politicians cannot generally be trusted to tell the truth is both unshakeable and rational. Enough of what the manifestos and the campaigns have said is not accurate—or cannot be taken at face value—that it makes sense to be sceptical of any individual claim.

We have seen, for example:

  • Cherry picking of living standards statistics ('Manifesto clash: living standards')
  • Spurious certainty about the performance of free schools ('Manifesto clash: free schools')
  • All three parties blaming one government or another for decades of under-provision of housing ('Manifesto clash: recent house building')
  • Claims of an "epidemic" in zero hours contracts under this government, when you can't compare the figures over time
  • Negative comparisons of children's SAT results from the last Labour government to now when the assessments have changed (both at: '5 Election Claim Pitfalls: Facing the music')

Most concerningly, we have identified a number of examples of political parties making important claims based on publicly-funded research and analysis without making that analysis public.

Scope of our report

Our General Election Report does not try to assess a random or even representative sample of political claims and does not seek to compare accuracy between parties or individuals. Based on our experience during this election we are studying what would be required to do this.

With the resources we have, we have chosen to focus on the three main parties in our report—the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. For consistency we asked our external contributors to do the same. Other political parties are available, and of course you vote for an individual candidate rather than a political party.

The topics we have chosen to focus on are derived from Ipsos MORI's invaluable Issues Index, in particular their research into the issues that people say will most affect their vote.

What's next

Statistics Norway—one inspiration for our election work—has taken a concerted approach to supporting democratic debate at election time by publishing briefings on topical issues. The appetite among the media and the public for neutral information produced by experts is growing and we are excited about supporting statisticians deploying themselves to cope with this trend, and our report sets out in more detail how this demand can be met.

For Full Fact ourselves, our short term aims are to develop even stronger links with a wider range of expert organisations for the next election, to deploy new processes and technologies that allow us to increase the speed and volume of our work significantly, and, when our resources allow, to extend our reach from the national campaigns into the local battles of marginal constituencies.

I am very grateful to our exceptional team for the work that went into our report and to all those, including funders and those who have contributed content, into making our report possible.

Will Moy


Full Fact General Election Factcheck 2015

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