I do not usually blog on politics, but then again we do not usually have the kind of messy and exciting political scenes both regionally and globally as we do today. Whether we talk Zille, Zuma, Zimbambwe or Ztrump. History has shown us the enormous significance politics has on people`s lives around the world.
However, this is not simply a political blog in many respects I see it as a marketing or ethical exploration of political marketing. And indeed politics has much to do with marketing.
If we view politics as a market where promises and manifestos are sold in exchange of profits, is it not about time for politics to be a regulated market?, I wear not only the hats of a concerned citizen but also that of an objective outside observer.
As an observer I see a world that is heavily regulated. You cannot sell pharmaceuticals, electrical goods, electronics, children’s goods, food (& tobacco of course!), cars and automobiles, insurance, banking and other financial services, houses to buy or rent, and others, without meeting specific safety and other regulations. And the entire marketplace is covered by regulations on advertising and unfair trade descriptions.
Similarly, the directors of companies are liable for the acts of those companies when they affect safety and human well-being or the economic welfare of the organisation.
There is no equivalent governance and regulation over political advertising. Normally the counter urgument is Section 16, well lets deal with the bogeyman of freedom of speech out of the way. Freedom of speech is not the issue: it applies as much to the marketing of any of these markets as it does to politics. Freedom of speech is the right to an opinion, a point of view, and to express it. It does not give you the right to deceive. But in politics we have all got used to deception as business as usual.
Of course, the institutional rivalry of politics means that the different parties contest and challenge claims. The problem is that this is an unsatisfactory solution. Committed followers of party X do not pay much attention when the members of party Y tell them that party X is telling them porkies. If they read the wrong paper they may even not see it. This is basic social psychology. And some are clearly better rhetoricians than others.
Politicians, and journalists, can make claims and promises that turn out to be untrue. Should not only get egg thrown in their faces, but what they say must meet legally reinforced standards of evidence if they state something risky as fact or deliberately overlook evidence to the contrary of their position.
We have plenty of experience of dealing with uncertainty in claims. Financial markets are always making predictions and they know that they have to emphasise that uncertainty. Pharmaceutical companies also market their drugs with both medical claims and information about possible side effects and risks. What would have happened if the politicians, on both sides of the fance, would be required to be careful in presenting evidence, and the limits of reliability on that evidence, rather than being given a free hand to offer opinionated aspirational claims and promises?
Some might say that it will make politics too complicated. I would say that we are making extraordinarily important decisions in ways that are way too simplistic.
Some will say that people already do not believe politicians. There is much cynicism, but we should be careful to differentiate between cynicism about the other party’s point of view and scepticism about your own party’s claims. The latter is very important for good democracy.