Stockbridge Parish Magazine

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Last month I wrote a short piece for Stockbridge Parish magazine which came out today. I have repeated the text here in case it is of use to readers of the magazine.

On the June 23rd we will have the opportunity to make one of the most important votes in our lifetime. Remain or leave, our decision will be fundamental to the future of the United Kingdom and Europe and we are unlikely to get an opportunity to change our minds. However, I think a lot of us don’t feel adequately informed. We know that politicians are campaigning for one side or the other so we can’t trust them not to mislead us and the same is true of the press. Adapting a quote from Andrew Lang: they use facts as a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination. And that’s a shame. Decisions as important as this should be based on logic and evidence.

Luckily we live in the age of the internet. Almost anything can be checked and often in a very short time. I do a lot of this. So here are a few reflections on how to use the Internet to get closer to the truth.

Of course the Internet is as full of falsehoods and exaggerations as any other medium. Using Google to search on “Brexit” will give you thousands of blog posts and press stories in no particular order, no way of knowing which to trust, and many of them out of date. Frequently people react to this by turning to sources they know – but this often turns out to mean sources they agree with, which is not the same as impartial! The newspapers in particular, including the broadsheets, are extremely partisan. If you want an impartial summary of the issues and facts a better source is one of the “fact-checking” web sites which stake their reputation on being neutral. “Full Fact” (https://fullfact.org ) is one of the best. It is an independent charity which succeeds in being both authoritative and impartial on a wide range of issues (don’t confuse it with “In Facts” (http://infacts.org/), which is also a good site but openly campaigning for the REMAIN camp). For example, George Osborne said that leaving would cost the UK £4,300 for every household. Full fact explains what this really means and how seriously to take it. If Full Fact does not answer your question then the BBC EU Referendum Reality Check is a good alternative – although some people are concerned that the BBC is dependent on the government to renew its license fee.

If you want to get more detail, or to check what you have read elsewhere, then you can turn to the sources of the data. Many of them are quite easy to use. The Office of National Statistics runs a Neighbourhood Statistics service (http://www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk ) which can give you almost any statistic you can imagine – in many cases down the level of the Broughton and Stockbridge ward. Did you know that in 2011 there were 1,393 people living in Test Valley who were born in other EU countries (just over 1% of the population)? The EU web site itself (http://europa.eu) is quite intelligible and easy to use. Of course, it can’t be assumed to be unbiased on Brexit but there are some facts about Europe which are not open to interpretation. For example, contrary to rumour, the EU does publish audited accounts and has done for many years. They can be inspected on the EU web site.

Sometimes you want to know the answer to something quite precise and then the most effective approach is to use a search engine such as Google. At one stage Boris Johnson claimed that “Crossrail tunnels had to be 50 per cent bigger in order to accommodate German trains”. You can search on that phrase and quite rapidly find the truth (I leave it as an exercise for the reader!).

Of course not everyone is comfortable with the internet or has the facilities. If anyone is in this position and would like help finding out more I would be delighted to help – just give me a call on 01264 810562. It is a vital decision and I passionately believe we should make it on good grounds as opposed to anecdotes, myths and personal insinuations. As it happens I think we should REMAIN but don’t take my word for it. The internet is your friend if you know how to use it.

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