So how can you tell if a politician is lying? Well, to try and quote Kenny Craig, the hypnotist character created by Matt Lucas, “Look into my eyes, don’t look around the eyes, look deep into my eyes.”
It is a phenomenon that I have noticed a lot during the current election campaign. Many politicians have their eyes so wide open that you can see the whites of them all around the pupils. It’s quite scary looking and also quite unnatural.
If it was just the odd one that was doing it then it could be disregarded as a slightly odd physical trait, but there are just too many of them doing it for that to be the case. Then I remembered some of my studies from years ago, especially those relating to neuro-linguistic programming; NLP for short.
NLP describes the way people’s eyes behave when they are being dishonest. It’s a reflex action and therefore hard to control. Hard - but not impossible.
Firstly when someone is being dishonest their blink rate increases. It is a consequence of the mental stress created when telling a lie; the fear of the risks and consequences of being caught out.
Successful poker players are able to use this ‘tell’ in order to work out if an opponent is bluffing. It’s why players often don’t make eye contact, look up at the ceiling or down at the table. Some even resort to wearing dark glasses. If you want your opponent to think you are bluffing when you really have a good hand just up your blink rate a bit (not too much, that looks creepy too). It’s why playing poker on-line is very different to playing it with real people at a real table.
For most people the blink rate of someone on TV is something to which we wouldn’t normally pay much attention, but we now have computers that can do the counting for us and they can instantly register an increase in blink rate as a politician moves from saying nice honest things to saying something more dishonest. That is a hell of an edge that an interviewer or a political opponent might have if the information was fed to them through an ear piece. Of course, if we were able to spot the increase then our voting preference might well be influenced by us spotting a lie in this way.
However, it isn’t just blink rate that changes. According to the theories of NLP if someone is telling a lie then they will look upwards and to their right. It’s because they are having to engage the brain to create a picture; they have to create a lie and they are visibly engaging the part of the brain involved in creativity.
When someone is remembering a picture, recalling something that is true, their eyes look upwards and to their left. They are engaging the part of the brain that is used to remember things. Truth is remembered, lies are created, it’s quite simple. It’s a subtle but unmistakable clue as to what is going on in a person’s mind.
Again, a computer could be programmed to identify this tiny shift in eye-line.
In order to control these two tells I believe the politicians have been taught to control their eyes, but it’s hard work. They have to strain to keep their eyes wide open and looking straight ahead, creating this wide eyed and rather creepy stare.
I have seen three politicians do it during the last couple of weeks: Ed Miliband when he announced the proposal to remove non-dom tax status, Douglas Alexander when he tried to defend this proposal on BBC TV's Question Time and Ed Balls when he says just about anything. I have also seen it earlier in the campaign (Yvette Cooper springs to mind) and even before it, but I hadn’t then worked out its significance.
I’m not picking on Labour here, it’s just that I haven’t seen any Tories doing it. I’m not saying they haven’t been telling any lies because that almost certainly isn’t the case. Maybe they haven’t been taught the technique, or maybe they just aren’t as obvious in the way they use it; who knows, practice makes perfect after all. With the Tories you may have to monitor their blink rate or watch to see if they are looking upwards and to their right.
Please pay close attention to the eyes of politicians when you see them speaking on TV if you want to know if they are telling the truth or not. If they have that wide eyed stare then they may well be trying to lead you up the garden path. Its why politicians prefer radio to TV whenever they are making public pronouncements. That should immediately make you suspicious!
It isn’t fool proof of course. I’m sure Marty Feldman wasn’t a congenital liar. He just suffered from a medical condition.
Of course there is another way of telling when a politician is misleading you, and that is to actually listen to what they say. They are very careful about how they use words and often what we think we hear isn't what they said. This week the parties published their manifestos, and without exception they all claimed they were "fully costed". Does that mean they have told us where they are going to get the money to pay for their promises? No, because "fully costed" isn't the same as "fully funded".
In all cases they failed to tell us how much they would borrow, what taxes they would raise and by how much, and what cuts they would make and how big they would be. Unless they tell you that then they are misleading you. Yes, they may put another £x billion into the NHS spending just as they promised, but where will it come from? Who will pay for it and how much will they pay?
Labour keep telling us 'mansion tax', but that won't raise a fraction of what they have promised to spend, so there must be other tax rises or spending cuts that they don't want to tell us about because it might lose them votes. Reducing tax avoidance/evasion? Ditto; it isn't enough. The Conservatives are worse, because they haven't even promised a mansion tax. ALL the parties are misleading us by not telling us. Their lips are moving, so we know they are lying; if not by commission then by omission.
Ed Miliband has promised to reduce the national debt by 2020. Does that mean we will owe less than the current £1.56 trillion? No it doesn't. He can't mean that because he has said he won't balance the budget until around 2018 and that means that the national debt will get bigger in the interim. What he means is that the debt will be smaller as a proportion of our GDP.
As a proportion of GDP the national debt is currently about 81.3%. Providing the economy continues to grow as predicted then that proportion will get smaller; it will be around 79%, but in cash terms it will be bigger. See: what he said wasn't what we thought he said. Predicting what the economy will do is like trying to preduct the winner of the Grand national, so what if the economy doesn't grow by the predicted rate? Well, Ed's promise is meaningless and he will claim that it wasn't his fault, it was the global economy wot dun it. Does that sound familiar? It should do because it's what Gordon Brown said in 2010.
It's a "fingers crossed and hope for the best " promise which is just another way of saying it's a lie.
Apparently the decision on replacing Trident must be taken by 2016 as it takes so long to design, build and commission nuclear submarines and the ones we currently have are getting too old. Once they get to a certain age they have to be decommissioned for safety reasons.
During the Scottish independence referendum many traditional Labour voters didn’t like Labour’s support for the ‘No’ campaign and transferred their allegiance to the SNP. Naturally Nicola Sturgeon wants to hold on to that support. It will strengthen her grip on power in Edinburgh and also promises to increase SNP influence in Westminster.
By promising the estranged Labour voters that the SNP will support a Labour government on a vote by vote basis it allows them to vote SNP with a clear conscience, but it also threatens Labour’s traditional strength north of the border and risks them not getting a clear majority in Westminster. This favours the Tories, but probably not enough to guarantee that they stay in government. However, it favours the SNP even more. The term "punching above their weight" springs to mind.
So what? Labour and Conservatives are in broad agreement on the issue of Trident and therefore the vote on replacement, when it comes, is certain to be passed.
But that isn’t the way Nicola or, more likely, Alex Salmond, will use this particular bullet in the SNP gun.
They will wait for a vote on a policy which Labour is much less certain to get through Parliament and then they will fire the bullet. They may even vote against Labour’s first budget, risking its defeat.
“We will not support you at this vote” Alex will say, “unless you promise to get rid of nuclear submarines.” Or “We will not support you unless you remove Trident from Scottish soil.” They might even use both threats at different times. The SNP might not even have to vote against Labour, they might just have to abstain.
What this means for Labour is that they have to comply or risk the defeat of one or more of their flagship policies. If they keep getting defeated then they can’t govern. The alternative would be to go back to the country to try to win an overall majority without the need to rely on SNP backing to get their policies through Parliament.
That would be risky. If they aren’t doing well in government Labour may get kicked out if they’re forced into an early general election. With fixed term Parliaments, as we have now, they may not even be able to go back to the country. We could be faced with five years of a lame duck government.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree with replacing Trident or not, because Nicola has many more bullets in her gun than just that. If she wants more money for Scotland she can make the same threats. If she wants more powers for the Scottish Parliament she can make the same threats. If she wants another independence referendum within the next five years she can make these threats. If she wants Ed Miliband to have the words of Flower Of Scotland tattooed on his bum she can make the same threats. Ed Miliband may be Prime Minister, but he and Labour won’t be governing the United Kingdom.
What we would have is a minority of the British people dictating how the majority would be governed: the votes of under a million people living north of the border would dictate what happens to sixty four million people living in the whole country.
Is this democracy? No.
By ruling out a coalition with the SNP Ed Miliband has placed himself between a rock and a hard place. In a coalition the SNP would be morally bound to support Labour in Parliament even if they don't really agree with them. This is what happened to the Lib Dems in the vote on university tuition fees. It is the price that is paid by the smaller party in exchange for having seats at the Cabinet table. However, without a formal coalition agreement there is no such moral obligation.
How the SNP governs in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish people and quite rightly so, but how they impose their will on the English, The Northern Irish and the Welsh is another matter entirely. If you are a Labour supporter in Scotland, or were formally a Labour voter there, then there is only one way to make sure that you get a Labour government in Westminster. It is even possible that by voting SNP the Labour vote will be split and the Lib Dems or the Conservatives will win more seats in Scotland. Interestingly no one is mentioning that possibility, not even the Lib Dems and the Tories. Again I have to wonder why. Perhaps they don't want to scare the estranged voters back to voting Labour.
There is only one way to make sure that the SNP doesn’t hold the reins of power and that is for the rest of us to get off the fence and support either Labour or the Conservatives, to make sure that there is a party with an overall majority in Parliament on 8th May.
The same accusation can be leveled at UKIP, of course, but I sincerely doubt that UKIP will turn support in the polls into Parliamentary seats, so I really doubt if they would be in a position to support a Tory government. However, if they do then they can also do t the Tories what Nicola Sturgeon could do to Labour.
It would be a huge irony if the party that failed to convince the Scottish people that independence was a good idea became the effective rulers of the United Kingdom. I wonder if both Labour and the Tories are starting to regret the success of the ‘No’ campaign last year. Oh dear, it’s the Law Of Unintended Consequences again.