Facts, Rats and Rents | Crooked Media
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May 18, 2023
Pod Save the UK
Facts, Rats and Rents

In This Episode

Never ones to shirk a challenge, Nish and Coco launch ‘Chat Shit Get Banged’, their campaign to stop politicians from lying. They get some expert help from Will Moy, from fact checkers Full Fact – he’s dedicated his life to correcting the mistakes and mistruths of the people elected to lead us…not mislead us. With a general election on the horizon next year, he tells them he’s done with “bullshit manifestos”, and reveals how AI could help root out the liars.


Campaigning works! Nish and Coco dissect the new Renters Reform Bill, which has finally been published thanks to the tireless efforts of people like our guest Anny Cullum, one of the founders of the community union Acorn. But does it go far enough? The Bill doesn’t really address rocketing rents, so we ask if rent controls are the next battleground.


Plus, Nish takes on the NatCons, but has a rare good word for Jacob Rees-Mogg. We also introduce you to Marvel’s newest superhero: Ombudsman, and find out why Coco knows so much about rats’ mating habits.


If you want to support Full Fact’s campaign to amend the rules to make it easier for politicians to correct mistakes, then you can sign their petition here.


Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.


Contact us via email: PSUK@reducedlistening.co.uk.


WhatsApp:07514 644572 (UK) or + 44 7514 644572


Twitter: @podsavetheuk



Will Moy, Chief Exec of the fact checking charity Full Fact 

Anny Cullum, Policy Officer and Researcher for the tenants and community union ACORN


Audio credits:

https://nationalconservatism.org / @NatConTalk






Nish Kumar Politicians Pod save the UK has a message for you.


Coco Khan Chat Shit. Get banged.


Nish Kumar Our campaign to stop politicians lying starts today.


Coco Khan We think that our elected representatives lying, misleading, willfully misrepresenting. Also known as chatting shit where I’m from should have consequences.


Nish Kumar And that’s the getting bang. But it’s metaphorical. We’re not condoning actual violence, of course, but we do think something needs to be done. Employees were chosen to lead, not mislead us.


Coco Khan So join us in our fight to keep politicians honest.


Nish Kumar Welcome to Pod Save the UK. I’m Nish Kumar.


Coco Khan I’m Coco Khan.


Nish Kumar How are you, Coco?


Coco Khan Justice for Finland.


Nish Kumar Justice for all. Is this a Eurovision?


Coco Khan This is Eurovision. Yeah.


Nish Kumar Now, I do apologize. I was at a wedding? The entire of Saturday. So I didn’t even see one lick of it.


Coco Khan Oh, Well, how was it? It was amazing. It was amazing. I was up on my feet. It was like a penalty shootout. It was really tense because you didn’t know who was going to win. Right. Until the very last minute.


Nish Kumar Where did you watch? Were you at home?


Coco Khan I was just at home. In my pajamas. A step it’s like around the TV, shaking, trembling with rage.


Nish Kumar So you feel an incorrect choice was made?


Coco Khan I feel. I’m really conscious that this episode is all about misinformation and people taking responsibility for spreading lies and there being consequences.


Nish Kumar Yes, that’s right. We’ve got a person who’s a professional fact checker coming in, so we better you know, we better have a facts straight. So think about what you were about to say.


Coco Khan Okay. So. Okay, Well, I’m going to say anyway. Anyway, consider this an amnesty of truth for a moment. Occupied. Isn’t it convenient that Sweden won all pretty much won every single jury vote? Yeah, Finland pretty much won all of the people’s vote. Right. But the jury’s won out. Conveniently, that means that Sweden is now going to host the next Eurovision Sweden. By the way, just for context in the Eurovision. Geopolitics is a disco superpower.


Nish Kumar Yeah.


Coco Khan And now they are going to host next year because if one happens to be happens to be the 50th anniversary of ABBA winning the Eurovision, how neat that all fits together. You can just imagine what the show’s going to be like, can’t you? I’m just saying, isn’t it convenient? I’m just saying I think of.


Nish Kumar All of the things I thought that we were going to start the show with. I thought we’ll have a nice, relaxed chat about Eurovision before we start talking about, you know, people not being able to afford their rent. The politicians lied to us and now you’ve gone full Eurovision conspiracy. You’ve gone full Euro-non


Coco Khan I should basically have a tinfoil hat on right now. But, you know, whatever. I accept the result. I accept the result. I tell you what, there is going to be a moment during the sort of festival season where someone is going to drop that Finland tune and. I am going to go bananas. I’m going to lose everything. Back to our episode.


Nish Kumar Yeah, we’re going to be talking about misleading statements, dodgy stats, and downright lies. The stuff that makes you and I annoyed with politicians. So Coco, in our bonus episode where we talked to the hosts of Pod Save America, our founders, our fathers. We said we introduced them to the phrase chat. They get banged.


Coco Khan Yes. Which people will know if they listen to the music, if they’re football fans. Obviously, famously, Jamie Vardy said it in 2016 and kind of catapulted it into the public consciousness.


Nish Kumar And if you want to hear some Americans have been confronted by that phrase, please do listen to the podcast episode with the Pod Save America hosted by John John and told me it’s a very fun listen.


Coco Khan It is a very fun listen.


Nish Kumar It’s on the feed right now.


Coco Khan You know, on a serious note, you don’t have to you don’t have to be from Dagenham the Daggers, as we call it. Yeah. To know you cannot be spouting rubbish and they’re not be a thumping coming your way.


Nish Kumar What’s that? We’ve actually had a tweet from an American listener who’s a Ben Cowherd on Twitter who says the phrase chat shit get banged isn’t totally unheard of here in the States. I’ve heard the Americanized version and talk shit get hit before.


Coco Khan Okay.


Nish Kumar So you know, they were unfamiliar with it.


Coco Khan I like these. I like that. I like that. I want to hear other versions. Now, please send us your version of that from Sweden or Finland or anyone else. And for disaffected. So we’ll be launching Chat shit, get banged later in the show with a bit of help from fact checkers. Full fact. Coming up next though, is help finally at hand for Generation Rent? So the government has finally made good on Theresa may’s promise that we all get to run free fields with abandon. That wasn’t a fight that won. She made a promise back in 2019 and it’s delivered what is being called the biggest shake up of the private rented sector in England in a generation. There are 4.4 million households privately renting in the UK. That’s around 11 million people who, under the current law, as it stands anyway, could wake up one morning and find themselves being evicted through no fault of their own on the whim of their landlord. According to shelter, the loss of a private tenancy is a leading trigger of homelessness in England.


Nish Kumar Yep, it’s the renters reform bill, and one of the key promises of the bill is that it’s going to bring an end to those no fault evictions, but also improve renters rights by improving the conditions of private rental homes and giving tenants more power to keep pets and also contests unfair rent increases. You know, it’s desperately needed given the way that housing has gone in the last sort of 20 odd years. The number of households renting more than doubled between 2001 and 2021, according to the census data, and even more recent in 2021, demand for rentals after the pandemic are up 50% on the five year average, coinciding unfortunately with a fall in the stock of rental homes. So in terms of the actual average cost, the average monthly rents outside London hit a record high of £1,190 per month this year. In London, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s higher. The high is £2,501 per month as an average monthly rent. And in terms of the conditions of some of these houses, unfortunately, we’ve seen a string of news stories that show that a lot of these houses are not up to a livable standard. And according to figures from the City Hall and the Evening Standard, landlords in London received three and a half billion pounds a year for non decent homes, which is an official term, meaning the properties are dangerous, cold or dilapidated. So, I mean, this is this is sort of the real crisis of our generation, really.


Coco Khan I’m surprised it hasn’t been featured more highly on the agenda, although should I be surprised, given half the half of the front bench are all landlords? That’s probably not the point.


Nish Kumar It’s not quite the numbers. All right. But you are correct in terms of there’s an unfortunate optics to this because obviously this is not a new crisis. And look, it does feel like there is a conflict of interest at work here, given that due to research from 38 degrees are a pressure group, we know that 87 MPs are landlords, 68 Tories, 16 Labor, five Cabinet ministers are landlords. The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has declared that he operates seven flats in Southampton. The champion landlord is Nick Fletcher, the Tory MP for Don Valley, who has ten rental properties. I mean, at what point does your side hustle simply become your hassle?


Coco Khan I mean, it does it just start.


Nish Kumar To feel like for Nick Fletcher, he’s like bit on the side. It’s his job as a member of Parliament. And so obviously when you have those kind of statistics, it does start to feel like a bit of a conflict of interest. They just feel like the deal is weighted maybe against getting tenants rights when it’s not necessarily in the interests of quite a few of the people voting for it.


Coco Khan Yeah, it’s weird. I mean, I’ve long held this theory that the idea of a nation of homeowners is in itself a bit kind of toxic. And I was reading this article in the FT. That’s right, Nish. I was at home reading the Financial Times. That’s the sort of woman I am. And I’m a middleton commentator.


Nish Kumar Used to go to raves, actually, You went to a rave last week.


Coco Khan You’re you’re just sits and she’s F.T. in the morning. She’s raving in the evening you know get you a house that can do both.


Nish Kumar I amazingly could do neither. Get you a host that could do both at another one they can do neither. This this lad will not read the FT, nor will he attend a rave.


Coco Khan Not going to dance. You cannot make him dance.


Nish Kumar Oh, that’s not true. Don’t make me sound like I’m one of those people from Footloose.


Coco Khan Are you one of those people that like, Oh, I’ve got a bottled beer and I’m swaying? Are you that dancer.


Nish Kumar I think you would be quite surprised by the extent to I think a lot of people would be quite surprised by the extent to which I go hard.


Coco Khan Oh, really? Yeah. People are like stepping back. Step back, everyone.


Nish Kumar Yeah, people like a stepping back. A man in his late thirties appears to have liked it. Looks like he’s having a disco fit. It is. I’m not saying it’s good. I’m just saying it’s enthusiastic. Okay. What I will say is what I like and ability to make up for in commitment. And that goes for a wide variety of things dancing, lovemaking, stand up comedy. There’s a huge variety of things where I compensate for a lack of basic technical enthusiasm.


Coco Khan We do love a try ahead. But anyway, back to me. Reading the F.T., one of the journalists, Anna Minton, she observed that in the 1920s, a conservative thinker called No, Skelton said as socialism was emerging and racing through you. That the only way you could fight socialism was through property ownership. Right. And that’s what they needed to do. They needed to put more property into the hands of more people. This transfer of wealth to ensure that socialism never won. Anyway, you know. So fast forward to 1979 when Margaret Thatcher says you can buy your council house. At that time, a third of people lived in council housing. So again, it was a really sort of radical big thing that happened. But the downside of that is since 40% of those council homes that were bought have now been sold on to private landlords and they rent them out three or four times the price of an equivalent property in the social housing sector. So it’s turned out for the people who bought it great. But for everybody else, it’s turned out to be quite bad.


Nish Kumar Yeah. And then you take that situation and then add on top of it the 2008 financial crisis and you take on top of that a decade of stagnating wages and you end up in a situation where the average rent outside London, as we said, is £1,190 per month, whilst meanwhile the average UK employee is earning a median pay of £2,200 per calendar month after tax. And you end up in a situation where 50% of the money that comes into your bank account, everyone goes out on rent. And even if you do believe in this idea of a nation of homeowners, Keir Starmer this morning has been doing the rounds saying that he wants Labor to be the party of home ownership. There is this short term problem of how on earth you’re supposed to save for a house if 50% of your money is going on rent.


Coco Khan There will always be people for whom home ownership is simply not a possibility. They need consideration as well. I completely understand why people aspire to home ownership. We don’t have pensions. It’s hard to earn money. Wages are stagnate. I get it. I get a lot of that. I understand why people do it. The system is broken. We want to see it fixed. But there are loads of people who will be renting for the rest of their lives. They deserve also to have some security when they’re out. But anyway. Oh God, I’m getting angry now. This is the other thing while being angry. One of the things I found doing just that was a period of time when I was writing articles in a whole range of subjects, and every single one would lead back to housing. I’d do an article about dating. Dating’s really hard because people have to live with their parents. Yeah. You know, you trying to write a nice, fun article about Bloody Tinder? Oh, yeah. It was the housing crisis. I remember I was working on a feel good story about the joys of being a woman living on your own. And when I looked into the numbers, it turns out living on your own as a woman is really, really, really hard. One charity compared rents across the country in different regions. Then they looked at the average salary for a woman in those regions. And given that affordability for housing is around 30% of your salary going to housing, whether that’s on your rent or your mortgage. There was no place in Britain a woman earning the average salary could afford to rent the average rental. So. So this idea of being a woman living on your own is a total luxury. And of course, that has a knock on effect. It probably means women stay in relationships they shouldn’t be in. If you consider what that means for single parents, it’s really, really bleak.


Nish Kumar Yeah. And also, you know, look, it absolutely victimizes lower income people and younger people. When I first lived in the private rental sector, I lived in a situation and I shall tread carefully around this. It can best be described as legally unorthodox. I was subletting in a legally unorthodox manner, but it meant that there were very few affordable options for me. And, you know, it is. It’s only a situation that’s just got worse and worse and worse and worse.


Coco Khan That’s what everyone of our age has got a horror story. I mean, you know me, I grew up in council housing. I’ve stayed in hostels before. I’ve done the crappy rentals. I know a lot about rats now. Well, it’s just an unbelievable amount.


Nish Kumar What do you mean?


Coco Khan Well it’s just.


Nish Kumar What? You’ve lived in places which just full on rats.


Coco Khan Oh, bruv, I’ve lived in many places with forlorn rats just because they have it. So I know all about it.


Nish Kumar Why do you know about their mating habits?


Coco Khan You have to know because it tends.


Nish Kumar To facilitate them. Is every time of the month that you’re playing Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On so that the rats can both present you.


Coco Khan Then you have, you know how long you’ve got to sort of fix problems to get mesh to do stuff because, you know, they’re sort of multiplying, multiply. I’m actually terrified of the whole rodent rodent.


Nish Kumar Know even mice. You’re like, No, thank you.


Coco Khan You know, it’s funny because people say, Oh, there’s no jobs for life left. But rat catching.


Nish Kumar Rat catching.


Coco Khan As well. Don’t tell Suella Braverman because that will be her aspiration for the use of tomorrow. I see a nation of rat catchers. That will be her big pitch for the young people. And also, just on that point, I actually don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing jobs that are manual or service. My whole family did those jobs, but you do have to pay them solar. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s the it’s not I’m not being snobby about rat catchers. You catch them rats lads, but I hope you’re getting paid properly. The nation needs you.


Nish Kumar Well, look. The bill the Senate announced today is absolutely massively a step in the right direction. Now it’s time to talk to somebody who’s actually been working towards this for a long time and should be able to give us some clarity on what this bill means positively and where it might have fallen short.


Coco Khan Annie Cullum is a founding member of ACORN, a community union which organizes tenants across England and Wales to stand up against unjust treatment and has been fighting for the bill as part of the Renters Reform Coalition. Hi, Annie. Hi. It’s lovely to be on with you today. Big day for you.


Nish Kumar Congratulations.


Annie Cullum Thank you so much. We’re so excited that we’re finally seeing tenants a step towards the justice we deserve.


Coco Khan So the big part of the bill was the removal of the Section 21 no fault evictions rule. Can you talk us through that? What did that actually mean?


Annie Cullum So currently, landlords and tenants through a section 21, which means they can serve you an eviction notice for absolutely no reason doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. It’s not because they’ve had a change in their circumstances. They can just say two months, you’ve got a go for no reason. And what that’s doing is not only causing, well, the leading cause of homelessness, but it’s making tenants worried about standing up for their rights or complaining about problems in their houses, for example, damp mold or broken appliances, because they know that their landlord might evict them in revenge. It’s also stopping people from challenging unfair rent increases as well. So we recently had a case of a couple in Huddersfield who had been complaining about problems in their home and they were served a Section 21 and told to leave on the day that their newborn baby was due to be born. And so that was crazy. And we’ve been fighting that. We’ve managed to keep them in the house and we’re now looking at trying to get compensation for them. And we’ve currently working with a dad of two in Bristol who similarly score a leak in the race, mushrooms growing on the wall. Landlord won’t do anything about it, and it’s taken pressure from the community coming together in protest and full scot free. So removing Section 21 is a huge step forward for tenants. People can’t just have their home taken away from them for no reason anymore.


Coco Khan It’s amazing. I mean, the numbers are absolutely shocking. Nearly 230,000 private renters have received a No. Four eviction notice in the last three years. I mean, it’s so destabilizing. It works out one every 7 minutes, eviction orders being served.


Nish Kumar And so the new bill means that that’s completely taken taken off the table, right?


Annie Cullum Yes. So now, once the bill goes through, the only reason you could be evicted is either you’ve broken the terms of your tenancy agreement as the tenant, or there’s a big change in the landlord circumstance, like they need to move in themselves or sell their house.


Nish Kumar Obviously, that’s a massive win for you guys and that’s a huge credit to the campaigning work that you’ve been doing. But in terms of other areas of the bill that you wish had gone further, or is it something as a piece of legislation that you’re pretty happy with?


Annie Cullum We’re really happy with the Section 21 bits. But what we’re going to be scrutinizing as this bill goes through Parliament and looking for opportunities to improve is making sure that it is watertight. I mentioned just now that there will be some circumstances, landlords kind of tenants, for example, if they want to sell their home. Well, we need to make sure that that isn’t used as a loophole to continue to kick tenants out when they complain about repairs. When Section 21 was banned in Scotland a few years ago. We’ve heard loads of cases of landlords just saying, Oh, I’m selling my house, but then putting it back on the market again to rent. So we need to make sure that those areas are closed. And something that this bill doesn’t do is address the affordability crisis of renting anyone rent. And we know just how much it’s been going up in the last few years. So during this bill’s progress through Parliament and beyond to the next government, we’re going to be campaigning for more radical measures to bring prices down. So there’s been lots of coverage about sky high rents in London with the city demanding a rent freeze. But actually the rents have soared, highest in Dundee, 33%, putting it behind only Sunderland is having the steepest increase in the UK. You’re totally right that much more needs to be done to bring the rents down. So one thing that we’re hoping to push for on this bill is a cap on in tenancy rent rises so that when tenants are given a rent rise, that can’t be ridiculous. Currently that’s judged against like market rents. We think it should be judged against things like inflation or the average earnings and how much they’ve gone up. So it’s actually linked to people’s income because at the moment you’ve got people who are spending 50, 60, 70% of their income on rent and that’s just not. Sustainable if you want to have a healthy life longer term than that, though, we campaigning for more, you know, council housing, social housing. And at the end of the day, we would like to see rent controls eventually. But we don’t say we’re going to win that out of this government. So we’re still really pleased that we’re getting this commitment of section 21.


Nish Kumar But on the subject of rent controls, there’s been a sort of six month rent freeze in Scotland, which is, you know, it feels like quite a sort of revolutionary scheme in the context of the housing market in the last 10 to 13 years. The SNP government brought in this six month rent freeze to help people as they were moving through this cost of living crisis. What have we learned from that six month period? Is this something you think that Scotland will continue with now that the six month period has ended? Is there any is there a drive to make that a more permanent measure?


Annie Cullum So I know for our sister union living rents are campaigning to extend that measure more. But I do think the rent freeze is just one piece of the puzzle. And it’s only freeze in rents and existing tenancy. So what it’s not done is how much a landlord can advertise a new home for. Right. So we’ve we’ve actually seen some of the prices on new houses jump higher than they might have done before because they know that they’re not going to be able to increase the rent as much once the tenant is in. So what that shows is that when you want to introduce a package of rent controls, you need to look at it holistically and not just tinker with one bit of the market. But I do commend the Scottish Government and the campaigners up there for getting that emergency rent freeze because we really are in desperate times and they know that it’s how thousands of tenants north of the border to manage their finances try to. And in. Before we have to let you go. I wanted to ask you these movements around tenancies and renters home owners should get involved as well, right. If they believe that this system needs reform. Absolutely. Like you might not be renting yourself at the moment, but everyone knows a renter. If you want to make sure that your kids or their friends have access to a safe, secure, affordable home, it’s absolutely imperative that as many people get involved in this movement as possible. At the end of the day, a decent home is the foundation of a healthy life. And what we’ve seen over the last, you know, until this has come in, is that people’s ability to have a decent home has relied on the goodwill of their landlord rather than protective laws. So it’s really important we all band together to make sure that having a decent home is a right and that you get protected by that in law. And it’s not just based on a few landlords. A decent personal note.


Coco Khan Thanks so much, Annie.


Nish Kumar Thank you. And congratulations for today.


Annie Cullum Thank you.




Coco Khan Nish, would you like to tell us who’s taking the title of Pod Save the UK’s Villain of the Week?


Nish Kumar Well, I have received more correspondence about this, both from listeners of the podcast and friends of mine that listen to the podcast just to pick one. Daniella Graham speaks for a lot of people in my mentions and in my text messages. She tweeted out Pod save the UK to say. Currently seeing each new national conservativism piece of horrific nonsense and wondering how on earth pod save the UK will be able to choose just one villain of the week. So listen, we’re not going to choose one villain of the week. Our Villain of the Week isn’t just a person. It’s a movement. It’s the National Conservative Isms Conference, which has been held in London and is how to describe this event. It’s billed as a conference about conservative thought. It’s Woodstock for the Unfuckable.


Coco Khan It is a live Reddit thread. We’ve got some clips, actually.


Clip The ethnicity of grooming gangs and the perpetrators in those gangs is the sort of fact that has become unfashionable in some quarters. Much like the fact that 100% of women do not have a penis.


Clip The normative family held together by marriage, by mother and father, sticking together for the sake of the children and the sake of their own parents and the sake of themselves. This is the only possible basis for a safe and successful society. It all came from a recognition that there was a problem with nationalism in a German context. And that is simply a historical fact. But I see no reason why every other country in the world should be prevented from feeling pride in itself because the Germans mucked up twice in a century.


Nish Kumar Douglas Murray, who you heard from there, along with the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman and Danny Kruger mucking up. He seems to classify World Wars as mucking up. I mean, it was the clips from it are just absolutely terrifying. And to be clear, this at various points at this conference have been happening for a while, and at various points it has been considered to be a kind of far right event. But now at this event that happened in London this week, we’re seeing addresses from frontline Conservative MPs Suella Braverman, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg. For us listeners, one of the US speakers was the US Senator Jodi Evans, who appeared via Live Feed as a special guest and for UK listeners, wondering what he’s like. JD May as well just on for just dog shit, just absolute dog shit.


Coco Khan The only JD for me is JD Sports and Daniel. We don’t even see you can clear a fence.


Nish Kumar There were a number of serious things raised at this conference. I mean, it’s all fun and games to listen to some of these absolutely deeply strange people saying they’re deeply strange and points at best, a host, a historic things. But Conservative MP miriam Cates once again used the phrase cultural Marxism and claimed it was destroying children’s souls. Cultural Marxism is a conspiracy theory associated with the far right and Semitic thought, which claimed that this sort of interwar period Marxist scholars undermined Germany and cultural Marxism is often seen as coded antisemitism. It is just a festival.


Coco Khan Of chatting shit.


Nish Kumar Absolute chatting, shit, absolute chatting shit. I mean, there were occasional moments of insight. Michael Gove did actually observe that culture war issues were unlikely to win the next election for the Conservative Party, which he definitely fucking needs to tell Suella Braverman about because her speech was an absolute culture war. Bingo. She hit all the issues, as you heard that she once again returned to a quote unquote fact, a word which I’m using incorrectly in this context about the majority of grooming gangs, big men of British extraction, which her own home office is, data has proved is completely incorrect. But she also hit trans issues. She said that the the left are ashamed of our history and embarrassed by the sentiments and desires expressed by the British public. She talked about the fact that there should not be any collective guilt. She said the defining feature of this country’s relationship with slavery is not that we practiced it, but that we led the way in abolishing it. If I run you over with my car, I don’t get credit for calling nine, nine, nine. That’s not how things work. It’s but it is absolutely extraordinary. And Brafman also went on to say that the politics of grievance and division is illiberal and incompatible with social cohesion. Social cohesion. The motto of the Matt Cotton Conference should have been grievance and division. That’s all it was about. It was recycling nonsensical talking points from Twitter accounts that have proud dad in the bio. But the problem with this is that it is much more serious than we might have previously thought because they were front line conservative ministers that the person in charge about immigration policy was there addressing this conference. And it is a really damning indictment of the current state of the Conservative Party. It was somehow simultaneously bone chillingly terrifying and mind numbingly dull.


Coco Khan Absolutely.


Nish Kumar So how can we make politicians tell the truth? Do we need laws? Do we need fines? Or everyone’s favorite? Do we need an ombudsman? Which is a fun word.


Coco Khan It’s one of those words I don’t like to say outside of Britain.


Nish Kumar Well. Well. Ombudsman.


Coco Khan It’s like because you would just. You would think in your mind that is a man who ombudsman that’s not aware.


Nish Kumar But eventually the Marvel superhero is going to be really scraping bottom. We’re really going to be scraping the bottle when they get to ombudsman. That’s going to be that’s going to be a difficult society because I don’t even think Robert Downey Junior is going to get that across the line as a fun film. So over the next few weeks and months. We’re going to be picking the brains of people who have been doing the thankless task of trying to keep politicians honest, starting with the hard slog, and let’s face it, often quite thankless work of fact checkers.


Coco Khan Yes, absolutely. And as you know, every week we like to nominate a pod, save the UK hero. And today our hero is with us in the studio. He’s someone who’s dedicated himself to calling out and correcting the mistakes and mistruths of our elected representatives. So welcome to Will Moy, chief executive of Full Fact. Will has been trying to separate fact from fiction with the independent charity of fact checkers since it launched in 2010. Hello.


Will Moy Hello. Thank you very much. And I should stress full fact is very much a team effort. So possibly, possibly a team of heroes, but definitely not one Avengers.


Coco Khan Okay, we can do that. We can work with that. Just give us just give us a few moments to brainstorm.


Nish Kumar Also, to be clear, that was spoken like somebody who was worried that that comment was going to be sidetracked immediately. Well, boy, the undisputed hero of fact checking, I would like to fact check that I’m not the I’m sorry. Well, thanks so much for being with us. Well, I guess, like before we get into it properly, I just want to get a sense of your background and how somebody ends up being a fact checker. What was the route that led you to end up with full fact?


Will Moy Well, you start by being annoyed and then you go on to saying, What can I do about it? I mean, most of us of how it.


Coco Khan Sounds good.


Will Moy For me, it ended up as a job. So what happened was I, I left uni, I ended up working for and All-Party Parliamentary Group on Transport Safety. I learned a thing or two about how Westminster works, and then I went to work for an amazing guy called Colin Lowe, who’s completely blind. He’s used to run the Royal National Institute of Blind People. He got married to a member of the House of Lords, nonparty political, and he needed an assistant. So I went to work for him as his human guide, dog researcher. And for three and a half years I went round the House of Lords with him. Kind of amazing sight between us. Three years, two eyes wandering around trying to make the law a bit better, make it more disability friendly and so on. And because he was blind, I read everything was sent to him and some of it was nonsense. And him being the researcher and my job was to figure it out. And I noticed some of that nonsense being used by serious people making really serious decisions. And that annoyed me. And then Peter O’Brien, who’s political journalist, wrote a book called The Rise of Political Lying, and he said, This is actually a really big problem. It’s a wide scale problem. In the US, they have these fact checking organizations. Why don’t we have one here? And I thought that was a good idea. Turns out a bunch of other people were thinking about the same idea at the same time. I got together with some of them, particularly a guy called Michael Samuel, built up a cross-party board of trustees. Full fact got launched, and I ended up working there and then learning a lot about fact checking the whole way, including making plenty of mistakes along the way.


Coco Khan Part of your work is approaching politicians to correct the record and publish a list of them. State how long it’s been since they have failed to correct it. I had a quick look this morning. Quite a lot of politicians failing to correct the record. Can I ask honestly, how often does it actually work?


Will Moy So with politicians in the last year, I think we’ve lost 25 to correct the record and five of them have done it. So contrast that right with the media. I know, you know, we’ve had plenty of arguments with the press over the years. First time we needed to ask every major media outlet to correct the record. I think the slowest one took nine months. And then when they finally were pressured into correcting the record, they got it wrong and they had to print it again. But now they’ve improved their processes, they’ve improved the rules, they’ve changed their internal processes. Typically when we go to a national paper in this country, they will correct the record within days and if not hours, some of them even correct the record before we’ve gone to them, before we published a fact check. And that’s a really big change that has happened in the 12 years I’ve been doing this job. What we need is the same change for politicians now. And this thing about your opening question, how do you stop politicians lying? Do you think they want to lie to us all the time? I don’t actually. That’s not been my experience. Some of them obviously don’t care, certainly on some topics. Yeah, but actually most politicians are busy people trying to do a tough job under a lot of time pressure on a whole range of subjects, most of which I don’t know anything about and not do that stuff. They’re going to get things wrong. So the question is, why don’t they correct the record when they do get things wrong? No one expects them to. And there’s no kind of process for them to do it in the House of Commons right now. If you are a member of parliament, you get something wrong. There is no process for you to formally correct the record unless you are a government minister. All the other MEPs, even the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, cannot formally correct the record when he gets something wrong. And that’s amazing. And that’s crazy.


Nish Kumar Even in Hansard, if you’ve said something at the dispatch box, there’s no scope for you to correct something you’ve said.


Will Moy Exactly. You can stand up later in another debate and say, referring back to this thing, I said, I’m on a different day or earlier. By the way, it was wrong. But in terms of actually going back and saying and marking that as it was an error, it was a mistake. Government ministers can do it, but no one else can do it. So last year we launched a petition to get them to change that rule, because in every walk of life we don’t say never make a mistake. We say, correct your mistakes when you make them right. We tell that’s a six year old and we should have the expectations of MPs. If we launched this petition, which you can sign full fact to org slash act. 44,000 people have signed it already. The House of Commons has started an inquiry into whether its corrections processes actually work and are actually up to date and hopefully that inquiry will report this year they will improve the processes and suddenly there’s a new expectation on politicians to actually get things right and correct the record when they don’t.


Coco Khan Am I right in thinking that there has been an uptick in dishonesty, lying missive, whatever word you want to use in the last two or three years?


Nish Kumar Are we living in a golden era of bullshit?


Will Moy Reminds me of a comment the Financial Times made about a minister’s response to one of our fact checks. Once the Financial Times described it as a spectacular piece of bullshit. So there are certainly some special moments to caveats because I’m a fact checker and I’ve got two. The first is we can’t fact check what’s in people’s heads. We don’t know if they’re lying to you. That’s a choice you have to make your own mind up about. The second is we don’t fact check a random or representative sample of staff, so we can’t say 2013 was more or less honest or accurate than 2023 in a kind of rigorous way. What I found really interesting, I fact checked five prime ministers now starting with Gordon Brown, just about two parties we launched in 2010. And the consistent thing about prime ministers is they don’t tend to admit when they get things wrong. I think we’ve had one or two formal corrections from prime ministers in that entire time. They tend to quietly drop things that they’ve got wrong. Sir Gordon Brown, for example, first ever prime ministerial correction, he made some claims about government support for businesses, tough economic times. Back then they weren’t true. We challenged them on that. They kept saying we got a newspaper interested. They challenged them on it and they quietly dropped it. And that’s what we expect to see from prime ministers. What happened? It was different when Boris Johnson became prime minister as he kept saying things that weren’t true that he had been told were not true. I have been told by asked I’ve been told by the UK Statistics Authority, which is set up by law to protect the integrity of official statistics that he’d been challenged on in Parliament that he’d acknowledged were not true. And he kept saying them. And when that happens, you’ve got two options, right? Either he’s being deliberately misleading or he doesn’t know what’s going on. Of a claim he was making was employment was going up when it was actually going down. If a prime minister doesn’t know that people don’t have jobs and thinks they’re actually getting jobs when they’re losing jobs, that’s terrifying. If the prime minister is willing to mislead the country about that, that’s also terrible.


Coco Khan Wasn’t that allegedly part of his policy? He had a mantra, didn’t he? Lied. And I move on. I know you can’t comment on that, but I’m just going to leave it there.


Nish Kumar I think sometimes we sort of have a tendency to feel like we’re living through a particularly interesting a particularly bad age. But it does feel like with Johnson specifically and things like the £350 million a week claim, which was on the bus, and he then restated in the Telegraph article, it feels like with him particularly, there was a very casual relationship with the truth at best, or at least there was a kind of it felt like there was a kind of steady stream of mistruths coming out from him.


Will Moy I think, you know, what I said about Boris Johnson is a clear comparison We can make that he didn’t crack the record and he kept saying things that are untrue. It certainly was a difficult time in terms of there was a lot that didn’t stack up and that felt. It felt like there was less paying attention, less attention to detail in his approach to political communication than in a lot of other politicians of different parties. But that reference to the 350 million vote kind of stand out claim of a referendum and it wasn’t true. And we explain that in great detail at the time. And a lot of Remainers look back on the referendum as the time when the Remain campaign told the truth all the time and was completely not misleading and the Leave campaign just lied for public and the stupid public got everything wrong and they voted the wrong way. My experience fact checking that campaign in great detail was, a naive aside, earned the trust of the public, and both sides used misleading tactics, misleading claims. And it’s really important, although there is this kind of sense of what’s happened in history, not to write off as a one sided thing.


Coco Khan Well, that’s our concern. I mean, Nick and I were talking about it the other day, and, you know, we’re starting to detect from the Labor Party misleading, inflammatory statements that we previously be livid about coming from Sweat, a problem coming from Rishi Sunak, coming from Boris Johnson. And there’s a sense, oh, that’s politics now. That’s how you play the game. But am I right in thinking that that is a race to the bottom, that that is you know, when you set this up, you had identified that that sort of behavior is corrosive in a much longer, almost intangible way.


Will Moy Well, I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks that actually, if you ask people, what do you think are the biggest issues facing Britain today, unprompted without list of options to choose from, one of the top ten things people say is lack of faith in politics. And politicians have been saying that for quite a while now, and that’s terrifying. Only about one in five of us generally trust politicians to tell the truth. So here’s the problem.


Coco Khan They are the politicians, right? That one, they all work in parliament I believe.


Will Moy This is the problem. If we all assume politicians are going to lie to us, why would they not live down to those low expectations? And so actually the challenge isn’t just to point out the problem, which is we’re not holding people to high standards. It’s actually to raise our expectations and to recognize the people who do get it right. Those five out of 25 MPs who did correct the record when they got something wrong did something important, and it probably cost them a little bit. Yeah, but it was an important thing to do. That’s what we should expect.


Coco Khan I know we’re talking a lot about mistakes, but I do have to just read you this example that was on Full Fact’s website about something that Rishi Sunak said recently, and that said, what did the unions and just oil have in common? They bankrolled the Labor Party. I’m sorry. Well, but I don’t believe that was a mistake.


Will Moy So here’s the process. We writes of a Prime Minister and his office and we say, Have you got any evidence for this? We go and look at the official sources. There is no evidence for it that we can find. We right him. There’s no evidence found. They provide 5000 people. I think it was wrote to number ten. We asked them to write to number ten and asked the prime minister over back. They saw the draw it. He has done neither. And this is my challenge. Then if you won’t back up what you say and you won’t withdraw what you say, is that honest? Should we accept that?


Nish Kumar So I mean, going forward, are there practical things that we can do? Are there policy changes that can be made to actually hold politicians to? I’m allowed to use the phrase that was used previously on previous episodes of this podcast, which is chat shit and get banged.


Coco Khan We would not expect you to use that language.


Nish Kumar Yeah, what a formal process is we could bring in to actually bring some accountability when a mistake goes uncorrected.


Will Moy Let’s start. We’ve go to full factor org slash Act, sign a petition, tell Parliament an honest Parliament makes his MPs correct the record when they need to and has a process that allows them to do that. That is the most basic, simple thing that the House of Commons could do basically tomorrow and we should all be demanding that of them. But then we’re all voters. We have an election coming up sometime in the next 18 months, give or take, and we have the power to expect more from our candidates and hold them to account. And I think that’s a really exciting time. So I’ve now covered 2010, 2015, 2017, 2019. I have to count them on my fingers. So something for fact checker for general election three referendums Every election I’ve ever covered the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The number crunchers of the budget have said something like Neither of the two major parties is presenting an honest set of choices to the public, and that is mindblowing. Not just that they can say that once, but that they can say something like that four times in a row. And the expert organizations in health are saying the same, and the expert organizations in migration are saying the same, and I am done with that, frankly. And if that is the standard manifesto, we’re being given manifestos, we call them bullshit manifestos that are about a world that doesn’t exist and making promises about a world that cannot exist. What is the point of writing a manifesto? What’s the point of reading it? And to be honest, I have some sympathy with people who say, what is the point of. Voting. So we got to push back and expect more than that. We want to end bullshit manifestos. We want to hold parties to a standard where you’ve actually got to show how your manifesto adds up. You’ve got to make claims that actually checkable are meaningful so that people can ultimately work out whether your promises work and whether you’ve implemented them in the end.


Coco Khan There’s so many lies all the time. I think it’s quite hard for the average voter to kind of keep on top of them. Now, I know that you are working on an AI solution that can deal with this. Can we hear a little bit more about him?


Will Moy You certainly can. So if you were if if we were sitting here and the software was turned on, what you would see as a real time transcripts of everything we are all saying. And as that transcript was being made, it would check against our database of fact checks for you, repeating any claims that we already know are untrue or indeed are true and highlight those fact checks in real time. It would also identify some kinds of claims that our human fact checkers have never touched, but the software can fact check itself. So some things, like a lot of statistical claims, employment has gone up since last year. It’s actually quite easy for a computer to go off. The relevant spreadsheets from the Office for National Statistics, have a data download erm presenter We can do that in about half a second. Human Fact Checker That takes quite a long time to do. So what we’re trying to do is carve out areas where you just cannot bullshit without being pulled on it instantly either because the checks been done before or because computers are capable of doing it. And that software. We started working on this I guess in 2015. It’s genuinely groundbreaking. We used to have when We Lie Fact check BBC Question Time. We started doing in 2011. We used to have people just typing it in real time. So that fact checkers, you got to look at the exact words people say right when you started checking as part of being fair to them. Now we have a computer doing that. We have a computer going back over our archive of them, desperately trying to remember, Did we write something about that once?


Coco Khan That computer can only do like black and white things. It can’t do that. It can’t understand the context or how, you know, we were talking about the example of 12 brothers and talking about Pakistani grooming gangs. Obviously, it’s a factual error mistake lie to say that it is a it is Pakistani greeting gangs who are responsible for the most of on street grooming. But if she were to change her language slightly and just say, we have a problem with this, we have a problem with this and not say the full picture about how actually there’s a widespread problem of all ethnicities. A computer couldn’t get that right. It couldn’t get the kind of wider context and how we hide like that, how we manipulate truth like that.


Will Moy No, completely. Computers are really interesting. Important particularly because politics doesn’t just happen in a few newspapers and a few TV stations anymore. It happens all over the place. And understanding misinformation and disinformation and internet scale, which was a lifesaving thing to do during the pandemic, requires Internet scale technology. It’s got a role to play, but it’s a relatively limited role because ultimately you need an intelligent human being first, trying to work out the best version of what somebody is trying to say and give them credit and try to understand their argument and second, to assess it intelligently. And you just pointed out, I think, a really important risk, which is politicians can just fluff it. Yes, they can just kind of say, I really care about X without ever really saying anything that anyone can check or believe in or trust or have any reason to vote for except a vague feeling. And that’s why calling out bullshit manifestos is going to be more and more important. Because if people just retire to this world of vague value statements, then we’ll never going to get to hold them to account for anything.


Nish Kumar Is that the big mission then? Because, I mean, are you worried about the next election just because in with the proliferation of social media, you know, there were points of in the 2019 election where everybody was guilty of misinformation. Obviously, as you said, with the Brexit campaign, both sides were guilty of misinformation. It seems to be something that’s escalating because of the wildly different ways we all consume media information. Are you optimistic or concerned, would you say, about the next election?


Will Moy Both. I’ll tell you why I’m optimistic. 44,000 people have signed a petition to tell parliament we expect better, not some kind of we hate you all, you’re all lawyers, but some really specific. This is what we expect you to do better. And I think that’s powerful. I know that for outside people in this country already agree that we want politics to be more honest. Finding that voice and using it and counterbalancing the pressures of political campaigns is so important. And we started to do that. That’s what makes me optimistic. What makes me concerned is that in the last ten years, we’ve gone from if you want to reach millions of people, you have to do it on the front page of a newspaper or a billboard or on the news. There has to be a journalist who can question you or your your opponents can see it and they can challenge you. So you can do that all quietly online and really targeted ways where your opponents can’t see it, let alone argue about. And now we’re going into a new world where you can generate piles of text, images, videos, entire websites about complete nonsense, essentially for free. Now, imagine most people tune into an election in the last 24 hours, maybe 48 hours. Imagine you drop a whole load of nonsense into an election 24 hours before an election, deliberately to reduce turnout, deliberately to get people angry. Whether you’re a hostile state doing that or a political party doing their own offshore, non-tax paying person doing that. All kinds of malicious actors can drop into an election with tools they never had before. And at the same time, we’ve got these politicians subjects such low expectations for the public, unfairly low, sometimes looking around, how on earth do I win an election trying more and more, I think, dodgy tactics. You know, we’ve seen I despise it, but we’ve seen election leaflets dressed up as if they’re polling cards. We’ve seen election leaflets dressed up as if they’re letters from the NHS. We’ve seen election leaflets dressed up as if they’re local newspapers. I’m eating, eating away at proper independent journalism. Those shady, deceptive campaign tactics should not be allowed and should not be accepted by any serious political party. And all of those things are happening, and they’re all kind of happening at once because the old rules they used to apply don’t really apply anymore.


Coco Khan Well, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time and your your work you’re doing in pursuing truth. We we respect it very much.


Nish Kumar Yeah. Thank you very much, Will.


Will Moy Thank you very much. And let me just say one more time, full factor org slash act. Get involved.


Nish Kumar Amazing.




Coco Khan So it’s nearly time to leave you for another week. Jaclyn’s emailed into us to warn us about being too English centric. Pointing out the discussion on voter ID and local elections was only relevant to England last week.


Nish Kumar Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And this would seem like a good opportunity to discuss the fact that Northern Ireland is going to the polls this Thursday. So the day the podcast is released for the first local elections in four years. There’s a total of 462 seats up for grabs in all of Northern Ireland’s 11 councils, and that is particularly important at a time where Stormont remains in a kind of freeze due to protests over the Brexit agreements. So it’s all eyes will be on Northern Ireland over the next week.


Coco Khan So in previous episodes we’ve been querying why voter ID was brought in in the first place in England when there was no evidence of electoral fraud taking place. So imagine all surprised our listeners when none other than Jacob Rees-Mogg openly admitted this week that the reforms were an attempt to boost the Conservative Party’s support.


Clip Parties that try and gerrymander. End up finding that that clever scheme comes back to bite them as dare I say, we found by insisting on voter ID for elections and we found that people who didn’t have ID were elderly and they by and large voted conservative. So we made it hard for our own voters and we upset a system that worked perfectly well, was rather the glories of our country, actually.


Nish Kumar That was one of the few lucid things that was said at the NATCOM conference, the Labor MP Dawn Butler, described Rees-mogg’s comments as deeply concerning and suggested that she might have to report them to the Parliamentary Standards Authority or the police.


Coco Khan Well, I mean, as we have been talking about on this show, if she does report them to the Parliamentary Standards Authority, can we be sure that they are going to take action? This is why we need the processes. Those are the two options, police or parliamentary standards authority. There’s got to be something in between. Anyway, we move on.


Nish Kumar We’ve had some nice correspondence from listener called Catherine, and I’m pretty sure this is exclusively aimed at you, Coco. Love the podcast. Just wanted to let you know that I saw a movie advert for Showgirls confirming that the film is both iconic and extremely highbrow. Also, thank you for reminding me the existence of E17 then Catherine goes on to say, hoping to see the Tories out, the monarchy abolished, and that everything will be alright. Alright. Everything’s going to be all right.


Coco Khan Oh, you really should have sung that.


Nish Kumar I don’t think anybody needed to hear me sing E17. I did see Showgirls pop up on Bobby Ruby’s movies. Exactly the kind of app that I’ve subscribed to. It’s. It’s basically like hipster Netflix. Like it’s it’s independent foreign language and arthouse film streaming service. And they added Showgirls to their library as a kind of misunderstood cult classic.


Coco Khan Amazing. I just understood because I was thinking about this other day. I was thinking about like when I was in my twenties, I had really good taste. I would like listen to, like Felonious Monk. She will gather round friends and try some Tarkovsky, and now I just watch Fast and Furious. Oh, I would. I sort of must go past the other day with Fast X and I was like the last one. They put a color in space. One could well they can they possibly die. And you know what I think my theory is? Well, I think the Tory’s made me dumb.


Nish Kumar I. Wow. You blamed Sweden for stealing Eurovision of the Conservative Party, for making you dumb.


Coco Khan I’m doing a lot of baseless accussations today.


Nish Kumar So let me just quickly wrap my mind around this. You say because of the sort of mismanagement of the economy and mismanagement of public finances and the sort of 13 years of stagnation and underinvestment you’ve been as a journalist, so forced to deal with consistent and constantly moving serious news stories that you don’t have the brain space to engage with high art, and it’s left you at a place that you can only enjoy Eurovision and the Fast and the Furious.


Coco Khan I only watch Ludacris. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got left. I’m emotionally spent. I’m mentally broken from 13 years of this government. And now all I keep thinking when I’m on the bus is like, maybe, maybe in the next Fast and the Furious, someone will be born a car. That’s where I’m at. But anyway, thank you so much, Catherine, for emailing us. And if you want to get something off your chest, please do get in touch with us. You can email P.S. UK at reduced listening dot Co.uk or you can even send us a voice note on WhatsApp if that’s the kind of thing you like to do. Our number is 07514644572. Internationally, that’s +447514644572. Don’t worry, if you haven’t written it down, it will be in the show notes. And if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate and please review it on your podcast platforms.


Nish Kumar Yes, please rate it because we got a one star rating before we did a podcast. My girlfriend pointed that out to me. She was like, You’ve got a one star rating. We hadn’t even done an episode.


Coco Khan I guarantee you that was because of you. That was someone who hated you. I don’t like that Nish Kumar. One star. It would’ve been me.


Nish Kumar I don’t know what you’re talking about Coco. I’m the nicest sweetheart. Anyway, thank you very much for listening. We’ll see you next week. Well, I’d say the UK is a reduced listening production for crooked media.


Coco Khan Thanks to senior producer Musty Aziz and digital producer Alex Bishop.


Nish Kumar Video editing was by David Koplovitz and the Music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.


Coco Khan Thanks to our engineer David Degahee.


Nish Kumar The executive producers are Louise Cotton, Dan Jackson and Michael Martinez.


Coco Khan Watch us on the pod, Save the World YouTube. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at Pod. Save the UK.


Nish Kumar And hit subscribe for new shows every Thursday on Apple, Spotify, Amazon, or wherever you get your podcasts.