– The Prime Minister made a speech
– A comedian interrupted with a fake P45 claiming it was from Boris Johnson
– The PM struggled with a severe coughing fit
– She was given cough sweet by the Chancellor
– Some letters from the slogan fell off the wall.
Those are the bare facts. Is that a historically accurate reporting of the event. You will probably agree that it is. However, that’s not how you will have read it, hear it or recounted it. You may have heard a cabinet minister describe the way that the PM gamely battled on showing her resilience. You may alternatively have read reports at described the event as a catastrophe, the set fell apart, she was upstaged etc. Some of those reports, especially from more left wing media will have gone on to interpret the tragic story as symbolic of the Government’s incompetence and a post Brexit, broken country. Others however may have seen not just the events but the media reaction as symptomatic of either agism, sexism or both because of how a 60 year old lady is portrayed and treated. Clearly, those reporting the story are biased and have their own agenda. But are their accounts more or less accurate.
What about an account that does not even bother to report those mishaps. I haven’t checked but I suspect the Conservative Party website will have a press release which simply talks about the speech, the specific attack lines on Labour and the policy commitments made. Is that less historically accurate for not talking about the facts mentioned above? Some may argue that my bare facts are actually less accurate because they divert attention away from the real purpose of the speech.
Then, if I do accept the bare facts as accurate, have they told me enough. They may provide the real story but do they provide the full story. Was the set badly built, sabotaged or was it just one of those things with unfortunate timing? Was the Chancellor helping the PM in her discomfort or doing something that on the one hand looked kind but in fact drew attention to her weakness and mocked it? History is never really about bare facts, it by necessity comes to us interpreted.
What matters is not that the facts are interpreted or that the interpreters have bias but whether or not their assessment is correct. So it is possible that one interpretation was true whilst the others were wrong, it is also possible that none of the interpretations we have had so far were correct. Alternatively, each interpretation may contain at least an element of truth.
This example was timely yesterday as our Union Learning Community were looking at the historical reliability of the Gospels. The Gospel writers were not neutral observers simply giving the bare facts. They were interested, engaged, biased even and they interpret the events, sometimes by giving commentary, sometimes by how they structure their accounts. This does not mean that their accounts are not historically reliable. In making that judgement call, what matters is whether or not their interpretation of the events is correct or not.