What price the truth?
Politicians have a tendency to pomposity in their belief in their own integrity, but the public in general has a different view. As the old joke has it:
How do you know when a politician is lying? Their lips are moving!
It’s now an open secret that they are telling bare-faced lies, which they would deny even when caught red-handed. Honour among thieves is one thing, but honour in politics, if ever it existed, now seems firmly consigned to history, no matter which country you look at. Worse than that, they apparently now believe they can tell porkies and get away with it as a calculated gamble! This article explains how. Worse thing is that they can be caught red-handed, as Boris Johnson was at the hands of Eddie Mair, yet apparently get away untainted. As Nietzsche put it:
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
Small wonder there is now such apathy and lack of trust in politics. In short, it is hard work: every comment from any politician of any party has to be deconstructed and interpreted in minute detail to determine what they really mean. If you take their words at face value, you will never, every determine the truth – though often they phrase their answers so they are answering a different question – and not answering the question is another prime example of political behaviour. Some examples:
“Iraq has WMDs.”
“We will be greeted as liberators when we invade Iraq.”
“We will be in and out of Iraq in six weeks.”
“Saddam Hussein has connections to al Qaeda.”
“Saddam Hussein has nuclear missiles that might explode in our country.”
“We must bail out the banks because they are too big to fail.”
The issue being that opinions like this are stated as facts when the politicians concerned have no such evidence – yet, like Blair, they will cling to the same story as if it were absolutely fact. Yet there are many occasions when they are allowed to get away with outright lies, and only punished with loss of office under the most extreme provocation.
No minister will ever be quoted in public admitting that any policy of theirs, no matter how hare-brained, has done any harm or caused hardship, such as Lord Freud claiming that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between removal of benefits and the vast rise of food bank use. Nobody believes a word of what he says, but without direct evidence through individual cases, he can get away with saying it. Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme Director says this:
“These comments don’t bear much relation to the reality. The fact is that food banks are stepping in to fill a gap left by the welfare system.” He continued by saying: “The evidence is very clear that people are going to food banks out of real need. They feel a sense of stigma that they can’t feed themselves and their families.”
And Liam Byrne, Shadow Work and Pensions secretary says this:
“These comments show just how out of touch this Government is. The welfare revolution we were promised has failed. Unemployment is up, the benefits bill is soaring £20bn higher than planned, and food banks are growing by the day, yet the only ones getting any extra help from this Government are millionaires.”
One thing both shy away from saying is the obvious: that this was a deliberate attempt by the minister to deflect criticism with a statement that was patently untrue – he did not believe his words any more than anyone else, but he said them regardless.
You could take the view that we should take our own view and vote accordingly, though as a member of the Lords Freud is immune to electoral whims. More than this, we have no power without elections to redress the balance and voice our concern about being told outright lies, which you might conservatively estimate happens every day of every week by at least one but more probably lots of politicians.
Ah, but you can’t accuse an opponent of lying in the House, though anyone caught lying in that august institution will be called to account. Outside Parliament they can say what they like and often without any redress. Worse, politicians on all sides will often share the same illusion without question – maybe because they believe that is what voters want to hear. Of course, if they lie to police and courts, as did Chris Huhne, Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer, they will suffer the consequences – but lying to the electorate is apparently fair game.
And worst of all is the breathtaking hypocrisy in which they engage. Iain Duncan Smith quoted on the front page of certain tabloids of the left lying, while having been caught red-handed quoting statistics on his welfare reforms that are not only factually wrong but actively misleading, to the extent that he is chided by the chair of the authority responsible for information in government. There are no depths to which politicians will not stoop. For me, hypocrisy is the worst crime of all, and few in Parliament are exempt.
You simply cannot trust these people, and if they complain of being tarred with the same brush of those who are caught, they only have themselves to blame for generations of lies and deceit.
To put it another way: saving their own skins and advancing their climb up the greasy pole is more important to the vast majority of politicos than the views of constituents. Treating us like mushrooms (kept in the dark and covered in sh*t) is the norm and quite acceptable. We as voters are lowest of the low, apart from the brief weeks coming up to an election.
So here’s a solution: ALL politicians are forced on entry as a candidate for any election, and renewed upon election and taking any post, to take the same oath as if they were witnesses in court to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or be charged with perjury and sent to jail, stripped of their honours and forced from office. Their seats should be relinquished and subject to by-elections.
What difference would that make? One cynical friend suggests jails would be overflowing, though hopefully it would mean they spoke without spin and hyperbole or not at all. The difficulty would come in the interpretation of shades of truth within any comment, particularly since many – like Iraqi WMDs – are only proven years later.
I’d turn that around: as with our libel laws, the burden of proof should be on the person making a statement, and if they cannot justify their remarks they should withdraw and apologise, or face the consequences. We might at least be blessed with the sound of silence, but if politicians do speak they should weight against their words the possibility that it is not simply fair opinion but a deliberate lie punishable by law.