Lying and Lying Liars

by Michael Patrick O'Leary

This article was published in Ceylon Today on December 16 2019. A little late I am afraid.

“Score me up for the lyingest knave in Christendom”

Christopher Sly in The Taming of the Shrew

In the first article that I published in Sri Lanka back in 2007, I quoted Rauf Hakeem: ““The subject of political morality is a relative thing. The current electoral system does not give any government the confidence to try and deliver on the commitments made during the polls.” Who knew? The only thing we could rely on politicians for was to lie to us and break their promises. Since then things have got worse with Donald Trump who has taken lying to  a stratospheric level. There are many websites listing and rebutting Trump’s porkies; here is one chosen at random:

New words have been added to the lexicon as a result of Trump’s twitterings: truthiness, alternative facts, post-truth. Politicians have always lied and set out to deceive the voters. Perhaps a paradigmatic change occurred during the Vietnam war when politicians had to pretend to believe that the mightiest nation on earth was not being humiliated by poorly equipped guerrilla fighters. Hannah Arendt described the way lying became insitutionalised and telling the truth became treasonous. “The extravagant lengths to which the commitment to nontruthfulness in politics went on at the highest level of government…the concomitant extent to which lying was permitted to proliferate throughout the ranks of all governmental services, military and civilian”.

I am in London, watching with fascinated horror the performance of Trump’s mini-me, Boris Johnson, in the general election campaign. Johnson is one walking, breathing lie, a porky on legs. There is nothing genuine or honest about him. He even lies to himself about himself. Political commentator Ian Dunt wrote: “There’s this great yawning chasm between the way the prime minister thinks of himself and the manner in which he actually behaves. In copy, he is a tower of strength, a thoroughly manly masculine man of the most magnificent macho order. But the things he does in real life serve to effectively pop the bubble. He evades, he ducks out, he cowers, he blames other people. He’s ultimately just a bit of a coward.” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed to be interviewed by the fearsome Andrew Neil and got a severe mauling. Johnson is even evasive about whether he will be interviewed by Neil. As another commentator, John Crace, might have put it, “pifflepaffle, whiffle waffle”.

The Conservative Party tried to mislead the public by rebranding one of its Twitter accounts “FactCheckUK”, suggesting that it was a neutral site rather than biased propoganda. It had one of its ads banned by Facebook after using footage of BBC presenters without permission and out of context. They also doctored an interview with Labour front-bencher Keir to suggest that he was not answering questions. In fact, he did a great job.

Every time Johnson open his mouth lies come tumbling out. He cannot resist repeating things that have been convincingly rebutted. He is aware that the National Health Service is a strong point for Labour. In their TV head to head Corbyn scored a good point by displaying a redacted document showing Conservative plans to sell off the NHS piecemeal to US companies. Johnson denied this and countered with the promise to build 40 new hospitals. This cannot be true as only GBP 2.7 bn has been set aside for six ‘upgrades’ over five years. Only one hospital, Whipp’s Cross, can, by stretching the imagination, qualify as a new hospital and it will have less beds than the old hospital. Surplus land will be sold for housing.

In 2015, the Conservatives promised to make the NHS “the safest and most compassionate health service in the world”. They promised 5,000 more general practitioners. The reality is that GP numbers have fallen with senior GPS retiring early because an anomaly in the pension system means that they are paying more in tax than they earn. There are 100,000 unfilled vacancies in the NHS but somehow Johnson is trying to blame the Labour Party for this even though the Tories have been in power since 2005. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I can tell you categorically I’ve never advocated privatisation of the NHS.” Presenter Nick Robinson told the Foreign Secretary: “It’s not that long ago, is it, that you were involved in writing a pamphlet which advocated a health service where ‘two thirds of hospitals are run privately’.”

Johnson has tried to blame lefty ideas for the stabbings on London Bridge last in spite of pleas from the families of those who died in the attack not to besmirch their loved ones with political contamination.

Johnson did agree to be interviewed by an Andrew, but it was Marr not Neil. Marr allowed him to get away with four lies. He said that Labour wants to withdraw from NATO – false. He said that Jeremy Corbyn wants to disband MI5  – Labour politicians may have made off-the cuff remarks about this in the distant past but it is not Labour policy. Blatantly and shamefully he said that child poverty has fallen in the last ten years – in fact, it has risen by 400,000 since 2011. The fourth lie was that Parliament had blocked the Queen’s Speech – it was passed with a 16-vote majority. There were a number of complaints to the BBC that the prime minister was not challenged about his lies. However, the BBC seem to be encouraging viewers to complain that Marr interrupted too much.

Channel 4 is doing better than the BBC. In the past, the BBC was often accused of left-wing bias. These days, they are accused of giving too much rope to the Brexiteer right. Recently, Channel 4 broadcast a debate on climate change. The Conservative Party and the Brexit Party declined to send their leaders. Channel 4 placed blocks of ice in the shape of the planet on the empty chairs allowing them to melt during the course of the programme. The Conservatives made a complaint to Ofcom and threatened to withdraw Channel 4’s licence. (Ofcom rejected the complaint.) This is all of a piece with attacks on the judiciary and parliament. This is a conscious attempt to subvert institutions and to smear all who criticise the party.

Paul Mason wrote, “if you suddenly have a political class determined to ignore these implicit rules, and newspaper journalists willing to act as propagandists for one side, then the broadcast media has to adapt its own behaviour.”

Truth is constantly under threat. The threat will be greater if the Tories win the election. We will be trapped in what Hannah Arendt called “a defactualised world”.