Saturday, January 19, 2008


Do we Really Want Honest Politicians?

Today Simon Hoggart criticises politicians who maunder on about 'hope' and 'optimism', condemning it as 'clap hands if you believe in fairies' territory. He goes on to discuss whether politicians should not eschew all forms of spin and rhetoric in favour of the unvarnished truth:

An honest politician would say: "Look, the world economic situation is desperate; you won't be able to afford your mortgage, and you probably couldn't sell your house if you needed to; more terrorists are being trained every day; and some scientists think the world is going to become a ball of dust in a generation. There's not much I can do about it, but I'll do what I can, and at least I won't con you into expecting anything better."

It's a noble ideal but if someone offered the above degree of honesty while skilled communicators offered, in silken terms, an apparently genuine chance of solutions to such problems, the chances are, say I, that voters would go for reassuring hope rather than depressing truths. It's not that politicians are inherently liars or dissemblers, it's more that we usually prefer the enhanced rose coloured version to the the grim reality. This was not the case with Churchill's 'blood tears and sweat', but in his case the worst scenario, the war, was upon us and his aggression appealed to a desperate nation.

But it was still the hope which he conveyed through his leadership which strengthened our parents/grand-parents' resolve.Bertrand Russell said that he 'would rather be mad with the truth than sane with lies'. Hoggart might agree that the former is the preferred condition but I suspect most people would vote for the latter.

You are so, so wrong on this matter. Just read again what you have written. Telling it way it is does not preclude talking about solutions!
You misunderstand me. I'm not saying we shouldn't have totally honest politicians, merely that, through our own weaknesses, we prefer the ones who keep us 'mad with lies'.

I was under the impression that politicians don’t give a rose tinted version of reality. Surely they exaggerate situations and prey on the politics of fear. Working often in tandem with the media they manipulate opinion to align with their agenda.

The best example of the politics of fear is the deception over Weapons of Mass Destruction, but there are countless other examples.

Furthermore the manipulation of language and statistics, the ‘economy of truth’, means that they often claim to be honest, whilst at the same time expecting their audience to get a false impression. This is sadly what politics is all about.

People want to know what are the real issues and what are the proposed solutions, they don’t either want, or more importantly need, exaggerated problems or simplistic solutions that create false expectations.
Again, I think you address a different point. I'm not saying politicians should serve up a menu of hope or fear, whichever serves them at the time, merely that we the voters seem to prefer to swallow whatever snake oil we're offered rather than face the truth, whatever that elusive concept might be at any particular time.
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