Thursday, July 23, 2009

 

Lying in Politics

Bagehot in The Economist recently suggested lying comes easily to most of us but especially to politicians. All of them promise to be honest and 'pretty straight kinda guys' as Tony assured us, but all of them are found wanting before long we sadly discover. Bagehot recognises that all of us lie in small ways pretty often- telling people they look well or amazing when they don't quite, or, if a teacher, that a student has not done too badly when you know they have.

But politicians have other quite good reasons to lie and we should not be surprised if they do. Some examples:

1. Members of government who have to toe the party line when we know they disagree. The alterative, of course, is thet they lose their job or deeply embarrass their party in government. This is why I cannot dislike Ken Clarke as he shows no respect for theparty line when his own views contradict it.

2. Reasons why they have resigned. This is related to the above of course, but ministers often reachout for safe euphemisms like 'spending more time with family'; 'a time for reflection on the backbenches or whatever.

3. When Treasury ministers have to gild the lily of truth to prevent runs on the stock exchange.

4. When national security is involved.

5. When two political antagonists have to be soothed and led quietly into more peaceful waters.

All the above are very common and quite understandable to anyone but those few 'Robespierres of purity' who deplore even the slightest white lie. The fact is, we have to accept that in politics it is inevitable that truth is going to be distorted and occasionally mangled; this is merely a reflection of the labryinthine realities of reaching decisions when passions are running high. So should we just meekly accept and/or condone such behaviour? It depends. If the reason is understandable then maybe we'll understand but if it's a selfish ploy to gain advantage, avoid culpability or strike someone else down, then we are right to condemn.

Of course, the golden rule for all politicians regarding lying is, as batallions of them led by Bill Clinton know only too well, is: don't be caught out doing it.

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