Posts Tagged ‘lies’

[Oh, before I start, just a reminder about the photos I’ve used in this blog this year. Other than shots I’ve taken myself, or have express permission to use, they come from an iOS app entitled Unsplash which supplies copyright free photos. Also on:]

You’d think the subject of this post would have occurred to me during the amount of time I’ve spent on Twitter but no; the rising to the fore of this particular irritation was occasioned by me spending half an hour trying to wrangle a sentence, a bit of dialogue in a short story, into doing what I wanted.

Which it stubbornly refused to do.

For British readers, you have to remember in the next sentence that Americans call them lightning bugs, not – as we sensible Brits call them – fireflies. But Mark Twain once observed that for a writer

“The difference between ‘the right word’ and ‘the wrong word’ is the difference bewteen the lightning and the lightning bug.”

And while any writing I do is attempting to use the lightning rather than the firefly, I’ve spent part of today trying to use exactly the right word. And thinking about the vagaries of language.

For example, why do we listen to something, but merely read something. When I visit my friend’s place off Mainland Scotland, am I in Skye, or ‘on’ the Isle of Skye?

You know what irregular verbs are, right?

They’re when you say something like:

I’m single-minded
You’re determined, whereas
He’s an awkward bastard

Or, to steal from Yes, Prime Minister

I’ve just given an unofficial briefing
You’ve just leaked some information, and
He’s just been charged under section 2(a) of the Official Secrets Act.

What made me think of the above was when I wondered this morning, what’s the difference between “defending your actions” and “being defensive”? Or between “doing yourself down” on the one hand and “being realistic” on the other?

Where is the line between cockiness and arrogance? Or between modesty and faux-modesty. Or, I guess these days, between the brag and the humblebrag?

While some might justifiably argue that cynicism is very different to scepticism, does it matter when the two are [incorrecly] so often used as synonyms of each other?

Is gullibility merely an extreme form of open mindedness? Or are they fundamentally different?

If one is cruel when being scathing, are the two inherently linked? Can one be scathing without being cruel?

And then there’s ‘passionate’. I’ve come to intensively dislike the word, as it’s so often used as an excuse; he didn’t mean to be offensive, he’s just passionate about [insert subject matter], as if that excuses it. of ‘He got carried away and stepped over a line.… but it’s because he’s so passionate.’ Again, offered only ever as an excuse.

Or, of course the biggie… when is ‘it’ a lie?

You might think that everyone agrees: it’s when someone knowingly tells, propagates or invents an untruth, something that is, let’s face it, untrue; a falsehood.

But it’s the ‘knowingly’ that catches you out.

Can you ever know, know for a fact that there was an intention to deceive on the part of the politician you dislike? One might argue that if they’ve been corrected but continue to spread the misinformation, the incorrect statistic, the untrue information, that then they knowingly lie.

But not necessarily. They could disbelief the ‘correct’ information or could believe that the information itself is a lie. They could be fucking stupid. Any or all could happen.

In which case are they still lying?

I don’t know.

I think all you can do is form your own judgment and then act on it.

And for as much as I rail against the horror that is “…and you know it…” in a disagreeable social media post or tweet, I’ve as much faith that it’ll continue as I have in the sun coming up tomorrow.

At some point we need to start talking about how we find sources of information, fact checkers, that everyone can rely on, and everyone can cite, rather than assuming bias because we don’t like them telling us we’re wrong.
Something else tomorrow…

Some maintain that it’s unfair to accuse a politician of lying, because lies require the intention to speak or write an untruth. I agree with that second bit, but not always with the first.

And, yes, with some politicians, some falsehoods, it’s difficult if not impossible for a member of the public to know whether the politician did know they were being untruthful. A common phrase these days is ‘you can’t see into their soul’.

True. With many public figures, politicians among them, I’ve no wish to see into their soul. Not without industrial strength disinfectant handy for afterwards.

So, yes, with some politicians, some untruths, it is genuinely difficult to know whether the politician did know they were promoting bullshit.


Some… not all.

And we’re under no obligation to give a political a benefit of the doubt they no longer deserve if they’ve repeatedly made a claim, and the claim has been repeatedly and comprehensively debunked, proven false, taken apart, taken out back and shot.

I entitled this blog entry He lied and lied and lied; it’s a headline from the Guardian. I’ll confess that I’m mildly but truly curious how many, or indeed whether any, of you remember to who that quote refers without seeing the image below.

For those of you who either don’t remember, or are too young to remember, it was a front page headline in June 1997, referring to Jonathan Aitken, a former government minister, who’d been caught out in a scandal and tries to lie his way out of it.

(Unsuccessfully as it turned out; he served seven months of an eighteen month prison sentence for perjury.)

I was reminded of that front page yesterday evening when I saw a tweet from Duncan Jones. It set my mind bouncing around memories, and thoughts, and recent discussions, until, as the process sometimes does, I had ‘a lightbulb moment’, when something finally ‘clicked’ in a way it hadn’t before.

I’m neither naive enough nor stupid enough to pretend that there was ever a Golden Age of British politics when politicians always spoke the truth, and never told the odd porky.

But the time when an MP would, of course, apologise to the House of Commons if they ever uttered an untruth in the Chamber is long gone. The days when a minister would at least offer to resign because they had conveyed a fact that wasn’t accurate are so far in the past that it’s mostly regarded as almost quaint to wish they’d return.

Even ignoring the big orange poltroon who lives in the big round room in the big white house, and remaining on this side of the Atlantic, the blond bullshitter is far from our only politician who apparently regards lying as merely another tool in the modern politician’s armoury.

It’s not limited to any one party, nor any one political faction, nor even any particularly political personality. It’s an equal opportunity tool, grabbed by, and used, by politicians across the British political spectrum.

The tweet that set me thinking was this one:

And, reading it, a large penny dropped.

Again, leaving the past to the past for a moment, that’s what the problem today – well a problem, anyway – is:

Politicians – and their most passionate, their most vocal, supporters – no longer regard lying as… ‘cheating’. They don’t see politicians lying, by which I mean ‘intentionally telling or promoting untruths’ as ‘cheating’.

Instead it’s rhetoric, or hyperbole, or even justifiable because the point they were making was important.

Whether it’s

  • ‘health tourism’ (doesn’t exist, or at least it’s tiny), or
  • ‘No, we won’t call a general election’ (the morning that you did), or
  • ‘I didn’t attend that meeting with those people’ (there are photos, mate), or
  • ‘I didn’t falsely claim expenses’ (ok, but the police think you did… and so did the jury in your trial)
  • “Nothing’s changed” (after you completely abandoned a manifesto pledge days after it was published)
  • ‘Turkey’s going to join the EU soon’ (no, they’re not), or
  • “The UK sends £350m a week to the EU’ (no, that’s the gross amount, not our actual contribution’, or
  • ‘People knew they were voting for No Deal when they voted ‘Leave’ (no, they fucking didn’t)
  • ‘I said zionists’ (yeah, but everyone, critics and supporters alike, knew you meant ‘Jews’)

Lies are explained away as somehow never lies. It’s never… cheating.

Except, of course, it is; you’re gaining political or personal advantage by promoting an untruth in service of getting what you or you or party want. That is, after all, what most political lying is all about.

“The other party wants to do [xxxxxx]” – when they’ve previously denied it. So, one of you is lying…

“No, no, we’ve no plans to do [yyyyyy]” – when there are policy papers showing exactly that

“The minister said [zzzzzz]” when not only was that taken out of context, but there’s no possible context in which it’s accurate.

“No, I say what I mean. I meant what I said. There’s no hidden meanings with me.” Followed a week later by “No, I didn’t mean that. That was just politically collegiate language. What I really meant was…” Again, one of them is a lie.

So, if we know why politicians lie (because it’s very useful, and they usually get away with it), why did it start being ok with their supporters for them to lie, and to take a lead from their politicians, and politically lie themselves?

For if you’re told you’re not cheating by lying, why not continue to lie?

Why not indeed?

And why do politicians think it’s not cheating?

Well, The Labour Party’s always had a touch of the ‘We Are Good And Just And Moral Because We Are Labour’ about it. That’s nothing new. But it’s made it far easier at various times for Labour and their supporters to justify behaviour and actions that they’d vehemently condemn in other parties. For if We Are Good And Just And Moral, then any criticism of Us, any condemnation, must perforce be Bad And Unjust And Malicious. And any tactics, any methods, even intentional lies, are more than justified… against the Bad And Unjust And Malicious.

The Tories have turned that around, of course, taking the conclusion, making it the premise and going from there. Because the Conservatives regard Labour as inherently Bad And Unjust And Malicious Because They Are Labour, any action taken against them, any decrying, any lying is justified. For if Labour are Bad And Unjust And Malicious, taking those actions is by an elegant inevitability Good And Just And Moral.

See how it works?

Both arguments are bullshit, of course, whichever premise you start from. But they do allow lying about the other lot to be trumpeted as something condonable, and even on occasion praiseworthy.

No doubt they’d argue: no, t’s not cheating; it’s just politics…

I’ve mentioned this example before, but bear with me.

It’s pretty well universally acknowledged that the government’s administration of health assessments for benefits eligibilityhas been, was, and is a disaster, a clusterfuck of legendary proportions.

But, a while back, a statistic started doing the rounds that surprised and horrified even those who supported health assessments: 10,600 people had died within six weeks of their claims ending.

And the DWP itself admitted that 10,600 people died ‘within six weeks of their claim ending’, didn’t they? Well, yes, they did, in official stats.

As many people pointed out, however, 10,600 number isn’t the number of people who died within six weeks after their claim ended. That 10,600 included people who died and then their claim ended… because they’d died. 

Now, given that a number of people who were on the benefits suffered from very serious physical or mental disabilities, it’s not the hugest surprise to discover that some of them died while receiving the benefit. And then their benefit, obviously, ceased.

How many died while receiving the benefit? I’ve no idea – the DWP statistics didn’t separate them out. Could have been 5,000, could have been 10,599.

No-one knew. The only thing anyone knew for certain was that some of those 10,600 died before their claim ended, which tells us that of the 10,600 people who died within six weeks of their claim ending, fewer died after their benefits ended than was claimed by the statistic doing the rounds..

Again, how many? No definitive number; could have been 1,000, could have been 5,000.

And here’s where it got ugly, very ugly. Because if you pointed that out, you were decried by those who were justifiably and passionately upset, angry and furious, at the system, so [rightly] angry at any deaths, that they abandoned, no jettisoned, any requirement for accuracy and claimed that it didn’t matter whether the 10,600 number was accurate or not, and by insisting on accuracy, you didn’t care about those who died.

(A false dichotomy, right up there with “if you dare to criticise Jeremy Corbyn, you dpon’t care about the poor, the sick, the ill, the disabled’. But British politics loves the false dohotomy; it’s baked in now.)

But it’s because people cared about those who’d died that they/we thought it was important to use accurate numbers, numbers that the supporters of benefits health assessments couldn’t attack as false, as inaccurate, as bullshit.

But no, we were the bad guys. For supporting the government, apparently.

And that’s leaving aside the astonishing number of out of context stats that do the rounds, attached to an image of a politician.

I recall an attack on Margaret Hodge by a prominent Corbyn supporter on Twitter; a pic of Hodge, with the comment attached that her salary and personal expenses from 2010 to 2015 were £1,044,829. The critic found this amount “outrageous”.

Fortunately, such a claim was easy to check, thanks to MPs’ expenses being online, and searchable. Of the amount, (over five years) roughly £336k was her MP’s salary. £552k of the rest was for other people’s salaries, another 154k was for rent for her MP’s office, and about £1.5k for travel. Over five years.

A picture may tell a thousand words, sure; nowhere, however, does the observation claim the words are accurate.

Again, when I and others pointed this out, we were at fault for doing so. When I pointed out that the salary Hodge received was the same as Corbyn received for that period, the response was… less than ideal, claiming that Corbyn had the lowest expenses of any MP. (Untrue, by the way.)

I can’t think of a single instance in which a politician or activist using a false statistic or misattributing a quote, or indeed, misquoting, brings anything beneficial to the discussion.

If the truth is inconvenient or the unaltered facts don’t back your case, then maybe, just maybe, it’s your case that’s at fault. 

But that can’t be the position, can it?

Well, not for many.

For remember, that false dichotomy writ large: ‘our side can do no wrong’. Occasionally, that’s not quite true. Sometimes, people do see the faults in their own side… and then excuse them, defend them, trivialise them, either because the other side is “worse” or because they take solace in an adaptation of Stephen Decatur’s line from the late 18th Century: “my party right or wrong, but my party”.

I struggle at times to decide which is worse: not caring it’s a lie, or knowing it’s a lie and promoting it anyway. Either way, it’s cheating.

Mitch Benn summed the current situation up quite nicely recently with the attached, which he entitled Political Ethics (2019 version).

Every so often, I ask online whether people think it’s acceptable for a politician to lie, to flat out lie.

You know what? I think people lied when responding. I only hope is that they didn’t congratulate themselves for doing so.

Something else tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.