I find the ‘l’ word in politics distasteful. I find its deployment worrying and the intention behind it even more so. ‘Lie’ is a powerful world, one which shouldn’t be watered down. Perhaps, a cynic might say, the ‘p’ word is better used in most cases: I speak of ‘politics’.
Is Gordon Brown telling ‘lies’? The Economist‘s Bagehot notes, a lie is ‘a falsehood advanced intentionally and knowingly’. Thus, Blair’s ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ cannot be deemed a lie unless it can be shown Blair did not believe this, even if the intelligence gathering was totally flawed.
The ‘l’ word is being bandied around recklessly this week. First, David Cameron stuttered just before saying it and went on to accuse the Brown Premiership of having ‘a thread of dishonesty’ running through it. The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson has done the same when discussing future government spending cuts. This has opened up a full scale spat with Schools Secretary Ed Balls – who made a pronouncement on government debt that Nelson believed was misleading.
Yet is obfuscating all the economic realities really lying? The economy is built upon expectations: the government are not going to want to talk down the economy at such a fragile stage. And given the specifics of economic data, which I have not forensically analysed, it is not certain except to those in power what the position of the government is at present and perhaps not to them either. I do not defend this status quo, I merely note that for this reason George Osbourne has yet to release his own spending plans.
So I’m reminded of Benjamin Disraeli’s old adage, there are ‘lies, damn lies, and statistics’. Issues of public spending fall under the statistics category.
Statistics are merely a tool in the armoury of a politician: smear by anonymous briefings, announcing strategies early to the media and making pronouncements on the policy of anothers’ department all play a part.
Take today’s announcement that Royal Mail privatisation is to be postponed because of market conditions(courtesy of the marvellous i spy strangers). This is pure politics.
Everyone knows that this measure was unpopular and that the rebellious Parliamentary Labour Party would not have been happy with their weakened leadership pushing such a measure through. The Prime Minister has already had to water down proposals to stall party rebels. Yet who is to say this measure hasn’t been dropped because of of market conditions. Journalists can infer but cannot be absolute. That would be saying something without knowing it’s true. Dishonesty in politics is difficult to avoid.