When politicians consistently lie, trust in government decreases and crucial international agreements are undermined. That politicians tell lies is hardly shocking news. What is shocking, is that it has become so blatant, arrogant and without censure.
However, in December 2019 something surprising happened in Finland. Their PM resigned after it was discovered that he has been lying about the postal service reforms. Yes, that’s right. A politician actually resigned after it was shown that he had lied. Take a minute to reflect. Yes, he resigned for lying!
In the UK, our own prime minister has previously been sacked on several occasions for telling lies but he continues to be a Pinocchio politician who seemingly cannot resist telling them. It’s not just the lying itself, as a journalist, in the Referendum campaign, as Foreign Secretary and as Prime Minister. It’s the damage it does to international trust. It also undermines public trust in all government announcements and services. It leads to an unhealthy cynicism where lying becomes so commonplace and social media becomes a largely unchallenged source of ‘information’ and opinion. In continually telling lies and undermining reliable institutions, Johnson, like Trump in America, has shown no sense of moral responsibility or understanding of the dangerous repercussions these actions can have.
History is littered with the tragic consequences of leaders abusing power, subverting the press, and lying to embellish reality and lying as a game to gain and keep power. The warnings are clear enough.
“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”,
This view of propaganda is often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels and less reliably to Adolf Hitler. Whoever actually said it, it seems to be one source for the idea that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth. Advertisers and politicians are taking advantage of a foible of human psychology known as the “illusion of truth” effect. However, while lies and propaganda are used by multiple governments and rulers, it was Franklin D Roosevelt, who stated in a 1939 radio address,
‘Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.’
Eventually, one hopes, these political lies will be seen for what they are. A deliberate attempt to mislead and corrupt can lead to a dangerous loss of stature and international trust, as can be seen with the recent manipulation of the Northern Ireland Protocol and The Good Friday Agreement.
‘Reputation, trust and credibility are assets no organization can afford to lose and the surest way to lose them is to lie.’Michael Josephson, an eminent authority on ethics
Internationally, a country’s reputation can be seriously damaged when it comes to be seen as unreliable. When the lies of its senior politicians lead to policies by its government, which actually damage not only trade but also that country’s people then a dangerous instability and political extremism can develop. In moving away from the EU based on a portfolio of lies, Britain has undermined stability in Northern Ireland, reduced our political influence across the whole continent of Europe and damaged relationships with our nearest trading block and political friends. America now talks to the EU and the UK separately rather that talking to Europe through Britain.
It’s not every day that the ambassador of one of Britain’s closest allies calls the prime minister a congenital liar. Sylvie Bermann, who was until 2017 France’s envoy at the court of St James, recently wrote in her new book Goodbye Britannia, that she regarded Boris Johnson as a clever but reckless opportunist with no regard for the truth. French president Macron had said,
‘The United Kingdom remains our neighbour but also our friend and ally. This choice of leaving Europe, this Brexit, was the child of European malaise and lots of lies and false promises.’
The British architects of ‘this Brexit’ now have to deal with its consequences and although much of its impact on jobs, trade and opportunity is camouflaged by the Covid pandemic and claims of a regained independence and sovereignty. Now every government minister has a Union Jack displayed behind them during Zoom interviews it recalls another possible truth:
‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’
Boswell tells us that Samuel Johnson made this famous pronouncement on the evening of April 7, 1775. He doesn’t provide any context for how the remark arose, so we don’t really know for sure what was on Johnson’s mind at the time. However, Boswell assures us that Samuel Johnson was not indicting patriotism in general, only false patriotism.
Maybe we need to all go back and read George Orwell’s 1984 and study the activities of the misleadingly named, ‘Ministry of Truth.’
I fear the clock has just struck 13.