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Home > Politics

The Dying Art of Political Pretence

12 June 2006

True or false? False or true? You decide!

'The tallest building in the world is the Great Tower of Clacton. From its viewing gallery high above the streets of Essex you can see all seventeen continents.'

'The NHS is enjoying its best year ever.'

'If you leave the hazard warning lights flashing on your car, you can park anywhere you like, even on the pitch during the FA Cup Final. You may remember the famous 'Capri Ghia' final of 1979.'

'Saddam Hussein can deploy WMDs within 45 minutes and use them against British interests.'

'The director of the top-secret Swedish Security and Intelligence Service goes under the code-name 'Double-O Sven'.'

'The Identity Cards Bill will not remove civil liberties... and will not create a Big Brother state.'

We're not terribly good at lying here at The Friday Thing. We put this down to the culture of truth, honesty and getting our round in like proper gents that exists in this organisation, and not because our ears glow red like an illuminated Charles Clarke every time a pork pie falls from our lips. However, we do feel entitled to tell the odd whopper every now and then - obliged even, and for one very good reason: if it's good enough for our betters, it's good enough for us.

To show that we're not partial and distrust all politicians equally (Boris Johnson excepted), we are reminded of the time, not so very long ago, that we ran into Michael Howard.

Having safely handed the reins of the Nasty Party to that lovely David Cameron, whose horns have yet to appear through his hairline, we ran into Mr Howard at an informal social event. The pressure off, much was made of that Newsnight performance when he managed to avoid Paxman's infamous 'Did you threaten to overrule him?' no less than twelve times, simply by using the politicians' tactic of answering the question he actually wanted to answer. Naturally, as the evening turned to the promised question-and-answer session, the first query put to the Honourable Member of Folkestone and Hythe was, as you'd expect, 'So, *did* you threaten to overrule him?'

Oh, how we laughed. But not Michael Howard QC. The jovial manner disappeared and once again he was Home Secretary, porkying and dodging for all he was worth. It was a beautiful display of the art, for art it most certainly is.

We know full well that politicians lie. They lie, fib, misrepresent, tell tall tales and pull whatever natural or synthetic fibre is ready to hand firmly over the eyes of anyone glancing in their general direction. It is thoroughly expected of them, and no honest man should ever be elected to office, otherwise we'd never get the chance to turf them out again. Even when Peter Mandelson recently said, 'There are no circumstances in which it is legitimate for a politician to lie', we suspect he had his fingers crossed. So, what's new?

It is this: recent governments have gone from the subtlety of the misplaced truth to bare-faced, hardcore lying, backed up with the dreadful caveat of 'plausible deniability'. The art has gone out of the game, and it makes us sad. And the dreadful thing for the whole system of government, and - let's make a sweeping statement backed up with no evidence whatsoever - society as a whole, is they know that by simply ignoring outrage, they can get away with it.

There is no more honour amongst thieves. The Blunketts of this world would have to be caught elbow-deep in Baroness Thatcher before they'd even be considered for the chop. A modern-day Profumo would still be happily in his job with the backing of his PM; and Christine Keeler would undoubtedly be lined up for the next Celebrity Big Brother. Nobody's shocked by anything these days, least of all our glorious leaders reverting to type.

It's a fantastic concept when you think about it. Lie through your teeth on any subject, like, for example, the number of foreign convicts you've left wandering the streets, right up to the moment when you're caught with your pants on fire, the flames licking up round your chin. Then, and here's the clever bit, own up completely, placing the blame on someone else. Like your civil service, for example, who are not, generally, in a position to answer back. That way you appear fallible, human, and in the clear to clean up your own mess which turned out to be someone else's fault all along.

Try this one for size: 'We have not sold peerages through stinking great loans to our party.' A whopper. Caught out, you feign surprise, hold a press conference, and say, shaking your head sadly that unnamed persons have, in fact, been a bit naughty: 'We are introducing new legislation to outlaw the abuse of the honours system.'

And nobody noticed.

Well, we did, obviously, but it took us a month of working through the whole, brilliant scheme in front of a series of flip-charts, our lips moving noiselessly, before we identified what is essentially a classic Campbell Manoeuvre. Whoever thought of it should get a knighthood. Free, of course.

The trouble is, once the boss has got away with it a few times, everybody's at it. The entire Home Office is currently running on the assumption that 'Everything's alright, honest', thanks to the dozens of supremely Tipp-exed memos to prove it. And once it's OK in officialdom, it hits the street with a vengeance, and it's only a matter of time before the Plod start knocking on doors armed with 'See those two guys down the street? They've got a great big bomb in their house. And a pile of nerve gas. And sharks with frickin' laser beams.'

In the meantime, settle yourself in, keep your eyes and ears open, carry a notepad and believe *absolutely nothing*.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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