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If politicians lie, then why shouldn’t I?

Credit: Jack Taylor/Getty

Credit: Jack Taylor/Getty


November 16, 2018   4 mins

We’ve got plenty of good reasons to lie. And increasingly few reasons not to. So why aren’t we all at it?

I was wondering this while watching Labour’s attempts to bar Sir Roger Scruton from a government appointment. Earlier this week, the Opposition demanded an urgent question in Parliament over whether Scruton was a suitable person to be the unpaid head of an advisory body called “Building Better, Building Beautiful”. The claims made in the ensuing debate by the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Andrew Gwynne, pulsated with inaccuracies and lies.

Attempting to whip himself and his few present colleagues up into a righteous lather, Gwynne made what is now a standard attack. He accused Scruton of each of the sins of the current age: homophobia, racism, prejudice, bigotry and more.

He talked of Scruton’s “links to far-Right organisations” when no such links exist. Presumably the reason Gwynne repeated this canard in the House of Commons was because he would be protected there by Parliamentary immunity. Three decades ago, when a Left-wing paper made a similarly unfounded claim, Scruton sued them and won, with the newspaper forced to pay substantial damages.

But Gwynne was emboldened. He claimed that during a speech in Hungary, Scruton had spoken about the “Jewish intelligentsia” in anti-Semitic terms. It was a claim that anybody who had actually read the speech would know to be untrue.   Gwynne then cited a Huffington Post article which Gwynne said showed that Scruton had “spoken favourably of the National Front, calling it an ‘egalitarian movement’”.

Again, anybody who had read the original 1983 piece in The Times would see what the Huffington Post and the Labour frontbench were studiously trying not to: “egalitarian” was not used as a term of praise but as part of a piece condemning the politics of the National Front and their ilk. Scruton criticised them for being “populist” and “hostile to constitutional government and to traditional authority, fired by ideology and by a spurious search for a common purpose”. Gwynne, like the Huffington Post, would have known this, since the Huffington Post also published a portion of the Scruton column which included the words.

Undeterred, Gwynne plugged away happily with his lie, later re-Tweeting a libellous Tweet by a Corbynista named Andrew Fisher which stated that Scruton “thinks the National Front are a lovely ‘egalitarian’ bunch”.

Is this really now an acceptable way of conducting oneself in public life? I’ve discussed the subject in the past with Sam Harris: how a certain type of person is eminently willing to make unfounded, untrue and spurious claims about people with whom they disagree simply in order to win a political round. Why, I wondered, when confronted with a blantant untruth, don’t more people don’t simply respond in a similar vein?

Why, I asked Sam, when he is accused of some kind of invented bigotry, doesn’t he reply by saying that he’s not going to take this sort of thing from a known child-molester? He could say, after the furore had died down: “Oh I’m terribly sorry, but since you decided to throw around one false claim I thought I’d throw one right back. Now we’re good, right?”

Watching Gwynne attacking Scruton, I must confess a little of this impulse came over me. Gwynne asserted that Scruton was such a “homophobe” that the government should “apologise to the LGBTQ community” for even putting him forward as an adviser on architecture. And I wondered why people didn’t simply decide to call Andrew Gwynne a homophobe? After all, there is a perfectly straightforward – and only slightly dishonest – means of getting there.

I might claim, for instance, that in claiming to speak on behalf of gay people Andrew Gwynne (who is straight) is not only presumptuous, but is robbing gay people of agency. Ergo his recent statements are a demonstration of homophobia. Since everyone is now agreed that acts of ‘hate’ are in the eye of the beholder, why should I not claim that I am a victim of a hate crime from Andrew Gwynne and that I believe he is motivated by homophobia?

In America, and across the rest of the Western democracies, you can see this thinking going on just beneath the surface. Everywhere, people are stooping to the level of their hated opponents. Broadcasters and journalists at all those outlets, like CNN, which like to accuse President Trump of narcissism and exaggeration haven’t noticed that they have taken on many of those characteristics they claim to deplore. In Britain, many of the people who have spent years accusing Brexiteers of foaming at the mouth have demonstrated that they are not averse to a little foam of their own.

But most striking everywhere has been the breakdown in the taboo over telling lies. Or to put it another way, the punishment for lying is getting smaller and the rewards for doing it successfully have grown.

So why shouldn’t we do it? Only for the reason that remained at the back of my conscience as I watched Labour’s pitifully unsuitable Shadow Communities Secretary foaming away about “far-Right associations” and “homophobia” and the rest. If you are willing to use any weapon no matter the cost in order to win a political round, then the likelihood is that you will never know when to put down the weapon you have seized.

Lies are tools which if deployed even once will become your tools of habit. And the greatest likelihood then is that – filled with zeal – you will have no means of stopping yourself from becoming precisely the thing that you started off by hating.  And I for one could not face a future resembling Andrew Gwynne.


Douglas Murray is an author and journalist.

DouglasKMurray

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John Nice
John Nice
3 years ago

A great mass of unproved assumptions.

Adrian
Adrian
3 years ago

The “jaw dropping” drop in fertility can be explained by better TV programming, especially into the wee hours.

iliatchaplinsk
iliatchaplinsk
3 years ago
Reply to  Adrian

What you said was probably meant as a joke, but it may be true.

Women working cannot be the answer: poor women work more than rich women, and have more kids anyway. Women having access to contraceptives isn’t the answer: I’ve lived in sub-Saharan Africa where birth rates are high, and contraceptives are abundant, cheap, and promoted everywhere: they choose to have children anyway. Low birth rates correlate not with contraceptives or labour market participation, but with wealth. And wealth buys nice entertainment systems.

Martyn Hole
Martyn Hole
3 years ago

What happened to all the other comments ?

Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Martyn Hole

This site isn’t called unheard without a reason

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Lee Johnson

It’s called UnHerd, or hadn’t you noticed?

Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Please disable your irony- blocker

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago
Reply to  Martyn Hole

Yes, comments do have a habit of becoming UnSeen on UnHerd.

Peter KE
Peter KE
3 years ago

This article seems to focus on immigration as being the main divide between remain and leave. The were in fact many other issues such as sovereignty, removing the dead hand of eu bureaucracy and uk bureaucracy, economic etc.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter KE

I don’t think immigration as such was a massive or key issue, the idea that it was and is, used by remainers who seem unable to adjust their way of thinking, as an *illegitmate* reason that appeals to thickos.

Like any ‘issue’ anyone wants to mention there are ‘worries’ around that can be pointed to. But the problem is , to my mind, best approached by David Goodhart’s anywheres and somewheres idea..or to be more polemical somewheres and nowheres.

One question that hasn’t been really addressed in all the sterotyping and Gammonising is that the cohort that in 1975 delivered a @70/30% win for staying the EEC went massively against the EU in 2016.

Pretending people just get thicker, or more racist, or whatever as they get older is easy..and it must be what remainers have persuaded themselves is the explanation…I prefer to think it is the power of lived experience, and the change of many minds has more to do with the progression from *Community* to *Union* in Europe.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
3 years ago

This article has been written on the entirely false premise that the right voted leave and the left voted remain. The fact is the issue cut across those traditional political boundaries.

I voted leave. I have no issues with immigration from any country as long as the tap can be controlled to meet the economic circumstances of the time – a growing economy need more people. I don’t care what colour or religion immigrants are as long as they are prepared to obey our laws and contribute positively to our society. Filipino care workers, yes please Romanian drug dealers no thanks.

D Glover
D Glover
3 years ago

‘ironically, as it turns out, since the new trade deal will almost certainly mean more Turkish immigration than would have been allowed if we were in the EU’

I’m not sure this is the correct use of ‘ironically’.

It’s an example of Boris promising people one thing, and doing the opposite once their votes were in.

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
3 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

Indeed.
A majority of the UK population don’t want immigration to continue at current levels, and want it greatly reduced.
The political class clearly aren’t listening and don’t care.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago

Given the “wholesomeness” of female promiscuity, “woman’s right to control her own body”, and the ready availability of the means, “child support”, absent a formal partnership contract, needs to be abolished. Equally, since it is purely a matter of private individual and/or contractual “choice”, it must also entail the assumption of the liability; and, state subsidies for reproduction, and tax benefits for dependants need to be abolished.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

“The edgiest the official Vote Leave campaign ever got were the notorious adverts warning about Turks coming here’ ironically, as it turns out, since the new trade deal will almost certainly mean more Turkish immigration than would have been allowed if we were in the EU.” Ed’s taste for irony seems to run ahead of the facts. Turkey is the 13th largest economy in the world, just behind Italy, and closer to the UK than any larger economy that is not a member of the EU, so in this sense it is a logical country to pursue an FTA with. The new trade deal wouldn’t mean anything for Turkish immigration according to the link he provides. The FTA is one agreement, and there is another agreement being negotiated that is “a visa scheme pact for Turkish businesspeople predating Britain joining the EU”. This sounds similar to the provisions in the new USMCA allowing movement of technical personnel between countries when connected with international trade. If so, these people are not immigrants. They remain citizens of their own countries, and their temporary right of residence does not give them a right to become citizens. If this is not the case, perhaps Ed should explain. In any case, these are two agreements, and the FTA might well go forward without the visa agreement. Our Foreign Affairs Minister at the time, Chrystia Freeland, was looking for expanded access of Canadian workers to the rest of North America in the negotiations of a new NAFTA, which almost all economists agreed would be to our economic benefit, but, as was her wont, she was unable to do so, and the provisions in the USMCA are essentially unchanged from the NAFTA. I don’t know if the visa scheme pact would have the same kind of benefits for the UK. Canada and the US are very similar countries, Turkey and the UK not so much.

Kate H. Armstrong
Kate H. Armstrong
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Baldwin

Thank you AB, for a factual exposition. I finished reading this article with the thought – this is nothing but, hyperbolic rhetoric. Ergo an exploitation of figures and facts, due to the author experiencing a moment of mischevious ‘malice’. Disappointing; but perhaps revelatory. A brief indication of the absence of any ‘real’ or genuine understanding to the essential differences between Leave and Remain voters. Short answer: Remainers, e.g. Soubry et al, emphasised the enormous, historical ‘Class’ divide and self-identified ‘elitism’, which still exists in the UK (most specifically in England) – ‘we insist you vote for us, if you know what’s good for you, even though you are uninformed, racist and nothing but ‘Little Englanders’.

Amstel Light
Amstel Light
3 years ago

what a chaotic piece..

Robin Bury
Robin Bury
3 years ago

Perhaps the referendum was the mistake. The ramifications of leaving the EU are too vast and complex for a plebiscite. So media propaganda won the referendum a la Boris and his Cummings team. Promises of increased wealth may well turn into a severe economic downturn so the economists seem to agree now.

Leti Bermejo
Leti Bermejo
3 years ago

Back in 1997 it would have seemed ridiculous that the Conservatives would become the party of the working class,

Get real folks, in 2020 it STILL seems ridiculous. No hay nada más tonto que un obrero votando a la derecha as we say in españa.

thedrumdoctor
thedrumdoctor
3 years ago
Reply to  Leti Bermejo

Not at all, it’s just history repeating itself like in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher’s government came to power on the back of the working class vote. Everything that goes around comes around, so they say.