As trust in politicians reaches an all-time low, people have started to debate the political lies they allegedly tell. We have covered Brexit lies on the blog before as well as the difference between lies and opinions. However, on LBC Radio this week James O’Brien had an interesting conversation with a caller, David, who said he would support Boris Johnson despite believing that he tells lies. David also intimated that the Prime Minister was no different from any political leader, since they all lie equally.
The extension and the Irish border
Mr O’Brien then played 4 separate recordings of Boris Johnson. Two of them related to him stating that he would not ask for a further extension from the EU. In the other two he made reference to not agreeing to a border down the Irish Sea under any circumstance. Clearly since making those statements the Prime Minister has asked for an extension, albeit reluctantly and his newly negotiated deal with the EU includes a customs border down the Irish Sea. So did the Prime Minster lie? If he deliberately set out to deceive by making these statements, then yes he did lie.
In terms of the extension he did say that he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than ask the EU for another extension. Many on social media consider he lied or otherwise he would be opting for being dead in a ditch. However, that may well be how he felt at the time he said it. He may have since changed his mind. The border issue is quite different in that he said he wouldn’t agree to it “under any circumstance” but has actually agreed to it.
Mr O’Brien then invited David to provide examples where other political leaders such as Jo Swinson, Jeremy Corbyn or Nicola Sturgeon had lied in a similar way.
Misleading statements by other political leaders
As so often happens in these types of unrehearsed interviews, David couldn’t think of any specific political lies they’d told. This was hailed as a form of victory for Mr O’Brien. In the interests of fairness we thought we would fill in the gaps for David.
The leader of the Opposition made a misleading statement about student debt in 2017. He gave the impression he would abolish student debt, stating he would ‘deal with it’. Later it transpired that he had no intention of abolishing it for students already in debt. Rather he would make sure new students didn’t accrue debt.
Mr Corbyn has been anti EU for his entire political career until recently it would appear. Now he wants to cling on to certain parts of the EU despite describing it in the 90s as a “great Frankenstein machine that is damaging to all who live in it.” Many say that his reluctance to take a firm stance for the Labour Party on Brexit is because he doesn’t really want to remain in the EU. So has he been lying about his dislike of the EU throughout his career, or is he lying regarding his current ‘warmer’ feelings toward it? Only time will tell.
The new Liberal Democrats leader consistently stated prior to, and for the first year or so after, the 2016 referendum that the vote should be honoured. As she became more prominent within her party she has supported another referendum and now as leader, openly states that she wants to overturn the result of the referendum. Did she lie in the early days, perhaps say things that were politically expedient or has she merely changed her mind?
In 2018 Ms Sturgeon hit the headlines when she was urged to apologise for over inflating projected revenues from North Sea oil by £30 billion. It is alleged that she lied about the figures in order to gain more support during the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign.
Of course we could expand upon this topic to include Nick Clegg who, when leader of the Liberal Democrats, promised to scrap student tuition fees. As a result of breaking that promise the party suffered devastating defeat in the 2015 general election when they lost 49 of their seats. Was this a lie or did Nick Clegg fail to deliver because of the coalition government?
However, it seems apparent that something is broken in our political system right now. For people such as David, the LBC caller, he will vote for someone who he actually believes tells lies. We suspect many others will too.
Over recent years the electorate appears to tactically vote to keep parties out, rather than to vote for parties they support. Now it appears that we will vote for the politicians who tell the least amount of political lies.
We’ve long advocated testing politicians annually with lie detector tests. Now we wonder whether it would make any difference since lies seem shockingly acceptable. But there is hope. Glasgow South MP Stewart McDonald asked Boris Johnson to take one recently as you can see in the video below:
Readers’ views are welcome. Let us know what you think.