Archive | May, 2020

The Lying Game.

25 May

I know all there is to know about the lying game, sang Dave Berry, way back in the mists of time. Lies and the lesser charge of evasion seem to be the hallmark of many politicians who want to slide up the greasy pole of ambition. Was it always thus? And will St. Peter (aka the electorate) allow the current crop of chancers who run the country – and some who don’t – in through the pearly gates (aka the ballot box) when there time comes?

The latest episode in the lying game is the wearying and worrying saga of Dominic Cummings. That this pubescent shambles of a 48 year old, whose adolescent dress sense is all South Bank subterranean skateboard park, should resign seems beyond question. No problem. Aah but Boris, so used to deviousness and downright lies thinks that he can, once again, blag it. His ethical code – all Flashman and arrogance – is that of the cornered schoolboy who believes that repeated lies become truth and if you never own up the problem goes away. In this case it won’t but even so Boris and his beanie buddy are calculating just how much of the serious Covid shit is being buried while the 250 mile road trip is filling the airwaves and front pages.

While Boris is fiddling and care homes have been left to burn, the scrutiny of what is happening now and for the future has slipped. The daily 5pm broadcast is a sedative, the media questioning becoming, again, more headline-grabbing than incisive and big-picture. Posts on social media are ad hominem, ad nauseam. The face off between the lay off Boris (he’s doing his best) brigade and the lies-damned-lies bunch is wearying because both end up as mudslingers not reasoned critics. Chapter and verse on Boris’s track record of deceit may give some circumstantial power to the argument that the man can’t be trusted but it cuts little ice with the taxi driver I spoke to who is grateful for the swift and fairly painless process of accessing universal credit to cover his rent and household bills.

There will be a day of reckoning (too late no doubt) for the stumbling descent into that good night which we are experiencing; some more finally and fatally than others. But for now what concerns me is the level of trust, the quality of debate, the intentions of the media and the motivations of ‘stakeholders’. For stakeholders read anyone who has a vested interest in the success or failure of pandemic recovery – with a nod at protectionism along the way. Matthew Syed’s sharp and measured observations in yesterday’s Sunday Times reflected on the relative lack of scrutiny of our scientific thinking. That the early modelling made the error of likening Coronavirus to flu seems to have led to our slow and stumbling reactive response. ‘Contain, delay, research, mitigate,’ Syed says, ‘Is based on flu.’ Test and trace was too low on the priority list. Now it is critical. When all this is washed up Boris will hide behind Chris Whitty (It wasn’t me, Sir, it was him, Sir) and let him take the flak.

Media coverage is patchy. When did political interviewing become interrogation? The point of interrogation is entrapment; the point of entrapment is victory. There is a slim history of televisual skewering of politicians¬† and while the BBC (Kuennsberg, Marr et al) have been playing rather more of a waiting game on landing the big fish, floundering on the deck, Piers Morgan has been given free rein to champion, nay shout for the nation over all answers given. Most of his victims can only spit out a few syllables before the interruption of the furious Morgan pounds them into submission. He – and he’s not the only one – wants to do much more than hold politicians to account. He wants them on the ropes without a referee’s intervention, so that he can knock them senseless and raise his arms aloft. The question becomes irrelevant, the manner of victory all-important.

The win at all costs interview may be doing us all a disservice. Boris doesn’t put his head above the parapet. He sends out other Tory lambs to the slaughter. Ask Andrew Neill, who was salivating at the chance of some pre-election cannibalism but Boris wouldn’t jump into his cauldron. He was proved right…perhaps. Many would call this reticence to face the music a failure of leadership. They might point to a Jacinda or Angela as shining examples of moral and political integrity. In the UK we have allowed a level of disengagement to happen. Or rather we have to be on one side or the other. Why can’t we be on both sides sometimes? Count the newspapers and journos who seem to value controversy over truth and mud-slinging over reasoned debate. Why do politicians lie? Because they survive if they do. So they have to.

All of which leaves us no further forward as we plough on through the R factor and wait for a Covid sunshine to appear on the horizon. There is a glimmer, at the moment, just a glimmer that Sir Keir Starmer is ready, gently, to establish better rules of engagement. He has appeared, dare I say it, statesmanlike rather than weak; measured rather than salivating at the prospect of the blame game. I hope that he can emerge as a leader of substance and Rishi Sunak can continue his compassionate and generous understanding of the economic necessities of the situation. An unenviable struggle, no doubt.

We need politicians on all sides to step up, tell the truth and make (some) mistakes without risking death threats on twitter or, worse, Piers Morgan shouting at you from a social distance. I hope Louis Theroux applies for Laura Kuessnberg’s job when she’s had enough. I hope too that Mr Cummings wears a suit when he goes for his interview at the job centre.

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