Archive | April, 2021

Inconvenient Truths

1 Apr

I haven’t blogged for some time. I’m trying to make sense of all that is going on . I have consumed news, analysis and opinion from as many platforms as I have had time and inclination. Salmond v Sturgeon; BAME and BLM and the recent Sewell report; statues and poor Sarah Everard; policing and pandemic; vaccination and vacillation; a battered Batley teacher; the EU v the UK; Harry and Megan; Cummings and goings; hate crime and ‘trans’ and who the hell we are; Uighers and Myanmar; influencers, activists and gaslighters; Trump’s lies, Boris’s lies; everyone’s lies.

The Assault on Truth by Peter Oborne is subtitled The emergence of a new moral barbarism. A friend lent me a copy and it’s a searing condemnation of Messrs Johnson and Trump. The blurb states: This book proves the scale and shamelessness of the lying by the Johnson government….and how the media and their political allies let them get away with it. Given that Mr Oborne is, mostly, a contributor to the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Spectator, this is a short and sad analysis worth our attention. When our leaders have such a disregard for truth and, thus, a contempt for those whom they serve, the cascade effects are many and varied.

Social media has become little more than an echo chamber for the confirmation of opinion. Any dissenting voice is trashed, trolled, taken down, harangued, abused, gaslighted. Reasonable dialogue based on sound data and other information, calm sharing of experience and opinion and trust in the integrity of the other has been shot to pieces. A new vocabulary of acronyms and shorthand expressions has sprouted to give a strange validity to the various battlegrounds which seem to spring up like psoriasis on the body of our nation, our world. Language itself has become a stick with which to beat an opponent in an argument rather than elucidate the discussion. When was the last time a politician being interviewed answered rather than evaded a question? Boris Johnson obfuscates and evades at every turn at Prime Minister’s Questions, the most celebrated interrogation of our democracy. When cancel culture becomes cancel truth or no platforming means no free speech, who can we trust to tell the truth?

Boris has a lot to answer for but it isn’t as simple as Boris. Politics has become about winning – only. That means the next election (or Brexit or Scottish independence etc, etc)- only. About power and ego and self-interest – only. When these are the things that matter, truth and honesty take a back seat. And those of us who take care to read and understand and empathise and seek out truth…sadly we remain rather quiet or rattle around in our own echo chambers waiting for dark.

My father used to say, Be honest and tell the truth and you won’t go far wrong. I’m not sure that he quite lived up to his mantra and I’m sure that I haven’t. But I have tried. There are a number of truths that I have had to face (and still do) which have been hard to take and difficult to admit. In my 70th year as a white Anglo-Dane I have a set of attitudes and opinions that have shifted from the monochrome 1950s to the rainbow of the 2020s. While I accept that some of my thoughts and opinions might be outdated – and I can’t deny certain prejudices – I have always been keen on the truth and sportsmanship and listening with tolerance and thinking the best of people and expecting my leaders to be better in most things.

When I was staying with a lovely Hindu family in Cochin, Kerala, some years ago, my hostess offered the view that I must be very proud of the integrity of British politicians and, in particular, prime ministers. She and her husband went on to talk of the corruption of Indian politicians, local and national, many of whom, they said, feathered their nests at every turn. This charming couple had a rose-tinted view of the UK -and its politicians- as a land which bred integrity and honour and had, to some extent, exported these values round the world. As the crimes of Empire are now being writ large, the vestiges of honorable characteristics and good intentions remain. Certainly in that small household in Cochin.

At the time, my reply to my hosts was that, yes, by and large I thought that our politicians were honorable men and women with less self interest and more duty and service in their hearts. What would I say now? Obone says that under Boris Johnson political deceit has become not just commonplace but automatic. What follows, perhaps, from this is that others, on all sides of the house, have to play the game the same way to get the same leverage.

What this means for the rest of us is a huge reduction in democratic rights. If our political discourse is conducted in a parallel world of untruth, our judgement of what is and what is not is made futile. We don’t know who to believe or who is lying least. We can make no fair judgements. Into this void slips opportunists, activists and influencers whose mission is to amplify their message and drown out dissenters. As we googlebox what is going on we are pulled this way and that and, mostly, we let them get on with it and turn to other things: What’s for supper tonight? I’ve booked a table at the pub for the glorious 12th. Turn off the six o’clock news, Richard Osman’s House of Games is much better.

This response, tempting and natural as it may be, is dangerous. If we become indifferent to truth we chip away at our freedom. Quite a chunk has been hacked off already.

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