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.

10 Responses to “Inconvenient Truths”

  1. Dai Griffiths April 1, 2021 at 4:37 pm #

    My worry is that the mass population has no concern about truth in politics as long as they are not obviously affected by outcomes. I wonder how many listen to authentic debate rather than reading what they wish to believe in their daily papers

    • simplysorro April 1, 2021 at 6:28 pm #

      You’re right. of course, Dai and we are entering a dangerous period of helpless apathy or unthinking acceptance of media spin. The combination leads to a slide into acceptance of a Johnson style disregard of due process, accountability and the law. We will all be the losers and, as usual, the lower down the food chain you are, the worse it will be.

  2. rocket1101 April 1, 2021 at 6:13 pm #

    Worth waiting for, Paul, and worthy (in my humble opinion) of any column in a national. I dared to turn to ‘Yesterday’ TV station – er, yesterday as it happens – for a programme about Hitler’s propaganda machine. It included Nazi lies about Polish insurgency as an anticedent of invasion, lies about global Jewry, lies about Churchill, about US society. Yes, all extreme but we should worry about current slippery slopes, don’t you think?

    • simplysorro April 1, 2021 at 6:37 pm #

      Thanks Clive. Absolutely I agree. We are in dangerous territory at the moment and the upsurge of some types of activism on various fronts actually helps consolidate the position of those, like Boris, whose peddling of falsehood and disregard of law and due process are quietly infecting the perceptions of the nation.

  3. John Trotman April 1, 2021 at 7:07 pm #

    Excellent, Sorro. It’s good to have you back: I thought perhaps you were retreating from the field for some reason.
    You summarise the situation well. What is most troubling to me, post Trump and partly because of him, is the way in which somehow we have settled into a cynical acceptance that ‘this is the way of things’ and that politicians’ modus vivendi will inevitably be mendacious and evasive. The consequences for dishonourable and deceitful behaviour used to be pretty clear (though of course we must not look at the past through rosy spectacles- there is enough evidence of previous failings of course- but the generalisation rings true for when lies were in the public domain). The Republicans accommodated the ghastly orange one for reasons of expediency. The Tories are now doing the same for Johnson (I have forsworn the usage of the overfond B….). That’s one reason I applaud those on the right like Oborne. Max Hastings in The Times today again is similarly admirable
    Come and see us soon!
    Trots.

  4. Nick April 2, 2021 at 12:07 pm #

    Quality comments Sorro, thoroughly enjoyed your thoughts and yes, we are in trouble!

  5. Susan Barnard April 2, 2021 at 2:48 pm #

    Dear Paul

    Greetings from sunny Devon Great post and much to get thinking about. Best wishes for Easter

    Sue

  6. Charles Tisdall April 5, 2021 at 9:39 am #

    Thank you Paul, but disturbing to read because it rings so true. in fact don`t we know it to be true… ( Just watch BBC news, the shallow mouthpiece of control over democracy)
    I suppose we have to ask to what extent and what agenda, if any, does it hide? Or is it just the result of a slow retreat by politicians, through Paxmanesque interrogation styles, into a dark corner protected by controlled evasive language. Or is it something even more morally objectionable. Has it really come to this. You Paul, an independent, eclectic thinker, a man whose integrity and intellect we trust, ( as with with Peter Oborne) is, like the rest of us, in search of the truth…. and this is what it is. Oh well… back to, “Answer Smash.” its better than reality. Charles

    • simplysorro April 5, 2021 at 9:54 am #

      Thanks for reading SirCharles! Yes, a sorry state that we’re in. Matthew Syed yesterday in the S Times wrote similarly (but better) . You’re right about the Media’s role in it all too. We desperately need openness and honesty and the bravery that it takes to tell the truth.

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