“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. ”
– George Orwell
In our jolly post-truth age, the feeling that politicians are getting a little too comfortable in being mildly – and in rarer cases, blatantly – dishonest is a familiar one.
Back in September, Theresa May spoke of the UK’s lack of good education for the poorest children, before going on to propose selective grammar schools as the answer. Grammar schools where the children of wealthy families, through tutoring and purchasing homes in expensive catchment areas, can effectively buy their way in. As she calls it, May is creating ‘a country that works for everyone’. Her words, not mine.
While there is a delightfully clear link between May’s words and her policies, it seems that the majority of politicians also like to speak the truth.
I mean, Michael Gove and co.’s claim that “£350 million of EU contributions could be spent on the NHS instead” was entirely true. Could meaning: it’s actually highly unlikely we’ll even have that much money, so we probably won’t. To clarify, the claim was actually a mistake, as a beaming Mr. Farage announced just hours after the Leave vote. A mistake plastered across a giant red bus.
Cross the Atlantic to Donald Trump – that orange-haired (ever-so slightly sexist) bloke who takes fond selfies with the aforementioned truth-seekers and now runs a country. Some fact-checking by Politi-Fact found that, from 70 Trump statements, three-quarters were false.
But hang on, I’ve gone a bit off course here. What I meant to say was: politicians don’t lie. They just make these claims – you know, silly little claims – that are in no way truthful. I mean, what else would you expect from someone in charge of running your country? They’re doing such important jobs, the least you could do is a bit of reading between the lines.
So that we can all understand this strange breed better, here’s three (very different) examples of the best ‘mistruths’ told by politicians in recent months, and what they really meant.
“I would’ve charged the shooter.”
Speaking on the Oregon shooting in 2015, Ben Carson – neurosurgeon turned politician – said he would’ve led a charge against the gunman, were he there. What a hero.
However, his response when being interviewed on Sirius XM Radio, about how he had reacted to being held at gunpoint himself, gave a slightly different version of his saintly actions. “Guy comes in, puts the gun to my ribs. And I just said, “I believe you want the guy behind the counter.”
He’s now Trump’s nominee for US Secretary of Housing and Development, his good image kindly helped by the US media’s focus on his saintly comment.
“And it’s not about religion. This is about safety.”
So many to choose from! After announcing his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States, Donald Trump refused to accept his views were based on his racial stereotype of Muslims.
When it comes to lying (not to mention policies and bigotry), Trump is in a class of his own.
Here, reading between the lines doesn’t really apply. There are no lines…
“I want a country that works for everyone.” The curious case of Theresa May.
Where to begin? In her early days as PM, Theresa May’s speeches surprised many familiar with the hard Tory right. She spoke of slashing social injustice, educational reform and tax reform. Yet, if you look behind the talk, May’s voting record in parliament suggests a different story.
“Taxes for the low-paid went down, but other taxes, like VAT, went up.” Implying that VAT should not rise further contradicts May’s consistent votes to increase VAT.
“It’s harder than ever for young people to buy their first house.” With house prices having rocketed in the UK, May proposes we do better. Although, funnily enough, she voted against building 100,000 affordable homes in 2013.
As the story continues, it will be frankly astonishing if May’s government follows through on all of her paradoxically socialist ambitions.