I think this opinion piece is one of those bits of journalism which should be preserved for future generations. Nick Cohen of the Observer staff really hammers it home. Lots of other people, notably Professor Chris Grey have said much the same thing, but for sheer hammer blow effect this takes a lot of beating.
Lies come in all shapes and sizes. This government is familiar with them all
Charlatans now fill the void where we once had people of integrity and substance.
Boris Johnson, ‘a prime minister who long ago forgot the difference between truth and falsehood’.
Sat 12 Feb 2022 19.00 GMT
Last modified on Sun 13 Feb 2022 12.03 GMT
This is a government that lies. It lies because it is led by a prime minister who long ago forgot the difference between truth and falsehood, assuming he ever knew it to begin with. It lies because the prime minister has always said whatever he needs to say to get a laugh, a vote, a cheque or a reprieve. It lies because the prime minister found that lying was easy – when he lost one job on the Times for lying he got a new job on the Telegraph, where he lied some more.
This is a government that lies. It lies because lying never harmed its leader’s political career and, when he was fired from a shadow junior ministerial position for lying on a small scale in 2004, he went on to win the Brexit referendum in 2016 by lying on a grand scale and then became prime minister in 2019 to lie on an epic scale.
This is a government that lies. It lies because it is a lame-duck administration of charlatans and clowns, an echoing void where the government of the country ought to be. It lies to make it from one scandal to the next, from the scandal about wallpaper to the scandal about lobbying to the scandal about the partying to the scandal about Jimmy Savile to the scandal that will break this week and every week after that.
It lies because it knows it can never admit that the prime minister, his wife, aides and civil servants giggled and guzzled as millions suffered
This is a government that lies. It lies because none of the stories it tells itself make sense. It lies because Brexit has not made Britain great again, but brought nothing but trade barriers and clinging bureaucracy. It lies because austerity was a blunder and levelling up will be a chimera. It lies because it says it is the party of tax cutters but is raising taxes, and says it is the party of sound money but is allowing inflation to soar, and says it is the party of home ownership but is letting landlordism rip, and says it is the party of enterprise but is crushing productivity. It lies because it is easier to lie than accept the truth that its hopes have turned to ashes.
This is a government that lies. It lies because it knows it can never admit that the prime minister, his wife, aides and civil servants giggled and guzzled as millions suffered isolation and loss. It lies because it did not listen when the prime minister’s own adviser warned that attacking the leader of the opposition with lies about “a horrendous case of child sex abuse” would be seen as the scurrilous act of a scoundrel leader.
This is a government that lies. It lies because it knows liars can game a quaint system whose rules mandate that the Speaker of the House of Commons will allow a liar to lie but will expel MPs who point out that the liar is indeed lying. It lies because broadcasters place balance above truth and if one guest says the world is round, they must rush to find another who will say it is flat.
It lies because the prime minister is the creation of the Tory press and its editors can no more bear to tell the truth about him than Caliban could bear the sight of his face in the mirror. It lies because thoughtful people think twice before condemning a liar for lying and provide cover for the prime minister whenever they wonder if he is just confused, or ill-informed or so lost in delusion he believes his lies as he tells them – as the best liars always do. It lies because respectable society fears that throwing accusations of lying around will create a vicious, foul-mouthed country – without realising that they already live in the future they fear.
This is a government that lies. It lies because it knows that most people pay next to no attention to politics and will let it get away with lying. It lies because it knows many people think “all politicians are liars” and expect to be lied to. It lies because too few have learned the difference between politicians who stonewall, twist, brag and fall into groupthink and the Putin and Trump wannabes, who think that if leaders destroy trust in everyone and everything voters may stop believing that change for the better is possible and stick with the liars they know. It lies because it is gambling that a society where trust has evaporated will be easier to govern than a confident country that insists on high standards.
This is a government that lies. It lies because, despite all it says to the contrary, it quietly despises Conservative voters and thinks they are either such fools that they believe their leaders’ lies or such cynics that they admire the rat-like cunning their leaders display when they lay their false trails. It lies because a generation of amoral commentators assured it that the truth no longer mattered as the electorate had “baked in” the prime minister’s willingness to lie.
It lied last week as it lied every week. It lies to the Queen. It lies to parliament. It lies to the electorate. It lies to itself
This is a government that lies. It lies because it instinctively understands what sociologists call “strategic lying” and the rest of us call “shit sticking”, shifts the news agenda on to its preferred territory. It lies because it knows Dominic Cummings was right to agree that when he told the lie that Brexit would deliver £350m a week to the NHS in 2016, or the prime minister told the lie this year that Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile, they “trapped” their opponents into spreading the lies as they refuted them.
It lies because it cannot admit the existence of the world in front of its eyes. It ignored a fraud epidemic last week, so it could pretend that crime is falling. It went on to ignore the sharpest collapse in living standards in 30 years so it could pretend the economy was booming.
It lied last week as it lies every week. It lies to the Queen. It lies to parliament. It lies to the electorate. It lies to itself. It lies as a matter of policy. It lies as a matter of course. It lies when it doesn’t need to lie. It lies because it doesn’t know what else to do. It lies because it is all it can do. This is a government that lies.
Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist
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And for the avoidance of doubt, I agree with every word of it.