This session was always going to be fun. George Galloway is a ferocious debater with an eye for a twist in an argument that is a delight, even though I have little respect for Respect (his party). Shirley Williams joins form the last session to provide a balance and her one to one dialogues with George are a a delight. She has his measure, he obviously respects her and she knows that generation of the Labour Party from which he comes. Otherwise we have Phillip Collins who was a speech writer to Blair which means he is a red rag to the Galloway Bull, but no matador and then a late substitute Peter Oborne who is obsessed with Blair and the Iraq war as well as displaying a rather quaint and hackneyed form of English patriotism.
The them is if we can trust our politicians and the session title Hypocrites, Idealists and Liars gives you a sense of the set up. As expected the whole thing is a ball, although the Chairman should have shifted it from the Did Blair lie argument sooner. The real issue I think is raised by Shirley Williams who referenced John Smith, to many of us the best Prime Minister Britain never had. His early death gave us Blair and perverted George Brown if you want my opinion. When he told the truth in the 1991 election he lost it. We get the politicians we deserve and/or those who the Media permit to practice, physicians heal thyselves
At the end I am amused (but say nothing) when a passionate young speaker wants to know what the panel are going to do to encourage her to get involved in politics. My generation did not see that as an entitlement, we just got stuck in. Its a pity a few more young people don’t
And note to self – I am wearing the same hat (pictured) as George Galloway and Terry Pratchett. This results in several requests for autographs, I will have to change it tomorrow
Shirley gave an example of being asked to corroborate something which was not true. Another challenge about sending her son to Eton, but she doesn’t have a son but the heckler was convinced “the newspapers said”. Newspapers carried that story 35 years ago and its been repeated and repeated and repeated. So up against an endless battle for truth. Of course some politicians lie, but so do some butchers, some policeman etc but its not specific to politicians.
We are driving decent people out of politics
Peter defends one journalist for checking. references his book written in the wake of the gulf war said shcked that prime minister lied about weapons of mass destruction. Cambell was a pathological lier. Never been sued once for saying this. Brown was not as bad as Blair but be lied all the time about the economy. It has been tagic and we are living with the consequences today. Sincerity and lying are different things, Blair lied sincerely ‘I only know what I believe’. Sincerity is not a virtue in politics, Hitler was sincere. That is a classsic left wing error as its a means of justifying all manners of decipt. Conservative politicians should obey the small rules of life, telling the truths being decent and coutious. Great visions which tend to be left wing are used as means to say it doesn’t matter what you do along the way.
Phillip wants to start with Peter’s epistemology, sometimes you say things which turn out to be mistaken, then there are cases where you convince yourself you are true. A lie is where you say something is untrue at the time when you know it is. The real danger in politics comes from demogogy and that is where we have danger. Hypocracy is part of life sometimes its just good manners. Politics is an arenda of compromise, hypocracy is its modus operandi. You need to work out whih really matter. The media constantly send out search parties seeking for splits etc. We dont report it as mature people having conversations we say government in crisis so it makes it difficult for people to be honest. Also we punish parties which are not united. Hypocrisy of dissent, negotiation and compromise are what democratic conversations are about.
George starts with an attack on Blair, delightful wit as ever. Blair was an inveterate liar and hypocrit. If you are the prime minister and you talk about diarness while handing tax breaks to multi-millions that is hypocracy of the worst kind. Not like saying I like your coat when I don;t. Lies on Iraq resulted in a million people dying and to whichthe world will reverberate. Wonderfull attack onthe right wing ideas in response to Peter using slavery, colonialism etc. Neither does he see Shirley as politcally beleagured by the Evening Standard. (admits he is exagerating to make the point). The House of Commons is full of young professional researchers in the house of commons tea party who believe in nothing and have never done any work watching for the next heart attack in a safe seat. Prepared to say whatever they need to to gain their own advancement. A shrunken political class who which doensn’t believe in anything.
Chair asks what do we mean by lying and there is a debate about Blair and Iraq again. Shirely Williams hits back with an example of Eden lying in respect of Suez like Blair did. Discussion degnerating into a fight over Blair and Iraq. Lost the issue competely now with fighting over one issue. Chairman finally pulls it back to say lets move from one case to the wider issue
Asks Is it possible to be a politician and not lie? Is it like the unwanted Christmas Present?
Shirley talks about John Smith who tried to tell the truth in the 1991 election about the budget and that election was then badly lost. In politics that the honest thing to say is the lethal thing to say. The public are not yearning for honesty.
Peter agrees that telling the truth in an election means you will loose it. Cameron was disahonest about the economic situation for example. Suggests that leadership might help and their are cases wheren politicians have led politicians. Philip says that politicians rarely lie deliverately. Lieing requires intent and it is serious. Churchill would not have survived the standard that Peter requires in his book. In 1940s for reasons of inspiration he said things that were periously close to lies. Uses Gordon Brown on the 2007 call off and when asked did he look athe opinion polls, He said no which he knew to be a lie and the press pack lost it with him then. He should have siad yes but it ws not the biggest factor.
George Its very telling that the one lie that a BVlairite will admit to is one about Gordon Brown! (good debating point), Not telling the whole truth is one thing, but telling un-truths is a very different thing. He dates lies to the anti-political times of Blair where ideological politics was sucked out of the system and it became a contest between spivs. When conviction is take out of politics (which happened with the death of John Smith) it goes wrong. Blair and Cameron are products of un-conviction. In repsonse to a challenge says Blair wanted to please Bush it was not conviction.
Shirley says that distrust can distroy democracy and George needs to think before he makes the major claim and its more than the arguments against Blair. Agrees on Blair on Iraq but cant from that draw a universal conclusion.
George references the Daily Tegraph’s discover of expense fraud and says that politicians were found to lie and that hs discredited the system. THen other institutions Banks, Police etc hav eeen found wanted. Its not because he is saying so, its because it is. Shirley says that he is providing corroboration for universal statements from the particular. DISCUSSION continues between George and Shirely getting no where.
Chair asks what would happen if we assumed that politicians were in the main geniuine would ot be naive or would it encourage debate?
Peter gets back to the senere v lie argument. A lie is something which is untrue and you know it to be untrue. Sincerety and truth are competely different things. (Chair is now attempting a Jerremy Paxon). Now Peter is plaming Derrida and Fouqout for confusing truths and lies while he bellieves in evidence. But in respnse to the Chairman’s question he says it would be disasterous (ME” this is like MBAS running business, professionalisation opf politicians) . The public need to know.
Phillip says the truth is that while there are a minoriy of scoundrils, the majority come in for good reasons but difficult to accomodate those beliefs in practice. Many people are trying to succeeed but incometent, more cock up than consipiracy. Conspiracy principle outline – we always believe the other person is eveil deliberately.
George it may once have been true but it no longer is.Our soceity is more devide than Oliver Twist in wars all over the wars, people are trying to kill us. We are in deep trouble because of the political class we have (all institutions including banks and police as well as politicians). This is an emergency we are in and we can’t just muddle through.
Beyond this dissembling and insincerity we know politicians lied and were found guilty of fraud in court, you can’t get away from it. How can we get back from this nadir of trust?
Shirley for the start by getting things right. Most people are on the fiddle in some way. mild dishonesty is part of our society and politicans are part of it. Its much wider than politics. Its as old as the hills. Small scale dishonesty applies to all professions.
To be a politician you have to show iterity, none of my friends voted how to get young people involved?
Shirely points out that lots of young people went on the streets against Iraq but did not vote for the one party (hers) who opposed)
People playing the young generation are politically passionate but the lies and corruption and we are not listened to. WHat would you say to us?
Hasn’t heard any member of the panel talked about idealism?
George thinks that a lot of young people did vote liberal democrat but then saw the coalition and tuition fees etc. This too has delt a potential death blow to the liberal democrats in the next opinion. The fact we hav a political class of Brigands is not a reason to be against politics. But if you send Donkeys back to the House of Commons dont expect them to do anything else but there noses into the feed.
Phillip takes the point about prosecution and breaking the law. The only asnwer is get involved dont be put off. Idealism doesnt get lost its hard to embody as it hits practical reality. It collides with people who dont agree and you have to come to some arrangement.
Peter agrees that representative democracy is failing. Corruption is a reason to go into politics not to avoid it – you can make it better
Shirely says to get into it, when Charles said we are living in a dying planet then young people should take that up. In her life time she has seen three political miracels – thend of aprthite with no one dying, the Gorbachov saved the world from a Third World War. Finally you do see people in politics who are remarkable heros and they save the world from war. Remember they are there as well,
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