September 15th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

A Time To Lie

A poll was released today showing that, in the UK, 70% of people distrust politicians. Only Tabloid journalists are distrusted more. The last time the poll was conducted (2003, I believe) politicians also scored 70% but were third - estate agents were at number two and those plucky tabloid hacks were again at number one.

Surprisingly, used car salesmen came bottom of the poll with -10%. An over-enthusiastic piece of 'clocking' one presumes.

Naturally there's been a lot of comment in the media but no one has mentioned the obvious reason for the public's distrust of politicians.

Politics is one of the few professions where lying is mandatory. And, for once, I'm being serious. A politicians who cannot lie doesn't get very far because the ability to lie convincingly is part of the job.

In the UK this begins with Collective Responsibility - a code whereby ministers can argue their case on policy right up to the moment a decision is reached. After that, all ministers have to publicly support the party line. Or resign. And the number of cabinet ministers who resign on matters of principle can be numbered on the fingers of Captain Hook's left hand.

The result: cabinet ministers who disagree with a particular policy must find a way to speak convincingly in support of it.

Next there's secrecy. Politicians have to speak to the unspeakable and think the unthinkable. It's part of the job. But instead of admitting it and arguing their case they prefer secrecy. They may have a point. There are times when admitting that lines of communication have been opened between the government and dubious political groups, terrorists or unsavoury governments could cause those talks to be scuppered. But in denying those links exist, they are forced to lie. There have been no meetings with X, no secret deals with Y.

Politicians who want to survive soon learn that longevity equals pragmatism. If they want things done they have to compromise and if they want those deals to last they have to sell them. Which, again, involves lying.

Then there are all the market sensitive discussions about economic policy, budgets, contracts, plant closures. If a politician can't keep silent - and most can't - they have to lie. No plans exist to privatise that, no decision has been taken on cancelling this.

Cue slippery slope. Once lying becomes accepted it becomes easier and the edges between 'for the good of the country' 'for the good of the party' and 'for the good of me' become blurred.