Sunday 23 September 2012

Trust (this is not just about Nick Clegg)

I was brought up under the influence of the Church of England and the Book of Common Prayer, so each Sunday morning  and evening, as a choirboy, I was exhorted to confess my "manifold sins and wickedness" and not to "dissemble nor cloke them."  It's a pity this has gone out of fashion, because there seems to be a good deal of dissembling and cloking going on in modern society, among all sorts and conditions of men and women, and not just in the Liberal Democrats.

Whom can we believe?

Certainly not the police.  Individuals lied in the shooting of the innocent Jean Charles de Menzses in 2005,and again in the circumstances surrounding the death of Ian  Tomlinson in 2009. In the Hillsborough disaster not only did individuals lie but it is now revealed that there was organised and systematic deceit by senior officials to try to blame  96 football fans for their own deaths and exonerate the police from any responsibility.

Politicians?  David Laws lied about his expenses but is now back in the government.   Either the police or the Tory Chief Whip, Andrew  Mitchell, are lying about week's events outside Downing Street.

The media?  The lies and deceit of the Murdoch press have just been exposed.  We shall soon find out what, if anything,  the Leveson enquiry advises we should do about it, but I suspect that newspapers will still sail as closely as they can to the wind if they feel it will make them more profit. 

The great and the good?  But it was the most senior of all civil servants who publicised, if he did not invent, the phrase "being economical with the truth" to make lying more acceptable.

So dissembling and cloking has become an expected, even accepted, part of life, and poor Nick Clegg is not alone.  And if his apology is rather ridiculous, and I think it is, it is fair to point out that we still await an apology form Tony Blair about the illegal war in Iraq, and from David Cameron for breaking his much publicised poster campaign promise of  "no top-down re-organisation of the NHS" to name two equally serious betrayals.

Our problem is that we Liberal Democrats  made  great play of being more honest than the others: the party that could be relied upon to keep rather than break its promises.  I believed it, so did most activists and, I suspect, the majority of those who voted for us.  That trust has been lost and Clegg's late in the day "apology" is unlikely to retrieve it,or even to be a step along the way.  I am not even sure the apology itself is entirely honest. He's apologised for making the pledge, not breaking it.  And the suggestion that, on looking at the books, it proved to be unaffordable, does not really hold water.  In another letter to this weeks' Liberal Democrat News, former MP  Paul Holmes  points out that he "actively participated in all the Parliamentary Party meetings which argued out all the fully-costed alternatives in details" and "made this fully-costed policy a key plank of the Manifesto."

One particular piece of dissembling which is obviously fraudulent is any suggestion that the "no rise in tuition fees" promise could not be afforded because of the need to reduce the current deficit.  Yet the existing fees system did bring in money up front:  the new one does not. Hence the government has to pay now, thus increasing current expenditure and loading the repayment onto graduates in the future.

We Liberal Democrats were obviously taken for a ride on this one (as on so much else.)  We are in a hole and we should stop digging.  In time the new system will be recognised for what it is, a graduate tax.  It does not create a debt in the normal sense,  but rather the obligation to pay additional tax,  but not  until a reasonable level of earnings is reached, and which will be discontinued after thirty years if earnings are  insufficient. 


  1. You are right, Peter, both on the sorry episode of the Lib Dem university fee pledge, and the prevalence of dishonesty in politics today (and maybe it was ever thus?). Indeed the aversion to the truth seems to go even wider than the governing elite: many voters seem ready to punish or at least ignore politicians who try to present the truth or anyway to view issues in an objective and serious way. I have no idea how we break out of this cycle but it is a big challenge for liberals who by definition believe that rational and informed debate is an essential basis for sound decision-making.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Jaime. If such things still exist I believe your axiom "Rational and informed debate is an essential basis for sound decision-making" should be reproduced in poker-work or as an embroidery sampler and exhibited on the desk of every politician.

    I think you're probably right that "it was ever thus" but I do, perhaps naively, hope that, with universal education, ample relatively unbiased free news on the BBC radio, and at small cost on the television, and a plethora of journals in addition to the biased press, lies and misrepresentations would be more easily exposed and therefore less prevalent.

    Alas, this isn't happening. I think one of the reasons is our electoral system, which forces the main parties to aim for the centre ground and frightens them from telling, amongst others, the most obvious truth - that you can't have a decent society without paying for it.

    The Green Party spells out a lot of truths. I just hope that as it makes progress it doesn't lose its radical edge. In the meantime we have the "think tanks" and pressure groups, which tell the truth as they see it.

    Of course, it's the "as they see it" which is the important caveat. I choose to believe the ones I support: Liberty, Amnesty International, the World Development Movement et al. Others will believe the inappropriately name Adam Smith Institute et al, but at least there is some attempt to give support, if somewhat partial, for their views, which should therefore be the basis for informed debate

  3. We do have a plethora of journalists in various media but their quality seems to be very variable.
    For instance when Andrew Mitchell says that he is quite clear that he did not say the words which were 'attributed' to him, why don't journalists nd politicians demand that he comes out and tell us all exactly what he did say?
    It is most unlkely that the plods (or plebs) would have been familiar with Rugby School slang such as 'pleb', so how could they make it up? And why does Cameron not ask him the same question? After all Mitchell first denied but then accepted that he had sworn. Another nail in the integrity coffin.