Lying is a feature not a bug when it comes to the UK electorate and politicians. Liam Fitzpatrick explores why.
When the British public is polled on ‘what makes a good leader’ invariably they claim that truth and honesty are a must when deciding who to put an X next to on polling day. Despite this, every Prime Minister of the 21st century has had an, at best, flexible relationship with the truth, while the man poised to retake Downing Street from the Tories also faces questions over his honesty. It begs the question: Does the electorate like being lied to?
Senior politicians lie, a lot. It’s almost part of their nature at this point. Arguably they have to. In an age where anything a politician says is immediately clipped up for social media, our leaders are hyper-cautious about what they say. This leads to a lot of flip-flopping and dishonesty.
Politicians are infuriatingly incapable of giving a straight answer and while some are merely fence sitters, others spout provably untrue bollocks at a rate of knots.
Boris Johnson was, for a time, wildly popular with large parts of the electorate, owing to his gross charisma despite the fact that lying comes to him as naturally as breathing. Johnson is arguably the most dishonest PM this country has ever had yet it wasn’t his habitual lying that brought him down, but his lockdown rule breaking.
While Rishi Sunak isn’t anywhere near as habitually dishonest as Johnson, he still tells plenty of half-truths and has an allergy to answering a question head-on. But who can blame him in a world where everything is clipped up and taken out of context for a quick social media ‘gotcha?’.
Lying appears to be a desirable trait slick dishonesty plays well with the electorate. The British public would seemingly rather be sold slick, reassuringly believable lies than painful truths that don’t make them feel so good about themselves or the country.
‘Speaking well’ and sounding like a competent and ‘electable’ leader is seemingly more important than the actual content of what a politician says. The media and the public respond to the tone of a politician and not the actual gist.
Which leads us nicely to Labour. Being the Leader of the Opposition is a job arguably scrutinised even more than the Prime Minister and is often a thankless task. Ironically Jeremy Corbyn’s four-year tenure from 2016-2020 is probably the closest thing to an honest party leader we’ve had in the 21st century, the man was authentic and (usually) honest to a fault. His reward? Some of the harshest press coverage ever seen and a humiliating defeat in the 2019 General Election, Labour’s worst for a generation.
His successor, Keir Starmer is possibly Britain’s most boring bloke and a man who has never said anything interesting or particularly genuine. Indeed, even his most dedicated supporters would struggle to argue he is completely honest. Many of the ‘pledges’ Starmer made when elected Labour leader in 2020 have been heavily tweaked and in some cases abandoned over the last few years. While Starmer, a painfully detail-driven former lawyer, isn’t an outright liar (very few of his public statements are provably untrue), he possesses an evasiveness and dishonesty that seems to be a necessary evil in British politics. Despite this, he is on track to return the party to power for the first time since 2010 with a healthy majority.
Perhaps Britain truly gets the liars it deserves.
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