Politicians don’t always tell the pure, undeniable truth. Nor are they often outright liars. Politics, as I see it, is a necessary blend of artifice and reality – some like to say we don’t need it, but life without politics is a dysfunctional dystopia. Everything is politics, from the price of the milk to the condition of the roads you drive on, to whether there are enough bins for disposing of your dog’s mess on a walk.
I was a teenager when ‘New Labour’ rose to power in the late ’90s, and I was enthralled. There was such ambition in their actions and it seemed, looking on relatively casually and with young eyes, that it was a truly progressive government trying to make life better. They arguably did so in various ways, with things like the minimum wage, but then the Iraq war happened.
By the time Blair and Bush had pretty much made their minds up, and we’re talking a year or so before the invasion, I was playing in a Supporter’s Football Team. One of my favourite team-mates, a generous and all-round good guy, joined the Territorial Army and, as I was 17-18 at the time, said I should think about doing the same. Easy money, fun training, that was the pitch. I counter-offered: please leave the TAs, I said, as we’ll be at war soon and they might send you. He didn’t think it was likely.
When he came back from the war, he seemed – based on my encounters with him – to be a changed man. He was still warm and generous, but he laughed less. The glint had gone from his eye. I wasn’t the only one who thought this, my parents (also involved in that supporter’s team) saw it too. I wasn’t with the team much longer for unrelated reasons, but it saddened me and I wish I hadn’t lost touch with him. He was starting a new career with the Police and was getting married last I heard (that was a LONG time ago), so I hope he’s having a great life.
The Iraq War, though, was an early example in my lifetime of anti-truth politics. Millions could smell a rat at the time and marched on London to share that view, but the government ignored it. They cited ‘Intelligence’ that couldn’t be shared, and bluffed past revelations that the so-called smoking gun dossier was proven to be full of nonsense. The war happened, and years later – having had access to the materials needed – the Chilcot Enquiry reinforced what many including me had suspected. We were dragged into a damaging war based on exaggerations, half-truths and outright lies.
I felt a lot of anger when I watched some of Tony Blair’s press conference after the Chilcot Enquiry eviscerated his decision making and post-war planning. He trotted out arguments that few would counter outright – Saddam Hussein was a despot that killed his own people, he once had weapons, and he probably had some old chemical weapons lying around even if, shucks, we couldn’t find them. Despite ditching the UN process he tried to imply he had no choice, that the decision had to be made.
It was pathological lying, and I’m not sure Blair even realises how ludicrous he sounded contradicting so much evidence. Yet it was his truth, as he saw it, and he wouldn’t be dissuaded. Thanks to that we had a war, Iraq then collapsed into civil war, and it is now a modern-day nightmare of a place in a day-to-day battle with Daesh (ISIL) and other terrorist groups.
This Anti-Truth approach is everywhere right now, too, and it’s damaging. Those peddling that approach to politics often seem to be so deluded that they believe their own nonsense on a deep-rooted level. Donald Trump makes shit up all the time, but seems to believe it just because he says it. The Brexit campaign had a little more awareness, in that it opted for calculated lies – “there’ll be no chaos, we’ll have hundreds of millions of pounds extra per week for the NHS, the EU will give us a great deal, we’ll be ‘Great Britain’ again”. When the vote for Brexit came and markets crashed, at least they showed they weren’t completely mad – they backtracked, admitted those promises weren’t real, and all ran off from their responsibilities, leaving it to others to fix the mess.
The saddest part of all this? We’re in an anti-intellectual age, where many feel they know better than experts, that an ‘elite’ are making up negative angles for some twisted pleasure. Much of what was predicted after Brexit has happened so far – the Pound continues to fall, real estate investment funds are being locked to stop investors bolting, business are contemplating leaving the City of London, the EU is not keen to give us a sweet deal. Experts said this would happen, yet those with expertise in various areas tell people about this, about what’s ACTUALLY happening, and plenty say they’re negative doom-mongers.
Don’t give us truth, some say, give us placebos so we don’t worry about problems heading our way.
Well, denial isn’t the answer for everyone. Ultimately, it’s important to be blunt and give opinions on problems in the world, and in our small ways try to help deal with the situation. It’s fine to despair occasionally, but at the end of the day this crazy world is the only one we have. If people don’t want truth and logic, tough, some of us just have to find ways to change those attitudes, and to make the best of bad scenarios.
All we can do is KBO – keep buggering on.