Here’s what post-truth politics looks like

I came across an extraordinary short (18 seconds) video, which I will transcribe:

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: The Conservative MP Ben Bradley is in the House of Commons. He voted to Remain, then became a Brexiteer, then voted against the deal, then voted for the Deal, then said he’d struggle to back the deal again, but now says he will back the deal. Ben Bradley, why do you get to change your mind?

Ben Bradley: I haven’t changed my mind.

For our present purposes, let’s ignore what this interview was actually about (Brexit, of course — as all news in the UK now is). Instead, just consider in isolation Bradley’s assertion “I haven’t changed my mind” in response to KGM’s brief account of his having changed his mind four times.

This is “post truth” territory.

A regular liar tries to hide the fact that he’s lying; but to a post-truth politician like Bradshaw, whether what he’s saying happens to be true or not is simply irrelevant. It’s not one of the factors that has a bearing on his decision about what to say.

Someone like this will stand in front of you and say a thing that is not true; that you know is not true, maybe even that you can see is not true; and he will expect you to believe it anyway, just because it’s the most recent thing you’ve heard.

 


To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself.
— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.


These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely.
— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.


Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the party holds to be truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.
— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.


She only questioned the teachings of the Party when they in some way touched upon her own life. Often she was ready to accept the official mythology, simply because the difference between truth and falsehood did not seem important to her.
— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

 

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23 responses to “Here’s what post-truth politics looks like

  1. Maarten Daalder

    Not disagreeing with your post, but I was reminded of this SMBC comic:
    http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/infallible

  2. Reminds me of how Ryan in The Office (US) disclaims all responsibility for his actions by saying “That was the old Ryan. I’m a different person now”.

  3. Not the same thing but it made me think of Australian politician Tony Abbott, back when he was opposition leader. He went on to become PM but didn’t last long; then again, none of them do nowadays.

    “TONY ABBOTT has told voters not to believe everything he says.

    In an extraordinary admission last night, the Opposition Leader said his only utterances that should be regarded as ”gospel truth” were carefully prepared and scripted remarks such as those made during speeches or policy pronouncements.

    Otherwise, he indicated that statements he made during the ”heat of discussion” such as radio interviews or under questioning at press conferences, were not necessarily reliable.”

    https://www.smh.com.au/national/read-my-lying-lips-abbott-admits-you-cant-believe-everything-he-says-20100517-v9ge.html
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-05-18/abbott-under-fire-for-gospel-truth-gaffe/830636

  4. That is impressive, in its way.

  5. To be fair, and withouth knowing the circumstances, it is entirely possible for that summing-up to be unfair and ‘I haven’t changed my mind’ to be a reasonable response to it; because whether you vote for or against the deal is at least as much a question of whether you think the deal is likely to pass, and what the consequences of voting against it seem to be,

    Tor example, to simplify the situation, imagine someone who first voted against the deal and then voted for it. this could be presented as ‘changing their mind’.

    However, if the person’s main concern was to leave the EU, and the first time the deal was presented they thought that the consequences of the deal being voted down would be leaving with no deal, but then by the time the second vote came around things had shifted so that it now seemed like the consequences of the deal being voted down would be the UK being trapped in a long extension of Article 50 and, possibly, not leaving at all.

    In this case a person’s vote could very well change without them having changed their mind: what has changed is the context in which they are casting the vote.

    It’s a question of tactics versus strategy. Whether to vote for or against the deal is a question of tactics. It is entirely possible that you can be persuing the same strategic goal, but decide during the engagement that it is necessary to change tactics. Is that ‘changing your mind’? Well, yes, sort of, in that you have changed your mind about the best way to achieve the goal; but in a deeper sense no, it’s not, because you are still pursuing the same goal. you may have changed your mind about the route but you haven’t changed your mind about the destination.

    And if someone accused you of changing your mind because you had changed tactics, then it seems fair enough to retort that no, you haven’t changed your mind, because you are still pursiing the same goal you have always been pursuing. You are still heading for the same destination even if you have changed your route after hearing the traffic report.

    In short: it’s entirely possible that Guru-Murthy’s question is a variant of ‘how long ago did you stop beating your wife?’ and you are claiming that any answer which isn’t a length of time is ‘post-truth’. whereas actually it’s the framing of the question that is unfair and challenging that framing is exactly the right way to respond.

  6. In a similar vein, Brendan Donnelly just tweeted this observation:

    “Unreliable” perhaps rather than “deceptive.” A deceiver knows the truth and conceals it. Theresa May simply says whatever is helpful to her at the time. Her words should not be thought of as having any systematic relationship to reality, either positive or negative.

  7. Aonghus Fallon

    I think H has a point.

    For example:

    (1) Your girlfriend wants to leave the apartment which you both rent. You don’t.
    (2) Your girlfriend is insistent and eventually you come round. You live in a university town. It’s still summer – no students – but this won’t be the case for long. You suggest that you move and find new accommodation ASAP. She would prefer to wait a bit.
    (3) She finds a new apartment, but you’re not happy with it, and refuse to move.
    (4) But after a month you realise that term is due to begin the following week and that you’re better off settling for the apartment (although it is far from ideal) as you may not be able to source any other accommodation.

    If you want to be reductive, the character changes his mind four times – he is against the idea of moving, then wants to expedite the move, then doesn’t want to move, then moves. Clearly this isn’t the case. In reality, he only changes his mind once – on the first occasion.

  8. Theresa May, I think it is now clear, has had one aim in mind the whole time: she wants to be able to claim she fulfilled the exact letter of the referendum mandate, while totally ignoring its spirit. That is, she wants to be able to say she shepherded the UK to leaving the European Union, while ensuring that nothing (or at least as little as possible) actually changes.

    As a result, she is now trusted by no one. Those who will accept no leaving, even in name only (ie, the majority of MPs), do not trust her because she wants to be able to claim credit for leaving. Those who want to actually leave (ie, the majority of the country) do not trust her because she has shown she has no intention of actually leaving.

    One wishes there were a Cromwell around to say to her: ‘You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!’

  9. In reply to H.

    I don’t think that “she wants to be able to claim she fulfilled the exact letter of the referendum mandate, while totally ignoring its spirit. That is, she wants to be able to say she shepherded the UK to leaving the European Union, while ensuring that nothing (or at least as little as possible) actually changes.” withstands serious scrutiny.

    Firstly, when TM ruled out freedom of movement in her Lancaster House speech, very early on in Phase 1 negotiations, she effectively ruled out EEA membership and any sort of ‘soft’ Brexit. Ruling out EEA membership ensures the hardest possible Brexit and maximum possible change.

    Secondly, TM identified FoM as the key motivation driving pro-Brexit voters, which appears to be backed up by several social attitudes surveys; read for example:

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/brexit-latest-news-leave-eu-immigration-main-reason-european-union-survey-a7811651.html

    So seeking to end FoM as the main objective of Brexit, she has arguably totally embraced the ‘spirit of Brexit’, such as it is.

    Whatever else one might think about TM, and it’s unlikely to be complimentary, I don’t think she can be accused of ignoring the spirit of Brexit and aiming for a BRINO from the outset.

  10. Firstly, when TM ruled out freedom of movement in her Lancaster House speech, very early on in Phase 1 negotiations

    Yeah, but she clearly didn’t mean a word of what she said in the Lancaster House speech because she also committed to Britain being able to do trade deals when she had no intention of that.

    Secondly, TM identified FoM as the key motivation driving pro-Brexit voters,

    I think you mean wrongly identified.

    Anyway, you’ve fallen into the trap of listening to what Theresa May says, rather than looking at what she does. She has repeatedly talked about embracing the spirit of leaving the EU; but everything she has actually done has been an attempt to destroy that spirit and trap us into, basically, renamed EU membership but this time with no exit clause.

  11. I understand where you’re coming from now. You don’t like the Withdrawal Agreement and regard it as vassalage.

    Any PM would have been faced with the same choice: remain, no deal or Withdrawal Agreement. The WA is the end result of Phase 1 of negotiations and its content reflects TM’s red lines (derived from Lancaster House speech). The Political Declaration outlines a non-binding direction for Phase 2 negotiations. If the UK is really serious about leaving the EU then the WA is a necessary step that provides for a transition period that avoids wreaking havoc on both economies (UK and EU) while they sort out their future relationship.

    And if TM opted to crash out, the UK would be back at the negotiating table very quickly and be faced with the same WA (assuming no change to red lines), but having suffered significant damage in the meanwhile. The EU won’t negotiate a new trading relationship with the UK while the Phase 1 issues are outstanding.

    The vassalage accusation derives from the difficulty of resolving the Irish border problem. Until the UK govt finds a non-unicorn solution to that problem they’re stuck in the transition phase. The unspoken truth is that Irish unification is the solution to the Irish border problem, which is why the DUP would rather remain than support the WA.

    So what are the options? 1) Revoke, 2) crash out, hard Irish border, trade with the EU on WTO terms forever, get eaten alive in trade negotiations by every other country in the world that matters, 3) WA, wait for Irish unification and then negotiate a new trade relationship with the EU (vassalage), 4) change the red lines and float the Norway option in the hope that it will please everyone (it won’t) and that it will reduce the issues in the WA from 3 to 2 (Irish border solved) thus allowing a more rapid exit after sorting out the detail of the new trade relationship.

    I’m not defending TM by the way – she’s handled the whole thing appallingly. But she was faced with the same choices that any leader would have been faced with (which is presumably why they all took a big step backwards and allowed her the job). Her greatest crime is not attempting to create a consensus around Brexit and bring the country along with her. But she was never up to that task.

  12. Now you’re just repeating what I wrote originally: Theresa May was faced with the same choices that any leader would have been faced with, and she chose — as she always intended to choose — the route that leads to not actually leaving the EU, but attempting to save face by getting some minimum ‘Leaving in name only’ deal so she could claim that she had actually respected the referendum result.

    As the Irish government has admitted now that even in the even of no-deal they will not put infrastructure on the border, the ‘Irish border problem’ has been revealled to be a non-problem. Frankly even if there were to be infrastructure that wouldn’t be a problem, as nothing in the Good Friday Agreement specifies that there shouldn’t be infrastructure on the border, or even mentions the border at all. some people who like to think the current situation means that a united Ireland is just around the corner might get upset, but those people having their delusions shattered and beign forced to come to terms with the fact that northern Ireland is and will remain part of the UK would be a good rather than a bad thing.

  13. Aonghus Fallon

    “Some people who like to think the current situation means that a united Ireland is just around the corner might get upset, but those people having their delusions shattered and beign forced to come to terms with the fact that northern Ireland is and will remain part of the UK would be a good rather than a bad thing.”

    Seriously? I’m not particularly republican but I can see that unification is inevitable. There are two factors at play (1) demographics – estimates are that there’ll be a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland by 2021 (2) Brexit itself. Moderate Unionists, especially those working in the agricultural sector, are worried about lack of access to the EU in the wake of Brexit, and would prefer to remain in the EU even if this means becoming part of the republic – ie, financial concerns are outweighing ideology.

    A referendum on the issue is inevitable. Already moderate Unionists are recommending that their fellow Unionists cut a deal with the south now while they still have some clout (as opposed to four or five years down the line, when they’re a minority and won’t) and I’d see the appointment of Drew Harris (a former senior figure in the PSNI) as head of the Irish police force as essentially an attempt to reassure Unionists up in the north that they won’t be marginalised by the south.

    So if the British government avoid Brexit for the next three years, the issue of the backstop may resolve itself!

  14. There’s a saying that no-one ever won an argument on the internet, so I’ll leave this thread at this point. I’d like to give the final word to H: What would you do in TM’s place? Roll the dice and crash out without a deal?

  15. H wrote:

    Theresa May […] has repeatedly talked about embracing the spirit of leaving the EU; but everything she has actually done has been an attempt to destroy that spirit and trap us into, basically, renamed EU membership but this time with no exit clause.

    Honestly, this could scarcely be more wrong. It was May’s choice and May’s alone that the very narrow referendum win for Leave was interpreted in a very radical way: leaving the Single Market (which Leave campaigners had told us was never on the agenda), leaving the Customs Union, even leaving Euratom. None of this was on the ballot, and much of it actively and explicitly contradicted by the pre-referendum campaigning.

    macfarl99 wrote:

    Her greatest crime is not attempting to create a consensus around Brexit and bring the country along with her. But she was never up to that task.

    Precisely. A competent Prime Minister would have looked at the 52-48 result and begun by seeking to find a middle-way solution that both sides could have lived with. Instead, she instantly folded to the far-right faction within her own party and aimed for the hardest possible Brexit short of leaving with no deal at all — despite knowing full well that it would be economically and politically disastrous for the UK. Why? Because keeping the Conservative Party together mattered more to her than any other consideration.

    This was not only a moral error, but a terrible tactical blunder. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the far right can never be appeased. Whatever you offer them, they always demand more. So in the end, there are only ever two options: you either fold to them completely and do what they dictate; or you stand up to them and say no. It’s astonishing that only now, nearly three years on, has May realised this simple truth — that only now, when she has been fatally weakened by cut after cut, that she is trying to find the strength to resist far-right idiocy. Had she had the guts and simple tactical insight to do this at the start of her premiership, when she was strong, she could have put the ERG down on day one and forged a consensus Brexit that the whole country could have lived with.

  16. I’m not particularly republican but I can see that unification is inevitable

    You are wrong. For one thing, having to take over paying for Northern Ireland’s utterly dysfunctional, public-sector-heavy economy would totally tank the south’s treasury. Enough of that Catholic majority are smart enough to realise that their standard of living depends on draining the UK’s public funds that there’s no way they would vote to destroy their

    What would you do in TM’s place? Roll the dice and crash out without a deal?

    I have said right from the start that leaving without a deal was inevitable because the EU would never negotiate in good faith: they would play for time and then at the last minute present a deal so bad that there was no way we would take it, in the hope that we would then back down and stop the leaving process. At which point we would have to call their bluff and leave without a deal And I was exactly right.

    What I would have done if I were in May’s place is spend the three years since the referendum preparing seriously, and with proper funding, for a no-deal exit and saying to the EU, ‘If you want us to leave with a deal then you can make an offer, but it better be a damn good offer because at the moment no-deal is our preferred option. What terms are you offering?’

    It was May’s choice and May’s alone that the very narrow referendum win for Leave was interpreted in a very radical way: leaving the Single Market (which Leave campaigners had told us was never on the agenda), leaving the Customs Union, even leaving Euratom.

    Hang on. May’s deal traps us in the customs union forever (it’s just renamed to ‘the backstop’ but it is effectively the customs union). How is that a ‘radical way’ of leaving?

    If May really was proposing to leave the customs union I would agree with you (and I would support her). But she’s not, and that’s my point. She’s just planning to rename customs union membership so she can claim we have left it when actually we’re even more deeply enmeshed than ever.

  17. First, the backstop is what’s in place if the promised Technical Measures don’t materialise on schedule. Since the Brexiters spent ages assuring us that they would be ready or even that they already existed, it’s totally inconsistent for them then to complain about what will happen in a situation that they promise will never happen.

    Second, staying in a Customs Union represents only a wretched fraction of the integration that we currently enjoy. Most obviously, it affects on the movement of goods, whereas our economy is 80% services. So, no, a Brexit that involves leaving the Single Market is certainly not “soft” — and is certainly not was explicitly promised in the Leave campaign.

    Third, the one thing that everyone who’s involved in trade at all agrees on is that there is no such thing as No Deal as a destination. All it would mean is that we would immediately start trying once more to negotiate with by far our biggest and nearest trading partner to try to get trade (especially in services) back up to something resembling what we presently have. In other words, No Deal is a recipe for at least another decade of EU negotiations dominating the news. Anyone who wants No Deal so it can just be over is in for a very very nasty shock. (Hence the only actual way to Just Make It Stop.)

  18. First, the backstop is what’s in place if the promised Technical Measures don’t materialise on schedule

    No, the backstop is what is in place until the EU agrees it is no longer necessary, which of course it will never ever do because why would it? So the backstop is basically permanent membership of the customs union, and was clearly May’s plan all along.

    Second, staying in a Customs Union represents only a wretched fraction of the integration that we currently enjoy

    I think you mean ‘that we currently are forced to endure’.

    Personally, I’d be fine with staying in the single market, as long as we leave the customs union plus all political integration. That arrangement works for Switzerland, after all. But that would be us having the best of all worlds, so of course the EU — which has to make sure to punish us lest other member states realise that there is life, and indeed flourishing, outside the EU — would never allow it.

    Third, the one thing that everyone who’s involved in trade at all agrees on is that there is no such thing as No Deal as a destination

    True, but at least the EU would realise that we were serious about leaving and stop trying — as at least some of them still are, though that appears to be fracturing — to get us to back down and surrender.

  19. Aonghus Fallon

    “You are wrong. For one thing, having to take over paying for Northern Ireland’s utterly dysfunctional, public-sector-heavy economy would totally tank the south’s treasury. Enough of that Catholic majority are smart enough to realise that their standard of living depends on draining the UK’s public funds that there’s no way they would vote to destroy their…..”

    There’s absolutely no doubt about the financial implications. We can’t afford it. Hence a certain lack of enthusiasm for a united Ireland down here (although I think the Irish government will do its best to be proactive, providing a consensus is reached in NI). To put it context: the UK spends over ten billion a year in annual subsidies to Northern Ireland. That’s more than it contributes to the EU.

    70% of Conservative Party supporters feel – understandably – that the money should be spent elsewhere. I’d imagine this would be even more true post-Brexit, as things will be tight? So funding for the NI may well dry up anyway, by extension making the Republic (and the EU) all the more attractive to Northern Irish voters.

  20. So funding for the NI may well dry up anyway, by extension making the Republic (and the EU) all the more attractive to Northern Irish voters.

    Pure speculation. Jeremy Corbyn being elected PM and forcing Northern Ireland out of the UK is more likely, I think. But anyway you’ve already gone a long long way from ‘unification is inevitable’. More like ‘under certain unlikely conditions combined with some wild speculations, unification might be slightly less impossible than it is at the moment’.

    The main problem, as so much, is tony Blair’s fault: in his rush to be able to claim that he had solved the Irish Question, he didn’t do what he shoudl have and held off on negotiations until the IRA was forced to surrender, apologise, and admit that it had been in the wrong. Without that, there’s still a residual romanticisation of the armed struggle which is why it keeps popping its ugly little head up again and again: ‘we haven’t gone away, you know’. And while the British government and body politic engages in endless handwringing over whether to put soldiers on trial for possibly murdering people, do you know how many people the IRA absolutely definitely murdered that they have apologised for?

    Zero.

    Sorry, that’s drifting from the topic somewhat, but anyway, the point is that the ‘Irish complication’ to leaving the EU is not really an issue at all and it has only been made one by the EU in order to make the deal as unpalatable to the British as possible, again in the hope that we will at the last second back down and roll over. It’s what they did to Greece, after all: they didn’t negotiate, they just kept saying ‘this is the deal, take it or leave it’ and eventually when their backs were against the wall, the Greeks gave in.

    But the UK is not Greece.

  21. Aonghus Fallon

    Well, I still think unification is inevitable! The time-frame is the issue. In this respect, I reckon Brexit will expedite matters – but that’s just my opinion. I think it will prove costly to the Irish government, but I also think EU funds will be allocated to make up for the shortfall in UK funding, as it solves the whole issue of the backstop, borders etc.

  22. I also think EU funds will be allocated to make up for the shortfall in UK funding, as it solves the whole issue of the backstop, borders etc.

    But the EU doesn’t want to solve the issue of the backstop. The EU wants to keep the UK permanently enslaved to EU customs regulations, but without any say over them. the UK being in the backstop is a win for the EU, which is why they have made such a big thing out of the Irish border non-problem.

    Anyway, you are wrong about unification, but it’s impossible to prove facts about the future one way or the other; we just have to wait and see (though, the person who says ‘this will happen someday, but I won’t say by when’ does have the advantage as they can never definitively be proved wrong — every day their prediction fails to come true, they can just say, ‘ah, but it will, it just hasn’t yet!’).

  23. Aonghus Fallon

    As you say, we’ll just have to wait and see. There are a lot of hypotheticals being put forward on both sides of the debate, and we won’t really have a clear idea of the lay of the land until Brexit is finally sorted and the dust has cleared a bit, etc, etc,

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