Dishonesty and language in British politics

With Boris earning a deserved rebuke for restating his £350 million lie again, I have been thinking about the levels of dishonesty that marked the campaign and everything that has followed since. Because we are still being fed lies every single day by our government and by the Brexiteers, who still cling on to the notion that behind the Brexit wall lies a land of milk and honey. I have yet to hear anyone be truly honest about the trade-offs and sacrifices that will result from Brexit. And I have yet to hear just one single convincing argument about what will be better outside the EU. Trust me, I’ve looked. I’ve read pro-Leave articles, spoken to Leave voters and tried to pick apart government proposals on Brexit. Not. One. Argument. Most of the supposed benefits are based on fantasy, delusion or downright lies.

I do not need to repeat the most damaging lies here, including the fact that we already could control immigration as EU members, but we chose not to. Rather, I want to reflect briefly on what the growing levels of dishonesty and the distortion of the English language is doing to our political and civic discourse.

I am far from being the only one to think about this. In 1945, George Orwell published his essay on Politics and the English Language, in which he writes, “[the English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” He picked out two main flaws among his contemporary political writers, the “staleness of imagery” and the “lack of precision.” He argued that political orthodoxy “seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style” and that when listening to politicians “one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy.”

This surely strikes right at the heart of what is wrong with our current political discourse. It is the perfect characterisation of our Prime Minister, who carried out the most dismal election campaign by never veering from her “strong and stable” platitudes. And even now, all she is doing is “getting on with the job of government”, while we pursue a “red, white and blue Brexit” for a “global Britain.” What does any of this actually mean?!

Take the “Global Britain” strategy of the Foreign Office, headed by none other than Mr £350 Million A Week Johnson. When quizzed about how our future relationship with the EU might look, he answered that the UK would be “a flying buttress, supportive of the EU project, but outside the main body of the church.” Boris may not be lifeless or stale, but he certainly lacks precision. Our foreign policy priorities must adjust to the new reality of Brexit, but the “Global Britain” strategy retains many of the same old pillars: global stability, peace and order, free trade and projecting our values. However, in the context of an ever-shrinking Foreign Office budget, how can the UK successfully deliver on all of these foreign policy aims without any EU support?

Or does “Global Britain” mean forming closer ties with illiberal regimes, promoting trade with certain countries at the expense of human rights? We have seen the PM travel to Turkey and Saudi Arabia and hold hands with Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Fox has travelled extensively in the Gulf and countries such as the Philippines, where he appeared with President Duterte, who has overseen the most egregious violations of human rights in his country. Has the impending loss of our trading relationships with the EU and the rest of the world through the EU forced us to cozy up to regimes that are in many ways not aligned with our interests? Will we need to accept inferior trade deals with these countries just so that the government can claim — dishonestly — that Brexit has been a success?

Well over a year after the referendum result, none of these questions have even begun to be answered, at least not in the public domain. And I’m only asking questions about one single area of government. We have a similar lack of clarity and precision across all the vast policy areas which will be impacted by Brexit, from nuclear energy to the environment to labour rights.

No matter which way you voted in the referendum, this lack of clarity from our government is dangerous. It suggests, at best, that they do not know what they are doing and, at worst, that they do know what they are doing but do not want the public to know. It is therefore up to each and every citizen to demand answers from our politicians, and to force them to provide the clarity and precision that a policy course of this monumental consequence demands.