Inside the politics of deceit, deception and denial

Governments lie all the time – like it or not, it is a common feature within the world of politics. Sometimes it makes sense; if the government was totally transparent about every aspect of its dealings, trade would suffer, weaknesses would be exploited and international security would cease to exist.

The current UK government though – that is, Boris Johnson’s Conservative government – has adopted a policy of lying and deception to such an extent it is becoming a notable, unavoidable feature of its day-to-day behaviour.

Just this week, when prompted about whether the government ever seriously considered a ‘Herd Immunity’ approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, Priti Patel said: “Not at all, no. Absolutely not.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson also said: “Herd immunity was never a priority for the government or policy for the government.”

Quite clearly, though, the lady doth protest too much. After all, Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, said this about the government’s policy in March last year:

“Our aim is to try and reduce the peak – not suppress it completely, also because most people get a mild illness, to build up some degree of herd immunity whilst protecting the most vulnerable”.

SAGE member Dr David Halpern also said: “There’s going to be a point, assuming the epidemic flows and grows as it will do, where you want to cocoon, to protect those at-risk groups so they don’t catch the disease.

“By the time they come out of their cocooning, herd immunity has been achieved in the rest of the population.”

Anybody with half a brain could clearly identify two mentions of herd immunity by senior government advisors and conclude it was the government’s initial response.

And yet, rather than concede that this was the case, admit its initial response was poor and move on, the government still feels it must outright lie rather than face the music.

Why is this? It’s quite simple.

To tell the truth, in this case, would be to accept responsibility of a mistake. To accept responsibility of a mistake would be to accept, on some level, some degree of incompetence and ultimately, the government would be accepting its actions caused the unnecessary loss of life.

What, then, would the government rather be brandished? Flailing, incompetent, fools who cannot protect its citizens – or mere liars? The fact that we are even focusing on their lies, rather than the actual policy mistakes themselves, is exactly what the government wants.

As well as being a simple approach, it is not a new one either.

Broader trends of denial and deception have plagued the political arena across the globe for several years, and is only culminating now during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Remember when former US President Donald Trump claimed that the so-called ‘China Virus’ would magically disappear a few months after appearing? Or when he hailed the anti-malaria drug, Hydroxychloroquine, the saviour of the pandemic, only to be shut down on numerous occasions by health officials?

The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, favours this approach too; when faced with Brazil’s latest COVID-19 death toll, he responded: “So what? What do you want me to do?'”

Not only does this level of deceit, deception and denial leave government reputations largely untouched; not only does it devolve governments of responsibility, it pushes ludicrous narratives into the public domain, encouraging polarisation and division.

This level of explicit deceit creates a society where the truth becomes a subjective matter; it normalises deception to the point where people are willing to look past blatant lies in pursuit of any given political agenda and in some cases, adopt this behaviour themselves.

And so, be mindful of when the government is lying but also be mindful of why it is doing so – what could its outright denial and deceit be contributing to an already volatile political arena?

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