I’d like to recall the verse of the 1930s poet and critic Hilaire Belloc this week. Belloc was deeply dodgy on the subject of Jews, as it happens, but on another subject — lying — he was absolutely spot on.
Belloc wrote: “Matilda told such dreadful lies/it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes/her aunt, who, from her earliest youth/had kept a strict regard for truth/attempted to believe Matilda/the effort very nearly killed her.”
In the three countries which matter most to us —Britain, Israel and America — the politicians who are either in charge or vying to be in charge are frequently outright liars. And the thing that mystifies me is that no one seems to care any more.
Let’s start with Donald Trump, frighteningly America’s president since January 2017 and set to run again for a second term. His watchwords are “fake news”, the term by which he has repeatedly dismissed anything he either doesn’t understand or with which he doesn’t agree.
We know that Trump gets almost all of his information from television, particularly Fox News. He has, over and over again, been exposed as a serial liar, but that doesn’t seem to have any deleterious effect on his electorate, even though he is now in the throes of impeachment proceedings, attacks which would end the career of any normal politician. But these are not normal times: and those who would support Trump for his apparently pro-Israel actions — such as moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or declaring that America no longer regards settlements as illegal — should beware. This will end in tears, for Israel at least, if not for America.
Israel, next, and the desperately disappointing spectre of a prime minister who is being indicted on three serious corruption charges and whose response is to denounce the judiciary and law enforcement agencies which brought the charges. Benjamin Netanyahu, whose guilt or innocence has not, it is true, yet been proven, has nevertheless wriggled and struggled to the point where he is ready to push Israel to an unprecedented third election in the last several months. Can any normal electorate accept this? Are these normal times?
So, finally, to our own backyard, where it is hard to put a cigarette paper (supposing anyone used them any more) between Johnson and Corbyn for the sheer extent of lying taking place in their bid to stay as/become prime minister.
Johnson — I would rather not call him by his familiar first name, as though I were on intimate terms with him — appears to have lied repeatedly about almost everything, from the amount of money which staying in the European Union would cost the NHS, to the number of police he is ready to put on the streets. Not the least of his dissembling with the truth is the bizarre refusal to admit exactly how many children he has. It could be the four he had with his last wife, Marina Wheeler, or there could be other less legitimate offspring whom he may or may not acknowledge.
And Corbyn? Well, this newspaper’s readers need little reminder about the Labour leader’s lies, from his “present but not involved” line to his most recent claim last week that his party had dealt with all antisemitism cases, despite the Jewish Labour Movement pointing out that there are at least 130 unresolved cases, and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is still producing a report on whether or not Labour is an institutionally racist party.
Last week the wannabe London mayor and former Tory MP Rory Stewart got it right when he told a Have I Got News For You audience on BBC that the public now believed that all politicians were lying to them.
“Matilda/Trump/Bibi/Johnson/Corbyn told such dreadful lies…” This will end in tears.