Thursday 3 October 2013

Liar, liar!

So, conference season is over and what have we learned? I was listening to a bank spokesman on Radio 4 yesterday, trying to wriggle out of answering plain, simple, direct questions about the miss-selling of packaged bank accounts – you know, the ones that claim to offer all sorts of essential benefits (mostly unnecessary and sub-standard insurance you’ll never need or never be able to claim on) for a monthly fee that soon adds up to a small bloody fortune. The term ‘package’ refers not to the wonderful bundle of benefits but to the packaging up of a load of useless tosh as beneficial and in some cases signing you up as part of an impenetrable package of sales flannel.

We used to call such sharp practice fraud, involving only a casual relationship with truth and a very deliberate intent to deceive; lying, in other words. We used to be taught that lying is ‘a bad thing’ and reinforced the lesson by catching out and shaming the liar from an early age. Of course, a child’s lies are easy to spot, being all too naive:

“I never!” (On being caught red-handed.)

“A big boy did it and ran away!” (Always worth a try.)

And the classic, for when you haven’t done what you promised to do and no immediate fabrication springs to mind: “I dunno…” accompanied by an endearing shuffle of feet and the deployment of sad eyes.

As I reported the other day Lord Ashcroft said “In politics perception IS reality.” In other words the truth matters not one jot; what matters is what you can make people believe. And this is being spoon-fed to kids every day; when they sound confident and exuberant more often than not they are aping the noises of the advertainment industry, long a bastion of base dishonesty. Evidence-based assertions are old hat; today the loudest lies get the widest hearing. Thus a ten-year old saying, “It is my life, it is my dream.” Can go on national television and show their delusions in public with nary a hint of ridicule.

But it’s not all bad news; the modern economy needs liars. Back in the days when we made things you needed precision; a quantifiable type of truth. There’s no point in bragging that you need a twenty metre steel joist for your build when you only need ten; you would just look stupid. And to obtain a mortgage you had to actually prove you could pay it back. In the age of real jobs with tangible output the futility of trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole was evident to all, so you only employed on merit.

But now, none of that matters any more. When the worth of a diversity consultant is elevated above that of a doctor and juvenile misbehaviour can be easily diagnosed as a medical condition which then attracts funding. When being a nasty bastard is a cry for help and being bone idle is an occupation as worthy of reward as any engineer. When being parked on benefits is somehow acceptable because we’re all multicultural now and the East Europeans do the cleaning, who needs the truth when lies will get you so much further?

The party conferences are over but their legacies will live on. We are so used to being lied to by politicians that nobody cares whether they can do what they say they will do. All we care about now is which batch of lies we liked the best. We’ll vote for those that offered them while secretly admiring their bare-faced dishonesty and hope that one day we too will be able to lie our way to success.

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