The truth about why the British love a whopper

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The Independent Online

It was a rare and special privilege for this column to be granted the first public interview by one of the lesser-known beneficiaries of the recent government reshuffle, Lord Truthbender, who will head up the new Ministry of Presentation. So little is known about the New Labour peer that when he appeared at the office, a sleek, well-lunched man, I started by asking him precisely what qualifications he brought to his new job.

"Since I was at Oxford, reading law and playing bass in a band called Ugly Rumours, I've done a variety of jobs. I've been an estate agent, an advertising copywriter, I've worked in TV, where I dreamt up fake identities for the great Jeremy Beadle. Then I became a barrister."

"That job history suggests a talent for presenting one thing to look like another."

"What we call creative deception, yes - 'lying', in old-fashioned parlance. We now live in such a morally sophisticated society that people with normal ambition know they have to lie to get on. These days a fact is only a fact if you want it to be one. The Government takes its responsibility towards creative deception very seriously."

"So why the need for a Minister of Presentation?"

"Ministers are now so adept at changing their stories that occasionally there has been confusion. Sometimes they appear on the Today programme and say something that was yesterday's lie, which has been superseded by an entirely new lie."

"It's refreshing that you are so open about this."

"That's because I can deny it tomorrow. The public distrusts journalists even more than politicians so, if I come out of this interview seeming a bit dodgy, I can simply explain that I was misquoted, my words taken out of context by an unscrupulous hack."

"But surely if there is one thing that politicians should not be open about it is the fact they are lying."

"That's the kind of old-fashioned thinking that the Ministry of Information will be kicking into touch. We are a great, creative nation. We have some of the most innovative and talented liars in the world. It's time for us to be proud of our heritage and admit that deception can be a good, positive thing, one of the vibrant service industries for which this country is internationally renowned."

"It certainly must be a full-time job. What with the great Iraqi adventure, the euro debacle, education and now the GM-crops debate, you must be very busy."

"Yes, it is something of a golden age for creative deception in politics, but it would be wrong for us to take all the credit. The entertainment industry is playing its part. Because the public has a simple-minded desperation for heroes, a helpful fictionalising and simplification of recent history has become something of a trend. Already a film about the aftermath of September 11 shows the American President swaggering about manfully like Rambo. The rescue of Private Lynch in Iraq will be filmed as a perilous and heroic exploit, usefully obscuring the fact that she was being looked after in hospital by Iraqi doctors."

"What other areas of creative deception will you be working on?"

"Reference to non-existent scientific reports are working well in the context of Michael Meacher's claims of a government cover-up on the GM-crops issue."

"But surely, when the lies are discovered, the Government has to make a correction."

"You're not getting this, are you? Let me make it simple for you: in the battle between an interesting falsehood and the rather dull truth, the lie always wins. A story revealing the discovery of documents revealing George Galloway to be in the pay of Saddam Hussein will get front-page treatment, while the revelation that the papers were faked will be tucked away on an inside page."

"So will he be reinstated into the Labour Party?"

"That is an operational security matter on which it would be inappropriate for me to comment."

"But..."

"You see? Creative deception at its best. The British have a great respect for secrets so, when things get a bit sticky, we tap the side of our nose, mention national security and relax. Then, if all else fails, we leak a story that Alastair Campbell is about to get sacked. He never is, of course, but it provides an illusion of integrity."

"Until the next lie comes along."

"Precisely."

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