It’s never the lie, it’s always the cover-up, and so, in fact, we must applaud Shrewsbury and Atcham MP Daniel Kawczynski’s inventive approach to having been caught so transparently red-handed.
If you need the background, on Saturday Kawczynski claimed that, after the Second World War, there had been “no Marshall Plan for us, only for Germany”, referring to the vast grants given by the US to European nations to rebuild after the Second World War.
Forty-eight hours and counting later, by my estimation Mr Kawczynski has been told upwards of 10,000 times the niggling little fact that, rather than there having been “no Marshall Plan for us”, the UK in fact received more Marshall Plan money than any other nation – some $2.7bn to Germany’s $1.7bn.
Kawczynski’s response to this has been to tell such people that they “need to get out more”, to pull up former Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler on the spelling of his name, and to agree to go on talk radio on Sunday and, when the subject was raised, hang up.
So this is not, strictly speaking, a cover-up, but in fact a pioneering extension of truth boundaries beyond the limits once set by the Shaggy school of denialism. This is not so much a case of Kawczynski being caught banging on the bathroom floor and saying it wasn’t him, but instead closing his eyes, continuing in the act and choosing to decide that the interloping third party is in fact not there.
Still, this is precisely the kind of bold new thinking that will be required should the no-deal Brexit Kawczynski continues to agitate for finally arrive. In the midst of the food-and-medicine-shortage-induced riots for which the civil service remains deep in contingency planning, there, we assume, will be Kawczynski. He’ll be quietly pushing his trolley around the supermarket as it is looted all around him, gathering up his imaginary lemons and carrying them to the abandoned checkouts, before opening up his wallet and paying for his non-existent goods with the pretend cash he patiently queued up to withdraw from the out-of-service cashpoint.
Such a devotion to meta-reality is, you might think, surprising for one whose other interests are so firmly bound up in more material matters. The mystery is that Kawczynski has become such a firm advocate of no-deal Brexit, and an even firmer advocate of people ignoring the constant warnings of its risks, right at the same time as receiving a £6,000-a-month payment from a company called the Electrum Group, which is heavily invested in the go-to economic-disaster safe haven of the gold market.
But Kawczynski’s performance-art-level truth avoidance also speaks to what might currently be the deepest problem in British politics. Kawczynski is a member of parliament. These things, parliaments, in which the French word, parler, to speak, features prominently, remain the cornerstones of liberal democracies. The idea, lost though it almost is, is that the people who sit within it speak, but also listen. It is of sacred importance that participants both be ready to listen to arguments – and this is the key bit – to change their minds. Both in parliaments and in liberal democracies at large, minority opinions are safeguarded from majoritarian tyranny precisely because they might, one day, become majority opinions.
To be an elected representative of such a place and state an utterly blatant falsehood and then wilfully refuse to correct the record is an act of democratic vandalism. To undermine not just whatever faith people might theoretically have in you, but in the entire system.
One source of the growing despair in liberal democracies is the entirely well-placed fear that this system is breaking down – that so-called “bad-faith actors” have worked out that there is very little downside in simply lying, and transmitting falsehoods to the isolated echo chambers of the information ecosystem where they can reap their benefit, places where the exposure of said lies do not penetrate.
It is worth noting that Kawczynski has now been on BBC radio, in which he has expounded upon his entirely wrong thesis, to claim that Germany received aid, whereas Britain received “only loans”, which it had not finished repaying until 2006. Again, this is untrue. Yes, Britain, France and others were lent money to pay for the war effort by the US under the Lend-Lease programme, and it is true this money was not repaid until 2006. But Britain’s Marshall Plan funds were a gift, gratefully received and never repaid. Indeed, many historians are damning of the squandering of those funds on seeking to keep up appearances as a global superpower, while France and Germany invested theirs in rebuilding vital industries.
All of which leads us to where we are today: Britain, still with the wrong idea about its place in the world, being generally let down by its politicians.
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