An examination of political lying – ‘The Assault on Truth’ by Peter Oborne

By James Moules

IN A 2019 Ipsos MORI survey, British people were presented with a variety of professions, asking respondents whether they would trust such people to tell the truth.

Those scoring high for trustworthiness were fairly predictable. 95 per cent said that they trusted nurses, 93 per cent had confidence in doctors. Dentists, teachers and engineers each scored 90 per cent, 89 per cent and 86 per cent.

The professions at the bottom of the pile were still predictable – with politicians finding themselves among the least trusted people in Britain.

But the scale of this distrust is still something to behold. A mere 14 per cent of respondents said they would count on politicians in general to tell the truth, with this only rising to 17 per cent for government ministers.

In his latest book ‘The Assault on Truth’ conservative journalist Peter Oborne outlines a case that the current scale of deception among politicians over the past few years has reached especially egregious and staggering levels.

In the introduction, he writes: “Treating all politicians as liars is a gift to the ones who are. It induces cynicism and political apathy, on which they thrive. It licenses the destruction of the honour and integrity of British politics, a collapse that habitual liars such as Johnson are delighted to exploit.”

Oborne is open about his change of heart over Boris Johnson. Indeed, he praises Johnson for his time as editor of the Spectator (under whose tenure Oborne worked as a political correspondent for the magazine), describing him as a jovial and sharp minded colleague.

“While writing this book, I’ve found myself trying to reconcile the person I knew then with the prime minister of Britain today,” he ponders.

As any reader might expect, the book chronicles numerous instances of barefaced dishonesty from Johnson. Indeed, the second chapter of the book – which focuses on the 2019 general election, bears the subtitle ‘One Lie After Another’.

Featuring copious volumes of footnotes and references, Oborne outlines various falsehoods asserted by the Conservatives during the election, from claims about NHS spending hospital construction, to misrepresentations of his opponent Jeremy Corbyn’s views, and even the notorious time when the one Conservative Party Twitter account temporarily changed its name to ‘Fact Check UK’ during a televised leadership debate.

However, the book doesn’t just recount the Boris Johnson’s cavalier relationship with the truth during his political career. Despite his instances of praise for Johnson’s journalistic acumen, Oborne also delves into the Prime Minister’s misdemeanours in his career in the press. Famously, he was fired from The Times aged 23 for fabricating a quote. During his time as Brussels correspondent for the Telegraph, Johnson was known for writing several highly misleading reports about the EU.

Oborne is keen to emphasise that the extent of political deceit of Johnson’s administration is of a whole new scale and manner, writing that standards of honesty “collapsed at the precise moment Boris Johnson and his associates entered 10 Downing Street in the early afternoon of 24 July 2019.”

He asserts that a sense of integrity in British politics has decayed in recent years. While, for example he criticises Tony Blair for a less than healthy relationship with the truth, he holds up Johnson as an especially egregious political liar.

‘The Assault on Truth’ is a brief book, but in spite of this, it stills presents a thorough account and analysis of the state of political deceit in the United Kingdom. While he certainly doesn’t ignore the former President, many readers might be disappointed that Oborne doesn’t write more about Donald Trump, whose extensive and brazen disregard for reality remains staggering.

But within a UK context alone, Oborne’s desire to highlight that Boris Johnson is no ordinary dishonest politician makes his book especially worthwhile. People may be fond of saying that no politician is trustworthy, but ‘The Assault on Truth’ serves as a reminder that not all liars are the same – and that some are more flagrant than others.

You can purchase ‘The Assault on Truth’ by Peter Oborne using our exclusive link on BookShop – click here to support independent booksellers.

Featured Image: Trump White House @Flickr

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