It’s not spinning any more, it’s lying.
Voters are now so submissive they’ve allowed politicians to continually lie to them without any fear of the consequences.
There used to be an understanding between voters and politicians that the latter would bend the truth into something likely to favour their election prospects. It’s was broadly accepted by voters and — in the past — often amounted to little more than a slightly different interpretation of events.
Some may have said that politicians were “all bloody liars” but actually, the majority of people believed there were limits on their dishonesty.
Since the mid-1990s, the practice of bending the truth has been granted a legitimacy by the creation of the new class of political operators we’ve come to know and hate as ‘spin doctors’.
These include political advisors like Alastair Campbell who didn’t feel the need to limit themselves to offering the best possible interpretation of events... they wanted to completely control the ‘news cycle’ and they would cajole, bully and threaten those who stood between them and their preferred coverage.
‘The West Wing’ lionised these ‘dark arts’ and made heroes of those responsible for them and — in doing so — did democracy a great disservice.
Unsurprisingly, the scepticism about politicians began to harden into a deep distrust. One might have expected this to create a barrier to check the lies… but actually it appeared to have the opposite effect. The more the public came to expect lies from politicians, the bigger the lies had to become to have any impact.
The brazenness of modern dishonesty is breath-taking. Unbelievable lies are routinely used to win elections and other votes.
So much so that the politicians who issue these lies seem genuinely perplexed when people actually believe them.
As we know, many of the politicians supporting British withdrawal from the EU repeatedly claimed that all of the money the UK paid to the organisation could be used instead to fund our ailing NHS.
It was an obvious and quite ludicrous lie and it has become the focus of a lot of anger from the pro-EU lobby after they lost the vote… some people have even suggested that this lie should invalidate the referendum result.
Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Gisela Stuart have shrugged aside the NHS claim because they didn’t expect anyone to believe such a hyperbolic claim in the first place. In truth, they probably regard those who fell for this lie as being too dumb to worry about.
The other side lied too. The ‘emergency budget’ which George Osbourne threatened has not been necessary and many of the other doom-laden warnings issued by the pro-EU camp were as ludicrous as the NHS claim.
And that’s a big part of the problem. The only weapon opposing politicians can think to use when confronted with a lie is their own lie.
Not only is there no governing authority to police the competing claims, it’s impossible to convene one because it’s an inherently authoritarian notion.
In theory, the internet is the perfect tool for the electorate themselves to become the guardians of veracity but that opportunity has been squandered in a swirl of confirmation bias. Instead of enabling voters to identify lies, the internet has allowed people to identify the lie they like best and handed them the rationalisations to dismiss any rebuttal of it. They will, it seems, stand by it regardless of the evidence.
The culmination of this unholy mess lies across the Atlantic where Hilary Clinton’s failure to combat Donald Trump’s lies has America staring into the abyss. And what’s the Clinton campaign’s response? The bizarre decision to lie about her recent illness enables her detractors to claim she is as dishonest as he. Itself a lie, of course, but a very believable one if you support Trump.
In any case, a dishonest approach from Clinton is doomed. After all, if this turns into a lying contest, there will only be one winner… and seven billion losers. If Trump wins, the whole world will have to face a failure of such magnitude that it will bring the idea of democracy itself into disrepute.