There was a time when I believed that democracy worked by people electing politicians on the basis of what they offered, and if a politician went back on his/her word in this respect, they would be booted out of office. It makes sense. What other reason would you have for voting a politician in but that you trust him/her to deliver on what they promise? In other words, we assume our politicians aren’t liars.
Which might seem blindingly obvious, except that it doesn’t work that way. Take President Trump at this particular moment. The big fear that British voters have is that, should Boris Johnson win the general election, the NHS will be up for sale, or at least that it will form a prime part of any US-UK trade deal. That fear should have been set to rest by President Trump’s words during his visit to London: “I don’t know who started this rumour. I wouldn’t be interested in the NHS if it was offered to me on a silver platter.”
Which should finish the matter, except there is a video clip in which Trump clearly says “Yes, in a trade deal everything would be on the table, including the NHS. Everything.”
It is impossible to combine those two statements, which means that Trump is a liar. Yes, Virginia, I know he’s lied on other occasions, many other occasions, but let’s stay focused. Trump says he’ll expect everything including the NHS to be on the table in trade negotiations, Trump says the NHS is of no interest to him whatsoever.
So who’s at fault here? Trump, obviously. But there are accomplices, and in this case the accomplices are the mainstream media. Why is Trump not confronted with this contradiction/lie every time a journalist gets within shouting range of the president? Why isn’t it repeated until Trump is driven to conceding that he lied?
The same, of course, could be said of Boris Johnson (see £450 million on the side of that bus), Prince Andrew (see picture with his arm around a 17-year-old he’s never met), see Britain’s commitment to delivering an Irish Language Act. And yes, agreed, we could add Boris Johnson’s promise to unionists that there’d be no border in the Irish Sea and now there clearly will be one: certainly that’s how the DUP see it.
I think it’d be a reasonable assumption that central to the contract between politicians and the public should be that when politicians say blue they don’t mean yellow and that we elect them or not on that basis. But we still need the media to be relentless in their pursuit or maybe that should be support of truth. If they don’t speak truth to power, what’s the point in having them? To declare you’re a journalist and then fail to comprehensively check a lying politician is a dereliction of duty, not to say another form of lying.