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Truth In Politics

10th May 2013

ResPublica Fellow Roger Scruton writes for Conservative Home

Human beings make rational choices, and choices are rational only if they seek out the truth. But the truth may be uncomfortable, so that we have a motive to avoid it. Or it may be unacceptable to those on whom we wish to impose our decisions, in which case we have a motive to conceal it. Perhaps the deep truth about our condition is so uncomfortable that we stand in need of some collective delusion that will make us governable – so Plato thought, and advocated the ‘Noble Lie’ as a means of crowd-control. The totalitarian systems of the 20th century took this seriously, and rewrote the human condition in terms of mythical ‘struggles’ between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, or the master race and the human vermin. In due course the totalitarian project advanced in the way foretold by George Orwell, inventing a language and a doctrine that would make the truth inexpressible, so that people would have to ‘live within the lie’, as Havel put it.

However, while human beings can be for a long time browbeaten into accepting lies and myths, the instinct for the truth lies deeper in their psyche than the willingness to be deceived, and will eventually erupt in protest. Two great lies have dominated British politics since the 1960s, and it has now become impossible to repeat them. The first lie – propagated by the Labour Party – is that mass immigration is a positive benefit, and that anyone who resists it is a racist, a fascist, a Little Englander or worse. The second lie – propagated by the old guard of the Tory Party – is that the European Union is a free-trade agreement whose economic benefits far outweigh any minor social costs. These lies have been maintained in being by intimidation of a kind that has rarely been seen in British politics. To speak out publicly against mass immigration, even to advocate, like Ray Honeyford, an active policy of assimilation and integration, was to be condemned as a racist, not only by the activists but by the hierarchy of the Labour Party. Your career was immediately at risk, and if you were a politician or a teacher you could no longer hope for promotion.
Likewise, attempts to point out that the EU is not a free-trade agreement but a conspiracy to confiscate national sovereignty have been vilified not only by progressives committed to trans-national government but also by prominent Tories, who have devoted their energies over a lifetime to reinforcing the lies told by Edward Heath and have no intention of changing now. The absurd insults hurled at UKIP and its supporters have at last done their work, and the Conservative Party has been forced to wake up to the fact that you can no longer conceal the truth from the people. Membership of the EU brings benefits. But it also means that our borders are now infinitely porous, that our national assets (the welfare system included) are no longer ours, and that our government is powerless to pursue the national interest. It is not as though this is true only now: it has been true since the ‘Single European Act’ forced through Parliament for no clear reason by Margaret Thatcher. Indeed it was true from the beginning and is the reason why Jean Monnet insisted that the European project should advance behind a sequence of disguises, beginning with the ‘Coal and Steel Community’ of 1951. But efforts to conceal the truth have at last broken down, and these lies woven by our parents and grandparents can be repeated only in an ironical tone of voice.

So two great lies have lost their dominion, and truth stands bare and shocking in their place. The question is: what are our politicians going to do about it? And the answer is that they haven’t a clue. If the Conservative Party had based itself in a conservative philosophy, with national sovereignty and social continuity as its cornerstones, it would have known what to say and what to do a long while back. If the Labour Party had remained true to its core constituents among the English and Welsh working class, it would have been able to confess to what is happening to those constituents’ towns and schools. But in both cases the comfortable lie has displaced the uncomfortable truth. And all that is left, now that the lie can no longer be repeated, is bluster and incrimination.

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