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Home | 2017 | January

Facing facts in the post-fact era

Posted by Thersites on UTC 2017-01-03 09:32.

The great minds of the so-called civilised world are currently worrying themselves sick over our 'post-fact' or 'post-truth' era and the deluge of 'fake news' it has brought down upon our heads. The ignorant populace has been so dazzled by all this fakery, non-truthery and un-factery that our betters are now even having to struggle with that emerging monster 'populism'.

The implication, of course, is that the preceding era was one of the primacy of 'facts', 'truth' and 'genuine' news. The old era ended and the new era began, depending on your taste, with the Brexit vote in the EU-Referendum and/or the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA. This must be true, since many highly placed people are telling us that it is so.

The fact, truth and reliable news era

Ah, the good old days of truthful politicians and dependable reporting by a courageous and unbiased media, I remember their British exponents well.

There was Prime Minister Harold Wilson's devaluation of the pound in 1967, when he looked straight into the camera and told a trusting people that the pound in their pockets had not been devalued… just that prices would rise.

Wilson's successor, Edward Heath, took Britain into the European Community in 1973 under what was a deliberately misleading prospectus that mentioned trade benefits but not economic and political union. Wilson executed various political dance steps to hold his party together on the issue, manoeuvres which transcended 'byzantine' to achieve a startling, new level: 'wilsonian'. The result was the introduction of that constitutional innovation, a referendum, in order to get himself out of that scrape. It was won by the remainers of the time, again under a dramatically false prospectus.

The honest were out of place in this snake pit. Enoch Powell, one of the principal opponents to the union with Europe and one who had warned of the potential of mass immigration to cause unrest, was smeared and destroyed by a hostile media. The mud still sticks even half a century later and there are probably still people who will stop reading this piece now at the favourable mention of his name. His ideas had a lot of popular support, which made him then as now one of those rabble-rousing populists that are such a danger to us.

In contrast to Powell's fate, the dissemblers prospered. We only need to recall the example of Barbara Castle, who campaigned to leave the European Community, then, when her career in the UK government came to an end, became a member of the European Parliament in order to 'fight them from within'. We are not surprised to find that not much fighting from within took place: within a couple of years she had become an advocate for the EC and all its works. All in all she spent ten years in her seventies topping up her pension with a substantial income and allowances.

James Callaghan, the next ruler in this era of facts and truth, is only memorable for one thing. During the 'Winter of Discontent' in Britain in 1979 he told the British people that they were just looking at the situation in the wrong way. The Sun summed it up for the people: 'Crisis? What Crisis?'.

Even more than 25 years after Margaret Thatcher's government came to an end it is difficult to filter anything reliably 'true' out of the contradictory 'facts' presented by her rabid followers and rabid opponents. For example, in 1979 the British people were told by the Conservative Party that 'Labour isn't working' on an image of a long dole queue. That was one of the truer statements of the election, but, during the Thatcher government, unemployment never fell below that 1979 level, despite much renaming of unemployment as something else: don't forget, this period was the start of the trend that led to an appreciable proportion of the UK population turning out to be disabled. The 'milk snatcher', in truth, presided over a substantial expansion of the welfare state.

Under her government, 'lame duck' manufacturing industries went to the wall at last, but their products were now imported. On the whole, Britain did not improve its manufacturing base, it just got rid of a lot of it. State-owned companies were split up and sold off, but at share issue prices that were risibly cheap and left them under capitalised for their new free-market life. Many were snapped up by foreign companies. Government funding was transferred from ownership to subsidies. Union domination of companies was reduced, but most of the companies affected went to the wall anyway, which was one way of doing it, perhaps. Union restrictive practices were curbed, but now the government led the way with invasive employment regulation. So many 'facts'... so little 'truth'.

The government of John Major is remembered for affairs, sleaze allegations, whether justified or not, and the squaring of many circles such as the Northern Ireland problem and the Maastricht treaty, the latter being the start of the realisation of the goals of the European political project to which Edward Heath had signed Britain up all those years ago. Major's handling of the Maastricht issue was so deceitful that it led to the foundation of the Referendum Party by Sir James Goldsmith, which in turn was one of the seeds from which the United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP, grew and which in turn would ultimately unnerve David Cameron and thus force a referendum on British membership of the EU 18 years later.

In 1992 the Major government had won an election decisively as a result of the uselessness of the opposition. From 1997 the Tony Blair government would win three elections for the same reason, after the Conservative party had collapsed in disorder and in-fighting.

Whereas the Major government had attempted to square circles and had inevitably failed, the Blair government invented 'triangulation', another way of saying that there was no principle that could not be fudged into something else. The attacks of the press that the Labour party had orchestrated towards the hapless Major government were firmly suppressed. Under the Blair government the media were largely politically controlled. The Northern Ireland problem received a solution that was called a 'peace agreement' that was closer to capitulation than balance: stones were deliberately not turned over in a province that to this day consists of segregated camps run by armed gangs.

There was an 'ethical' foreign policy which initiated or participated in a number of wars. The list of lies, deceptions and 'triangulations' during this decade is a long one. We only need to recall the publication of the 'dodgy dossier' on Iraq, or perhaps the 'triangulations' that led to 'devolution' and even more layers of government, or the stuffing of the Lords with place-men and toadies, or the financial lunacy of PFI schemes (that are now on the verge of coming back to haunt Britain). According to some insiders, the Blair governments encouraged mass immigration for the noble goal of 'rub[bing] the Right's nose in diversity', a goal that was of course never made public at the time. This was the government that replaced cabinet government with sofa government and introduced the American word 'spin' to Britain.

Those media which, under the pressure of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, started to go off message did not necessarily cover themselves in glory. The then editor of the Daily Mirror, Piers Morgan, published war photographs as 'reality' which turned out to have been posed. Airheads who had not set a secure password on their voicemail accounts found that a number of Fleet Street's finest had been listening to their messages, which is arguably one way for the media to access celebrity reality.

Before the election in 2005, Blair had insisted he would serve a full term. The fact that he was even asked this shows that there was always doubt about his tenure. The Labour Party won the election. Blair waited a little over a year to announce he would be leaving within a further year. The skeletons of his term became restless in their cupboards. He managed ten further months and then handed over power to Gordon Brown in 2007 and left to become a 'peace envoy'.

As Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Blair government, Gordon Brown, the 'son of the manse' with his much touted moral compass, is mainly remembered for his complex budgets which, a few days after presentation, turned out to be everything else but what had been presented. The lasting effect was the confusion caused by the immense scope and complexity of the regulations he introduced. His government, when he finally became Prime Minister, is forgettable for more of the same, also for the scandal over MPs' expenses and the backstabbing and plotting that went on around an unpopular Prime Minister. When he finally could not avoid facing an election in 2010 he lost – but, remarkably, only just.

His successor David Cameron pronounced himself the 'Heir to Blair', presumably meaning that even more triangulation would be going on. Five years of coalition government with the Liberal Democrats gave him plenty of opportunity for this. He has left a legacy of phrases to describe things no one could define, let alone implement: the 'Big Society', hugging huskies or hoodies, according to taste, and announcing patently unachievable goals for reducing migration. The infamous 'Tory cuts' led to no appreciable reduction in expenditure. Cameron, the former PR-man, replaced action with making speeches about action. He was personally seriously implicated in the malodorous parliamentary expenses scandal.

He was lucky, as were Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, to be Prime Minister against an ineffective and divided opposition and so was able to form a Government with a small majority in 2015. He was brazen in propagating the lies of 'Project Fear' during the EU Referendum campaign, just as he was brazen in the low-grade functionaries he rewarded in his resignation honours – a list which even left many of his putative supporters speechless at its arrogant contempt for decorum. The honours system in Britain has long been a cesspit of corruption. The Blair government in particular managed and amplified the system for its own ends: all 'reforms' became new opportunities for corruption. Cameron, as 'Heir to Blair' continued the process. The government of his successor, Theresa May, embarrassed by some of the appointments in the New Year's Honours List for 2017, leaked that they were really Cameron's choices and nothing to do with them. There is no honour among thieves, it seems.

After this half century of the era of 'truth', 'fact' and honest news, how distressing the start of the era of 'post-truth', 'post-fact' and 'fake news' must be!

Brexit

In June of 2016 the UK electorate, despite all Project Fear's 'facts', threw over the mendacity of Edward Heath in 1973, the tricksiness of Harold Wilson in 1975, the deviousness of John Major in 1963 and the lies of Cameron's 'Project Fear' to establish the electoral 'fact' of Brexit. In the 70s the electorate had to rely on deferent reporting and biased news from the mainstream media of the time; now, thanks to the internet, there are many other channels of information and opinion. Whether the former's 'facts' are more factual than the latter's? All this voting unleashed the dreaded 'populism' again, apparently, and Enoch Powell's shade walks the land again.

We are told that 'Brexit means Brexit', that it will be a 'red, white and blue Brexit'. Most lately we hear that it will 'satisfy the remainers', too – 'triangulation, anyone?' All of these sophistries could have come out of the mouths of Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown or Cameron. We are not in the 'post-fact' era, we are still in the 'lying-and-dissembling-as-usual' era. Britons have no reason to expect anything better from Theresa May, a Prime Minister whose record in ministerial office was at best mediocre, at times dismal.

President Trump

In November of 2016 American voters elected Donald Trump as their President for the next four years. As with Brexit, all this voting also unleashed the dreaded 'populism' in the USA.

American readers with long memories may recall the greeting the newly elected President Nixon received from the New York Times in 1969, which suggested that he would blow the world to pieces. Instead, he brought the Asian wars to an end, the wars that had been started by the 'golden boy' Kennedy and were escalated (a word that first came into use then) by Johnson, the underdog's friend – unless of course the underdog was a Vietnamese or Cambodian peasant.

They may remember the same newspaper in 1981 looking forward to the disaster that Ronald Reagan would cause, even though he would surely only last one term as President. Two terms later, having brought the Cold War to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union, he left behind an America more confident of itself than it had been for generations.

President-Elect Trump has not only had to face the obloquy of most of the mainstream media, but the disgraceful and unprecedented atttempts by President Obama to de-legitimise him by spreading the idea that he was only elected because the Russians 'hacked' the Democrats' mail system and handed over this embarrassing material to Wikileaks.

For a sane person, the leaked material was the most documented, evidentially 'true' material in the whole campaign – and thus a dangerous embarrassment. A number of Russian diplomatic staff in the US have been sent home as a punishment for Russia's supposedly revealing these truths to US voters.

The muttering that the Russians also 'hacked' into voting machines during the election was so absurd that it dissipated soon after it was made. We are now told that the Russians have 'hacked' into a local power grid, a cherry on the icing of the 'Russian cyberwar' story but another piece of nonsense. Various security agencies have been drafted in to shore up the Democrat hack story with various pieces of fact-free narrative without any corroboration, just as they were when the USA and the UK needed a pretext to attack Iraq.

The present allegations are absurd, but, coming from the side that is now complaining loudest about 'fake news', have become deliciously ironic. Even the disclaimer on the joint report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) delivers harmless fun – perhaps they have learned from the Iraq WMD shambles:

DISCLAIMER: This report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within.

We are not in the new 'fake news' era, just still in the old 'fake news' era – it never ended.