Truth in Politics
Updated: Jun 16
Truth is often seen as a singularity, but, especially in politics it is often a plurality. This is because truth often depends on perspective.
To demonstrate this imagine four people sat in quarters of a circle. In the centre of a circle is a beach ball that is coloured red in one half and yellow on the other. Two people sat opposite each other can see a ball that is red and the other a ball that is yellow. Those sitting at each side of them see a ball that is red and yellow. It is only by talking and understanding each other's viewpoint that all of them can discover the actual colours of the ball. Those seeing a yellow or red ball are telling the truth as they see it. Perspective is key.
This is so with politics in that politicians often have competing truths. Equally politics is full of people that claim to know the truth and those that are convinced they are right can be terribly wrong. Truth is therefore best served with humility. Socrates was aware of this.
Truth cannot be imposed. For if it is it will often loose belief. Indeed if a person is wrong and free they are also free to learn. Thus truth is intertwined with values.
There is also a hazard in public life as it is what the truth looks like. This was seen in the early 20th century when the British government became embroiled in what became known as The Marconi Scandal:
In 1912 the British Government awarded the British Marconi Company a highly lucrative contract to erect, operate and maintain a wireless network across the whole of the British Empire. As a result the shares increased in value. However rumour spread that Sir Rufus Isaacs (the postmaster general), Herbert Samuel (Liberal MP for Cleveland) and Lloyd George (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) had profited from buying shares in the Company. This was not true as they had in fact bought shares in the American Marconi Company that was independant from the British company. The question arose as to why they had not issued a categorical denial of what was in effect insider dealing. The reason they did not was because of "what it looked like". However, the subsequent enquiry revealed that the American shares had been sold, whilst legally, prior to being available to the public and Liberal party funds were "borrowed " for the initial purchase. An apology from the ministers concerned was accepted with them being saved by a Liberal majority. But the sense of impropriety and "what it looked like" did damage Asquith's government and denied him the opportunity of an early general election. It would perhaps been a great tragedy for the nation if this event had denied the country the benefits of Lloyd George's service.
One of the problems is that the truth in politics, as elsewhere, is fallible. But is it easier to suspend judgement or cling doggedly to a fixed view?
I feel the largest hazard of our time is the blurring of truth, belief and opinion. We need to be able to distinguish truth from fiction; belief from knowledge; and opinion from fact.
Finally, is a politician's truth is different to that seen by others that is fine. But the politician should be ever accountable for their truth and only genuine humility can help them if they are wrong.
If you found this interesting you may wish to read my earlier post "The Art of Political Lying" https://www.farmersfriendlincs.com/post/the-art-of-political-lying