'Big Lie' politics go back further than Donald Trump - Paul Arnott
- Credit: PA
East Devon leader Paul Arnott writes for this title
There are a few days separating the writing of this column and its publication across the Archant newspaper titles in East Devon, so please excuse me if Donald J Trump has blown the world up since then. As we all saw – and beyond any reasonable doubt if it came to a criminal trial – he incited his supporters to march across Washington and invade the Capitol building.
Trump’s methods – the corruption of openly available public communication with deliberate misinformation – has been going longer than we think. It’s become known as the “Big Lie” principle, in essence that you might as well go in for a pound as a penny. If you’re happy to lie, make it a king size whopper.
This idea is usually credited to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda henchman of Hitler’s, but in fact it was expressed by Hitler himself, who Goebbels quoted in Die Zeit newspaper in January 1941. Both men praised the “Big Lie” concept, but credited it to us!
“The essential English leadership secret,” Hitler had written, “does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”
This makes for uncomfortable reading, and the witnesses for the prosecution are hardly solid citizens. And it was of course classic projection, or victim blaming – accusing the person you are persecuting of the very deed you are up to your elbows in yourself.
Yet while we watch the man-child Trump throw his toys out of the pram, telling dangerous and wicked lies about the running of the US elections, we might take a moment to look at where we are as a nation now. I am very uncomfortable indeed with the use of the word “betrayal” in politics, but it’s being used by fishing industry figures from Brixham to Newlyn about the “great deal” finalised on their behalf by our government.
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As it stands, there is no protection for the 12 mile limit – devastating to inshore and coastal fishing – and instead they are faced with a mound of paperwork to be able to even export their fish to their main market which is – guess where – Europe. Things are now worse not better.
So when our prime minister stood with his arms draped across the shoulders of West Country fishermen, he was selling a big lie. When he and the impish Michael Gove promised the £350 million per week for the NHS, that was a big lie too. And then to compound all the lying, people who had the temerity to point out at the time that if you were voting Leave for either of those reasons you were being lied to were described as “Enemies of the People”.
Some gentle professor from a coastal university might dare to point out that the promises to the fishing industry were falsehoods, only to be denounced as a “so-called expert” with all the venom of Joseph Goebbels. The red-top newspapers, particularly the Express, Mail and Sun sometimes read between 2015 and 2020 like pre-war fascist news sheets in their assaults on judges or indeed fellow Tories who dared speak the truth.
More dangerous this time than when the Mail wanted to side with Herr Hitler before WW2, because today’s poisoned ink is spilled to millions of readers online too. Never has this expression been more apt; “A Lie is half way around the world while the truth is still strapping its boots on”.
To be frank, this is how I got involved in local politics. Too often in East Devon I saw good people being lied to on local matters by politicians and officials. Trump didn’t invent the methods of Trumpism on his own, and as much as ever we need the vaccine against his methods here too.