The Professors passion for "The Science of Deceit" started here...

Employed by the Ministry (in a covert capacity) to help introduce the law ending dishonest politics, you can see his hand all over the posts of past.

Current political circumstances have forced him to reveal himself and as we speak, MPs are signing up to re-introduce The Elected Representatives (Prohibition of Deception) Bill for debate with over 80,000 voters supporting them.

Posts before Jan '08 are purely for the record (with hindsight they make fascinating reading). Posts after May 13th mark the Professor's return.


Meet the Professor

Monday, January 29, 2007

Beginners guide to the MINISTRY OF TRUTH

Who knew such a simple question would unravel our 300+ year old constitution ?

It started with a phone call to the Citizens Advice Bureau…

"How do I prosecute an MP for lying ?"


The Citizens Advice Bureau weren’t impressed and pointed us to the Parliamentary Ombudsman who were charmingly unable to help.

We figured we might as well see a lawyer and that's when things started to slide...

We argued that a whole bunch of people, from board members, to company directors, financial advisors, manufacturers, advertisers etc. are legally responsible if they deliberately make misleading statements or misrepresent the facts. There are laws in place (passed by the government) which say if they lie, we can pop down the Citizens Advice Bureau, get legal aid and ultimately see them in court.

Turns out, there's no way to prosecute your elected representative for lying.

We asked constitutional academics, Sir Philip Mawer - the parliamentary commissioner, Lord Tom Pendry, MartinBell OBE

They said we can vote every 4 or 5 years at a general election.

Now, if you employed an agent to represent you on a five year contract and they started to lie in your name, there’s no court in the land that would force you to stick with them.

The discovery of a little known law in the state of Southern Australia (which makes it illegal to lie when campaigning for an election) combined with Professor Conor Gearty’s insights and a hilarious attempt by George Bathurst to prosecute the Deputy Prime Minister led us to the daunting conclusion - we need our own law.

But how’d you do that ? Especially a law that the Government won't be too happy to pass.

We asked St.Maurice Frankel – the man (Saint) behind the Freedom of Information Act. He’s the only person we could find who’s done such a thing.

Simple, he said, you need to get an MP to propose your Bill, then a majority in the House of Commons to vote for it. And that’s when the fun begins. Imagine asking your MP ;

“Do you believe in Honesty, Truth, Transparency and Accountability ?”. The answers gonna be… well, we imagine it'll be "of course, they're the foundation of a Liberal Democracy.

Now try asking if they’d help pass a law that gives us the power to enforce those values.

Welcome to...

We’re about to discuss the matter with the Lord Chancellor (Tony Blair's old flatmate and gatekeeper of the Constitution).

After that, if we're serious, we're gonna have to find ourselves an MP.

Watch this space.

27 comments:

  1. If politicians are immune from rules surrounding their conduct, why was David Blunkett in such trouble a couple of years ago for hurrying a Visa and having financial interests in politicized companies?

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  2. Blunkett’s case exemplifies what is wrong with the current system. He was tried by the media not by a legal body. The only reason Blair had to accept his resignation is because Blunkett’s wrongdoings had become widely known. As Lord Nolan said "I think he's more or less admitted that he should have followed the rules. But I think it's the fault of the Government that he has been allowed to see if he can get away with it." and then "Blair should insist on Ministers all round obeying the rules. I think that if anyone breaks the rules they should be disciplined, otherwise there's no point having the rules."

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  3. Ok, so Blair dropped Blunkett to save face, but how about the cash for honours fiasco??? Surely the government did not allow that to emerge in order to ‘avoid embarrassment’!

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  4. While in the mainstream media the ‘cash-for-honours scandal’ has been portrayed as a case of ‘lying politicians getting their comeuppance’, the only reason the police are involved is because the politicians have broken two LAWS. In 1925 it was made illegal to buy honours, and in 2000 the current government made it illegal not to report a donation of more than x thousand pounds to a political party. [The only reason the latter law was made was so as to humiliate the opposition as the Tory party had recently been receiving large donations from various people].

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  5. What is significant is that there is not, and there is unlikely to ever be, a law against MPs lying. This is a crucial difference between this case and the ‘cash-for-honours scandal’.

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  6. Something needs to be done, but I don't know what.I'm not even sure that it would make a difference if a law was passed. Politicians would still find a way to do what they want regardless of what the law is. Nevertheless, I would completely back a campaign to get this kind of law through.

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  7. If MPs lying was made illegal then Tony Blair could be prosecuted for lying about the iraq wmds, and maybe finally forced to resign, imagine that!

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  8. when are we going to finally charge president bush with crimes against humanity? :)

    our politicians must never be above the law but we must never be above always trying to improve the law.

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  9. I think that whilst your efforts are noble, they may be somewhat idealistic. Will we, however much time and effort is dedicated towards this campaign, ever get MPS to pass a bill that relinquishes them of their potential 'get-out-of-gaol-free cards'? And part of me wonders whether legislating against lying (outside of court) is a practical and legally sound notion. Isn't there a grey area, outside of the public arena, where some aspects of political life should remain? Isn't that a small part of why we elect MPs? Primarily they are in parliament to represent our social wants and needs and, arguably, part of what society wants is to have their shoulders unburdended of having to make the difficult decisions that can result in mistakes. If we are a nation of citizens unwilling to give our politicians professional leniency it is because we are a nation of people determined to glorify our leaders and then scorn at their natural fallibleness. Isn't the reason that politicians lie that we make them?

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  10. Yes. Of course. Let's have our elected representatives locked up by an unelected individual or body. Deprive the electorate of the right to vote for whomever they want. Oh, yes, what a thoroughly reasonable idea.

    What your saying, then, is that you have the right to choose who can represent the electorate. And that that right is based solely on your beliefs concerning a particular issue. If you believe something not to be true, then who cares if the MP in question was merely wrong? Misguided? Misled? Tricked? Over-reliant on information provided by 'experts'? If you object to an MP, off with their head!

    YOU'RE A DUMBASS.

    You appear to think that you're important because you've deduced - WOW! - that politicians might, as Burke said, be economical with truth. And how many MPs who have been thus economical have been successfully re-elected? Rather a lot. Voters, exercising their right, chose an individual to represent them. You think that they should not have done so.

    And so your opinion is supposed to be more important?

    YOU'RE A DUMBASS.

    Actually, I'm being too harsh. Clearly you have fine grasp of literature; naming yourself after an institution of propaganda for the promotion of tyranny and oppression was a good decision.

    DUMBASS.

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  11. Ok, so you don't believe that something more can be done to improve the current legal system?

    Have you heard of the Downing Street Memo of 23 July 2002? Sir Richard Dearlove states that:'Bush wanted to remove Saddam... [and] the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy', it is impossible to suggest that the intelligence was merely 'wrong', or 'misguided'. Thus, we have a confidential document showing the deliberate manipulation of information - this amounts to LYING to the public.

    Also, if you are not yet convinced that politicians actually lie, take a look at 'Operation Northwoods'- this is another confidential document showing the US government's plan of terrorism to justify a war with Cuba.

    I believe that lying and threatening the public in order to falsely justify a war in which members of the public will die is wrong...but it happens.

    Politicians do more than occasionally twist/be economical with the truth. They make statements to the public that contradict information they have and hence their true motives. Im not saying that this is all they, but when they do lie, they should be held accountable.

    People vote politicians in because they agree with what they say during their campaigns...this does not mean that the country then has to go along with whatever the politician decides to do during his term in office...voting someone in does not give them a green card and make them immune from criticism.

    I believe that when it is clear that a politician has knowingly given false information to the public in order to further his means...he should be held accountable for this i.e. should be prosecuted under the law.

    Also, you are assuming that the democratic way is the ideal way of organizing a country...

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  12. First things first: yes, democracy IS the preferable way to organise the governing of a country. Not ideal, nothing's ideal, and no, the Hobbesian Leviathan is never going to be a realistic idea.

    What exactly is wrong with permitting everyone an equal voice in deciding who runs the country? There has been a dramatic growth in anti-democratic movements over the last decade, and it is worrying.

    In the years following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, to be anti-democracy was unthinkable. But people forget. So, a reminder:

    The anti-democratic movement that developed at great pace after the first world war produced a number of prominent figures; the likes of Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Franco, Kim, Pol Pot, Castro... need I go on? Anti-democratic movements, if they don't collapse (as most political movements do), lead always and exclusively to despotism. And that necessarily means dictatorship by the most ruthless and most forceful.

    What exactly do you expect if you don't uphold democracy above all else?

    But again, I see the emergence of the idea that one individual's word is more important than others. Sir Richard Dearlove as against the wishes of the electorate. Almost two years after said memo, more than two years after the invasion of Iraq, there was an election. More people - substantially more - voted for Labour than any other party. It would be nice if they hadn't, but they did.

    Yet you do not believe those votes should be taken into account in the running of the country.

    What we have, as a basis for your desire to overrule the stated aims of the electorate, is one individual stating his opinion of the aims of the President of a different country. Now, I don't doubt for one second that President Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein from power above all else. But that is his matter, referring to a different country entirely.

    If the elected Government of this country believes it is right to go along with that, then so be it. However, the 'intelligence and facts' were produced by supposed experts. Those MPs who supported the war did so believing that authority. That may make them gullible fools. But it doesn't make them criminals.

    I will remind you that all 659 MPs had the opportunity to vote against the invasion. Only a minority did so. Many have since said that they were misled, but why should we believe them on that if nothing else? After all, it is their job to find out and produce the best decision for their constituents. It is up to the constituents to judge whether that has happened.

    Very few of them ended up being voted out of office at the subsequent election.

    This does not make them immune to criticism. But there is a world of difference between criticism and prosecution. Not least in the fact that criticism does not overrule the legitimate choice of the voters.

    And it does not allow you to overrule the legitimate choice of the voters.

    It is easy to imagine that your own righteous indignation is the most important thing in the world. It isn't. And if anyone whom your indignation targets were to be removed summarily from the democratic process, we end up with a dictatorship.

    And let's be honest, in that case it wouldn't be you that the regime would be listening to, would it? When elected representatives can be prosecuted for their opinion, whoever holds the power to prosecute holds power over all.

    How do you think Hitler rose to absolute power? Prosecution of those politicians who would not agree with his proposals. Exactly what you're proposing.

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  13. Just so as not to let Damfino have the last word, a few points:

    1) “What your saying, then, is that you have the right to choose who can represent the electorate…If you object to an MP, off with their head!” Each one of us has a right to choose who can represent the electorate: our vote. The proposed legislation would be no threat to that right. What is being argued is not that an MP could be summarily dismissed by any member of the public who happened to disagree with him, but that an MP who was proved to have knowingly mislead the public should be punished. That punishment may vary according to the severity of the lie. It could be a fine or a prison sentence, but it need not prevent them from running for re-election at some point in the future. The important point is that there should be some mechanism for removing a dishonest politician without having to wait for the next election. If found not guilty, they could resume their duties. If found guilty, they may be able to run again (though one would hope that the masses would not be foolish enough to reelect them).

    2) There is nothing anti-democratic about legislation that obliges MPs to be honest in their dealings with the public. Ranting about Hitler and Mussolini serves no purpose. If anything, it is more in keeping with the democratic spirit to allow each and every one of us an equal right to political redress. The principle of self-regulation is not terribly well suited to democratic governance: if it is acceptable to have one unregulated body acting as judge and jury of its own legislative decisions, why not simply return to monarchy and be done with it?

    3) “When elected representatives can be prosecuted for their opinion, whoever holds the power to prosecute holds power over all.” No one is suggesting we should prosecute people for their opinion. The difficulty of defining dishonesty is a very real problem, but it has been done in other pieces of legislation, and can be done again. If we use a similar description as that taken by the Trade Descriptions Act, we can draft a law that makes it an offence to make a misleading statement purporting to be fact. If everyone had the power to prosecute, then the people would truly be sovereign. Such a law could be open to abuse, but no more so than the present system.

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  14. whatswrongwithworld9 Feb 2007, 10:04:00

    Thank you St Quintin...this is my point exactly...by suggesting that we should be able to curb the power of the politicans i.e. prosecute them when they knowingly lie to the public...this does not mean that our democracy would be failing, it doesn't mean that we would be undermining the decision of the majority to vote that person in...in fact, it is the opposite. If politicians can be prevented from lying through being threatened with prosecution I think they will fulfill their roles as opposed to serving themselves...they will do what they were elected to do

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  15. 1) Firstly, the definition of misled is difficult. It is easier to prove with a tangible product that it is not as described; although, that said, the TDA is still a very unwieldy piece of legislation. How could you prove a deliberate attempt to mislead someone? The deliberate is all important. It's easy to assume that if a politician says something that is clearly wrong, they must be purposefully lying. But they are very rarely experts - we like to elect normal people like ourselves, and why not? But to PROVE a deliberate lie would be nigh on impossible.

    And, quite regardless of that, it would still be unacceptable to remove an elected representative from office (and to all intents and purposes, a prison term is a removal from office, as the MP would no longer be able to play an active role). And surely a fine misses the point entirely?

    The only punishment for supposed dishonesty I could possibly see as conducive to a free democratic system would be to force a by-election as a penalty. That, however, would be quite impractical.

    2) I 'rant' about Hitler for the simple reason that that is exactly what happened. Those politicians who did not accept the Nazi line were imprisoned. (And, of course, murdered, but that's a different issue).

    And I'm sorry, but I don't see the difference; how can you imprison members of the legislature other than at the command of the entire electorate (impossible)? If the CPS have the power to bring charges (and who else?) then control of the CPS is necessarily control of the administration.

    How many MPs do you know who would speak their mind if they felt that imprisonment might result? There are few enough who speak their mind in the face of criticism from the whips.

    3) As I said above, the TDA is of limited use, and simply can't be used to prove dishonesty in a statement unless that statement contains matter that could not be believable. If the Government wish to pass a law declaring that the sky is green and the grass purple, fine, lock them up. But here, dishonesty is being tacitly defined as disagreement with a particular opinion.

    The notion that everyone can have the power to prosecute is ludicrous. Prosecution has to go through the correct channels. Control of those channels (undemocratic enough as it is) is control of the right to prosecute. You can't just walk into a court and declare that you're suing the local supermarket for false description.

    The closest thing we have, or could ever have, to everyone having the right to punish dishonest MPs is:

    THE VOTE.

    The one that we already have.

    Nothing in our democratic system, or any other, is perfect, or ideal, or even particularly effective. But, to paraphrase Churchill, it's still better than all the alternatives.

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  16. Damfino, why would a by-election be so impratical? As you rightly point out, at the moment the legislation would only be invoked with hard evidence so its not like this would be happening every week. In fact an MP dying would be an more likely happening and we can't exactly stop that now can we!

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  17. A by-election would be impractical simply because there would be no end of demands for by-elections from everyone who doesn't like their MP. It would end up being a far greater waste of time than a service to the public. I'm sure you could find some reason for wanting another vote for your constituency; I know I could, and my neighbour, and his neighbour, and his neighbour...

    And that would defeat the object entirely.

    Which is a shame. I'd love to see far more by-elections than we actually get... and if voters pick the same MP as last time, fine. That's the whole point of democracy.

    (And after all, we are supposed to have general elections every three years... the Triennial Act was suspended temporarily after the French Revolution, and ought to have been restored by now)

    Unfortunately, I don't see any way to guarantee more frequent by-elections without the system being hopelessly abused.

    Although it's still a better idea than locking people up for what they've said.

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  18. whatswrongwithworld12 Feb 2007, 11:01:00

    With regards to your first point, it is very difficult to define or determine anything...how can you concretely determine whether or not a person deliberately killed another, or whether a business deliberately misinformed a client?...well our current law system decrees that a randomly selected jury has to determine intent having considered the evidence. Also, there are certain cases where it is not so difficult to determine the intentions of the party. I have probably said this before, but take a look at:

    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Downing_Street_memo

    'Bush wanted to remove Saddam... [and] the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy'

    This is a confidential document showing deliberate manipulation of information. In other words, lying to the public - surely you cannot argue against this?

    Also take a look at this:

    http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20010430/northwoods.pdf


    The American governments plan of terrorism to justify a war with Cuba.

    These are examples of governments blatantly lying (or planning to) to the public - had the American government gone through with 'operation northwoods'it would have resulted in the deaths of (possibly) thousands of innocent people - simply because the government wanted to pursue a certain goal. I don't understand why there is an emphasis on sticking to the outcome of an initial democratic vote (in which the politician may propose things he/she never intends to fulfill just to get votes)- when a politician begins to ignore the opinions of the public and this is reflected in his actions, the country is no longer democratic.

    Damfino, you seem to be arguing that what is important is that we all get that initial vote and that if the politician we voted in happens to be a crook then this does not matter (or we shouldn't be able to do anything about it) because it was our decision to vote him in and we have to stick with that for four years.

    My problem is that all a politician has to fear is being voted out after four years...after this he can simply retire even if his actions during his time in office amount to crime against humanity.

    Also, even if we do elect the party, we don't all have the power to decide who leads the party...in this respect our system is not exactly democratic anyway.

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  19. "You seem to be arguing that what is important is that we all get that initial vote and that if the politician we voted in happens to be a crook then this does not matter (or we shouldn't be able to do anything about it) because it was our decision to vote him in and we have to stick with that for four years"

    Yes. That is what I'm suggesting (except for the four years part, which shouldn't be more than three, but that's a different argument which I've made elsewhere). If you vote for a crook, you get stuck with a crook until you can next vote him/her out. It's hardly ideal, but it's the best we have. Allowing for the removal of MPs because of what they say can only lead to tyranny.

    Someone has to decide what does and doesn't count as a lie. And waving about ONE memo really is not a firm basis for a clear legal definition of lying. Because there isn't a clear legal definition. The line between deliberate falsehood and error, particularly where it concerns information from 'experts', is extremely narrow. And only one person knows where the statement belongs. And that person is probably not going to be Richard Dearlove. Or YOU for that matter.

    The use of a jury may seem reasonable, but the central and guiding principle of jury trials is impartiality. Who do you know who does not hold a view on a prominent MP?

    Do you trust politicians absolutely? Probably not. So presumably, if you were on a jury, you'd always vote guilty. Who cares about the truth? This comes back, yet again, to YOU, or people like you, wanting the right to imprison any MP you don't personally agree with.

    Which amounts to tyranny.

    By the way, has it occured to you that Mr Dearlove was head of MI6. Which gave HIM, far more than any MP, the ability to forge intelligence to promote a conflict. If JIC had fudged the intelligence to this end (which seems likely), what MP wouldn't agree with them? After all, the intelligence services are supposed to be experts. MPs aren't.

    Want to prosecute former spies for lying? Go ahead.

    But to prosecute an MP for trusting them, just because you don't like them, can only lead to catastrophe. It will not, ever, promote honesty. It will only promote toeing a particular line.

    1933 again.

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  20. What does everybody think about the claims that we are living in an elective dictatorship?
    I heard on the BBC this morning about a poll of Iraqi citizens: the actual statistics haven't been put up on the internet yet (and I can't recall it) but it was something along the lines of 70% don't believe that democracy is going to work in Iraq...
    A weird paradox, invading a country to bring them democracy, when they wouldn't vote it in themselves....?

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  21. Personally, I believe democracy has to grow organically. If you try to impose democratic institutions in a country that’s not ready for them, it won’t work: chaos is all you can expect. The only way to reform a country’s political system is from within: it must be a grassroots revolution led by its own people. NGOs and educational charities can help to inspire the desire for change, but trying to force it is completely counterproductive.

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  22. That's a good point aspidistra.No ideal should be imposed upon one country by another; political change has to spring from the desire of the people. Also who's to say that democracy is the best system? What do you think about the claim that we are living in an elective dictatorship?

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  23. the mind in the cave23 Mar 2007, 13:02:00

    A question - have political lies been successfully legitimized by spin doctors so much so that they don't really exist anymore?

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  24. If political lies had been successfully legitimized by the likes of Alastair Campbell, then the media would not sound so outraged by the constant revelations of sleaze and deception.

    Perhaps lying has become accepted behaviour within the current government, but it is certainly not seen as permissible by the public: they’ll only pay to read all about it if it's still considered shocking.

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  25. the mind in the cave6 Apr 2007, 12:04:00

    People are still outraged at what they read in the newspapers on a daily basis. However, when it comes to doing something about it many people automatically state that lies are an intergral part of politics and that nothing can be/should be done

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  26. well, this IS true - lies are a part of politics and nobody has ever managed to do anything about it

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  27. Blair is a Traitor. He even abolished the Treason Laws before committing Treason !! Now he has kissed the NAZI POPE's ring literally ! And converted to Catholicism . Why ? Simple . He will be the First Dictator of the Fascist E.U. Yes an unelected president is a Dictator.All the Fascist Dictators so far in Europe have been Catholic. What a track record. They were all traitors & murderous scum. Napoleon (Catholic) Mussolini,(Catholic) , Franco (Catholic), Salazar(Catholic), Dollfuss(Catholic),
    Ante Pavelic(Catholic),Emil Hacha (Catholic),Horthy(Catholic), Adolf Rothchild Hitler , (Catholic),
    Ruthenia : Fr.Augustin Voloshin
    Slovakia : Fr. Josef Tiso
    Slovakia : Fr. Andrei Hlinka
    Sudetenland : Konrad Henlein
    Vichy-France : Pierre Laval
    Vichy-France : Henry Petain
    Yugoslavia : Fr. Anton Koroshec
    Yes Catholic Priests were Fascist Dictators & murderous Scum. And we have no say no choice in our own Nation . And after Over 500 Years all of our history goes down the tubes. Once again we will be ruled
    by a Catholic Dictator.

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