A petition calling on the government to make lying in the House of Commons a criminal offence, has reached over 100,000 views. This will now be debated in parliament at a date to be announced. The formal government response to this petition can be viewed at the above link. In essence, the request to make these lies a criminal offence has been rejected, using ‘freedom of speech’ and parliamentary ‘immunity’ as justification.
The petition was raised by Judy Carrivick from North Yorkshire who describes herself as “left wing, Green leaning, pro-European, fighting for justice and democracy for all”.
If the response from Jacob Rees Mogg had been more honest, perhaps this was what he’d have said:
Alternative response to petition about lying MPs
The petition you have raised calling for lying by ministers and MPs in the House of Commons to be made an illegal act is one we find hard to take seriously. Haven’t you heard of the war on woke? Your suggestion is just the kind of principled, elitist nonsense we’re trying to eliminate from Westminster parliamentary politics.
We have worked hard as a party to establish a monopoly in the art of lying. You proposal is clearly driven by political bias since we are the party who would suffer most by stamping out the practice. We’ve worked hard to normalise lying. It would be grossly undemocratic if we were prevented from continuing what is now a well-established feature of our conduct in the House of Commons, when it would not be equally restrictive for the opposition parties. Democracy is nothing if not the pursuit of fairness.
We thoroughly subscribe to a notion of democracy that reduces it to the act of voting once every four or five years. We can justify doing anything by telling people that democracy equates only to that. The idea people can vote us out if they don’t approve of our behaviour seems to be good enough for most of them.
In the 12 months before an election we’ll flatter their sound judgment, continue to lie to get their vote, and subsequently interpret their vote for us as approval of everything we have been doing in the past four or five years, lying included. It’s a win-win: we get re-elected; voters get a government that relieves them from having to worry too much about our conduct in parliament. Most voters seem satisfied by this democracy light model.
Who are we to argue for better?
We in government were delighted when Labour MP Dawn Butler was ejected from the House for the remainder of the day’s proceedings for trying to get the speaker to hold the prime minister to account for lying in the chamber. We abuse parliamentary protocols and ministerial codes we defined for ourselves, and those who seek to uphold them are punished for doing so. That’s our kind of democracy and it’s so good to see it alive and well and receiving the tacit support of the Speaker, who is the only arbiter of our conduct in the Chamber.
One of the benefits of the shameless and transparent erosion of parliamentary democracy is that we now longer have to pretend that we are honest or care about parliamentary procedures and codes of conduct. Yes, of course we need them, but only to claim they are serving a purpose in upholding our democracy.
We have found that making democratic-sounding noises is all it takes to persuade most people we are indeed honourable men and women with democratic values at the heart of what we stand for. Our antiquated parliamentary tradition of referring to each other as ‘The right honourable gentleman or lady’ is a brilliant device for maintaining the illusion that honour still matters. Adding free speech into the discussion as justification for not restricting what ministers and MPs say in the Chamber and without any irritating requirement for free speech to be truthful, never hurt our democratic credentials.
Lying doesn’t bother most people
Lying is something that doesn’t concern the public. We often remind them they’ve priced it into their choice of prime minister so they feel re-assured about their acceptance of lying. The real beauty of a lie is that if repeated enough, it has an uncanny way of becoming the truth. We peddle fictions that in no time establish themselves as reality. As long as no one’s angry enough to complain, what’s the problem? Storm in a teacup. Much ado about nothing. Nihil hic est (“Nothing to see here” for those sad enough to have gone to state schools where Latin was not on the syllabus).
The public has clearly accepted that lying by government ministers, and the astute use of misinformation, is part of our political culture. Only woke metropolitan elites have any ethical concerns about it. The rest of the population realises that to get by in life under the grossly privileged system we favour, forces everyone to lie and cheat once in a while. This creates a natural bond between them and us that has been years in the making.
The clear benefits to the government of ministers and MPs lying repeatedly and with impunity in the House of Commons rule out any possibility we might want to establish legal remedies against them. In fact, the joke that surfaced recently about the Speaker announcing results of MPs’ votes as “The lies have it. The lies have it” captures our preference perfectly. Long may that state of affairs continue. Calling out lying is the Speaker’s job. Unless there’s a public outcry nothing will change soon. We’re not going to lose any sleep over it.