Wales can light a beacon not just for Britain but also the entire world

Writer Peter Oborne
-Credit: (Image: Channel 4)

“My own definition of an educated democracy,” said Archie Wavell, “is one to whom it is unprofitable to lie at elections.” Field Marshall Sir Archibald Wavell, one of Britain’s greatest military leaders, said this shortly after the end of World War Two.

Wavell had in mind the notorious speech in the 1945 ‘victory’ general election when Winston Churchill warned that Labour would install a British version of the Gestapo, the German secret police, if they gained power.

At that time Gestapo officers were being hunted down across Europe, and the British people saw straight through Churchill’s disgraceful claim that Clem Attlee’s Labour Party were Nazis.

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Let’s fast forward 70 years and ask ourselves whether Britain still meets up to Wavell’s definition of an educated democracy.

The answer, I am afraid, has to be it does not. Think of the barrage of lies told by prime minister Rishi Sunak during this year’s general election. The false pledges made by Sir Keir Starmer to get elected as Labour leader.

Boris Johnson’s deeply dishonest “Get Brexit done” pledge which secured the Tory’s knock-out victory in 2019. His deceitful promise of 40 new hospitals. The sordid falsehoods over Covid and partygate.

Field Marshall Wavell would have been rolling in his grave. As the old soldier warned 70 years ago, democracy cannot function unless politicians tell the truth. Without truth power cannot be held to account, and trust in our political system collapses, meaning that good government becomes impossible. That is exactly what has happened in Britain over the last few years.

In theory the British parliament has a system of policing lies. In practice I am afraid it doesn’t work. Speaker Hoyle utterly failed to hold in check the epidemic of lies from Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.

The ministerial code is supposed to force ministers who mislead parliament to correct the record. This system has never been enforced in recent years. In fact it works in reverse. The rule that MPs must not accuse each other of dishonesty actually protects liars from being challenged.

As the philosopher Emmanuel Kant proved 250 years ago politicians who lie to us steal the most precious thing we possess: our common humanity.

If we cast our vote on the back of false information because a politician lied, he or she steals from us our democratic rights as a citizen and human being.

This is why I am certain that we need to change the rules. Remember that a doctor who lies gets struck off medical register. A dishonest soldier gets cashiered. A banker who commits fraud goes to jail.

Only politicians can lie and can get off scot free. That is why I strongly support the proposal by Plaid Cymru MS Adam Price to turn political lying (knowingly misleading the public) into a criminal offence.

Plaid Cymru Adam Price MS
Plaid Cymru Adam Price MS -Credit:Matthew Horwood

Under his plan, which will be voted on in the Senedd this Tuesday, those found guilty of deception will not go to jail, as fraudsters in other professions do, but would be instantly banned from running from office.

Mr Price’s plan was supported by the liberal democrats and the Conservatives when it went through committee stage, and it’s touch and go whether it can command a majority when it’s voted on next week.

I live in England and it’s not for me to tell the Welsh parliament how to vote. But I wish the British parliament would consider the same enlightened measure. My interest in political lying (I have written two books on the subject) dates back more than two decades when Tony Blair falsely told the British people that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

We are still living with the terrible consequences of that falsehood, told cynically in order to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq: bloody mayhem across the middle east and the sacrifice of 179 brave British soldiers.

Since then the problem has got worse. In the United States Donald Trump is given a favourites chance to return to the White House despite having uttered an estimated 30,000 - 30,000 ! - lies during his first term of office.

In Britain we’ve had Boris Johnson. In Russian they’ve still got Vladimir Putin. Liars all. That is why I believe that Wales can light a beacon not just for Britain but also the entire world if your Senedd votes on Tuesday to make political lying a criminal offense.

Consider this: all of the great democratic reforms - New Zealand’s decision that women should be allowed to vote being the most glorious example -started in just one country.

After the Kiwis led the way in 1881 something that once seemed unthinkable started to be copied by others and then the domino effect took over and female suffrage became a worldwide movement.

I believe that if Wales can lead the way by passing a law that criminalises political deceit, then the Welsh nation will have struck a blow not just in Britain but across the globe against the poison of political lying.

Peter Oborne is a former political columnist for the Spectator and Daily Telegraph. He is the author of Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism. His website, Lies, Falsehoods and Misrepresentations from Boris Johnson to Keir Starmer, can be accessed at