Do our politicians lie to us? What are the lies that really matter in politics? Should we be worried, or do we just like to think all politicians lie?
Politicians, real estate agents and journalists seem an unlikely grouping but they do have at least one thing in common – they occupy the bottom three positions in a survey of the professions we trust most. This is according to a recent Ipsos MORI Global market and opinion research survey.
Politicians are routinely at the very bottom of the heap in these surveys about trustworthiness. I’ve always put that down to a kind of opportunism on the part of the ‘ordinary’ class of the powerless, and it seems I may be right. As mere voters, when we participate in such a survey, we take the opportunity to have a free swing at the political power brokers and lawmakers. While we may indeed be responsible for handing them power by voting them in, we enjoy the chance to bring them back down to size.
And this ‘tall poppy’ knocking behaviour isn’t just a local aberration - in fact, there seems to be some kind of unspoken pact shared by the general public the world over to rate our political representatives at the bottom of the heap.
Yes well, maybe we just know our history? Certainly through the ages there have been many examples of dishonest and corrupt politicians: whether they are lining their own pockets, re-writing laws retrospectively to avoid prosecution, undertaking radically different policies from those they campaigned on; not to mention the outrages against human rights, rigging of elections, or using tools of the state to squash democratic processes and dialogue. The list of misdemeanours goes on and on and on. Perhaps it’s fair to say that historically, politicians have ‘form’ in this regard.
So what’s the case in New Zealand? The podcast series Pants on Fire has been about exploring lies and lying as an aspect of human behaviour and if I can take anything from my work on the series, it is pretty plain to me that, as a nation, we can tell fibs with the best of them. I’ve learned that as a species humans do lie frequently, and for all manner of reasons - not all of them bad. In the final analysis, our politicians are as humanly frail as the rest of us, so it wouldn’t be surprising to find they are just as prone to lying as you or I.
In this episode, ‘The Tangled Web’ we dig into lies in politics. What it reveals about political dishonesty in New Zealand is quite unexpected.