Winston Churchill famously coined the phrase ‘terminological inexactitude’ so as to avoid being censured for ‘un-parliamentary’ language. In modern times, MP Alan Clarke refused to admit to lying in court, explaining playfully to the eminent QC that he was being ‘economical with the actualité’.
The manifestation of deceit was potently imagined as a stench of stale alcohol by Tennessee Williams in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In the great 1958 movie, the unforgettable Burl Ives asks “What's that smell in this room? Didn't you notice it, Brick? Didn't you notice a powerful and obnoxious odour of mendacity in this room?”
Bill Clinton said: 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman'. If you’ve got nothing to lose, maybe it’s worth a shot. Somebody might believe you. There’s a sucker born every minute. In any case, there’s lawyerly wriggle room too: what exactly do we mean by sexual relations? What’s a woman anyway? Which woman? See, it’s easy to lie and get away with it. Bill, more or less, did just that.
Perhaps those practised in the dark art of dishonesty are simply impervious to its moral repugnance: they just don’t care. Psychologists report an alarming propensity for business leaders and politicians to exhibit ‘personality disorder’ of various kinds. Apart from being excessively self-regarding, the greatest attribute of narcissists is their ability to shrug off disgrace and scandal and move on as if nothing had happened.
Regular readers will be familiar with 'Big' Bob Barnes and his bouncing truth bombs. I recently pondered whether Bob was a fool or a liar, and being charitable, opted for the stupidity option. Now I’m not so sure.
In this morning’s Ledbury Reporter online, Cllr Barnes claims he knew nothing about the squandered Awards for All grant of £10 thousand gifted to Ledbury Town Council to support a community engagement programme for the ill-fated Neighbourhood Plan project in 2014.
He said: "I would just like to point out, that the grant application was drafted by Mr Hadley and Cllr Liz Harvey, and the grant was not received until after I had been removed from the position of chairman. "Therefore my "incompetence and intransigence" would have had no bearing on it's (sic) allocation, or spending."
This, obviously is completely untrue.
Let’s just clear up the actualité. The funding application was made on the 6 July 2014 under the auspices of the Neighbourhood Plan working party of which Bob Barnes was chair, and during his period as Mayor of LTC. The award was received during October 2014 (paid into the town council bank account on 10/10/14) and the programme was due to run from 1 November 2014 to 31 August 2015.
It is simply not credible for Cllr Barnes to say he was unaware of this award, especially as he chaired and actively participated in the various meetings in which the programme was discussed and finalised during summer 2014. He was also present at the Neighbourhood Plan meeting of 7 October 2014 when the award was reported by Cllr Liz Harvey in the minutes and where it was agreed that a press release would be drafted.
Why, Bob even sent a congratulatory note on 13 August to Liz Harvey when we received news of the award. Here it is: "Liz, Well done everyone, it took a while but worth it in the end. Excellent news. Regards, Bob Barnes."
What really is going on in Bob’s moral universe, that wide open, calm space which is seemingly unperturbed by qualm or scruple? The troubling explanation is that small-town Bob, like the other great political liars of our time, Nixon, Mugabe, possibly Blair, is genuinely one of those rare individuals who sail far above the boundaries of right and wrong, inhabiting a place where advantage and expediency are his guiding lights.
In politics it is not gentlemanly to call someone a liar. You have to find ways of saying it nicely. That’s tricky. Sometimes you just have to tell the truth.
This article was updated at 17.00 on 15/12/15