Ukip's Neil Hamilton.

A new book of political lying is fascinating—but full of its own untruths

Adam Macqueen’s The Lies Of The Land is a fun, easy read. What a shame he misquotes Chesterton
September 13, 2017

“He’s a man… whose lies ‘created a new fact: that lies were the truth and that the truth was a lie.’” It sounds like a charge levelled at Donald Trump by one of his enemies. But the allegation, reproduced in Adam Macqueen’s The Lies Of The Land, was made by a Department of Trade and Industry inspector against Mohamed Al-Fayed—long before Trump grabbed the White House.

Fayed’s insalubrious involvement with disgraced ex-minister Neil Hamilton (now leader of Ukip in Wales) is retold in Macqueen’s “potted history of political dishonesty,” along with dozens more tales of political misdirection and misinformation. Together the short summaries form an encyclopaedia of post-war establishment cheats; proof that objective fact could be difficult to discern in political debate well before filter bubbles and fake news.

Lies of the Land can be fun. It’s digestible, too, separated by chapters into some easily grasped categories (“financial fibbing,” “sex lies”) and others more abstract (“out of deference” deals with liars who got away with it thanks to mid-20th century forelock-tugging). But the target reader is likely to have heard a lot of this before. From Kim Philby’s gentlemanly treachery to the spin-doctoring of Tony Blair, many of the vignettes are well-worn.

Still, there is something staggering about the sheer weight of untruthfulness that oozes from the pages. “Once people stop believing in politicians,” Macqueen misquotes Chesterton, “the problem is not that they believe nothing—but that they believe anything.” For a blunt account of how we got to that state, look no further. Maybe that sort of frank self-appraisal is what politicians and voters need.