When politicians speak, the rhetoric rarely matches reality
by our secret columnist in Brussels
Due to political triangulation, globalisation, the markets and geopolitics – the control of even the most powerful leaders over events and policy is usually limited. That does not stop them telling us what we want to hear – even when the words of promise bear little resemblance to reality. Our resident satirist Schadenfreude looks at some classic examples of politicians being economical with the truth
Throughout history, great men and not so great mean have said things which they know in their hearts take liberties with the truth. From Ancient Greece to the modern era of 24-hour broadcast news programmes, the incomplete statement is common form. Here are some of the finest examples:
"We will save the euro whatever it takes," Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, before saying that Spain would also have to apply for bail-out.
"A new dawn has broken has it not?" Tony Blair's first post-election speech. He says he regretted saying it - but did he really?
"I wanted to extol him as the man incomparably qualified to tackle the new challenges facing the country in the 21st century," Peter Mandelson on Gordon Brown. Flattery gets you everywhere.
"Overcoming the first crisis of globalisation," the blurb on Gordon Brown's memoirs. Does he think he did?
"The pound in your pocket will not be devalued," in November 1967, then Prime Minister Harold Wilson maintained that he never used these words and that he did say that some prices would rise following the devaluation of the pound. But he also said: "It does not mean that the money in our pockets is worth 14 per cent less now than it was this morning." That sounds much like saying that "the pound in your pocket will not be devalued".
"I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him," Mark Antony, followed by a panegyric.
"I did not have sex with that woman," Bill Clinton, before re-defining the definition sex.
"There is no such thing as society," Margaret Thatcher, telling the Scots to stop moaning.
"I have no further territorial demands to make in Europe," Adolf Hitler, before marching on Prague. Another of his infamous remarks is: "If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed."
So next time you listen to one of the great political speeches of our time, just make sure you have a large pinch of salt handy. For the rhetoric usually does not have any correlation with the reality. If only the fine words were matched with fine actions, our world might be a very different place. Unfortunately, politics remains little more than a game of public relations. Even though most of us could probably handle the truth, were politicians brave enough to speak it.