The London Review of Books recently published an article on lying in politics, describing the actions of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at the Labour Party Conference (where Cherie Blair was overheard saying “well, that’s a lie” when Brown professed his ongoing affection for the PM), as a case of where “the boldest and best liar won”. The author goes on to describe the deftness of Tony Blair’s skills in deception and fidelity to the spirit of contemporary politics in terms of fabrication. The article also describes another case where a Prime Minister made a deal with his deputy about accession and then apparently reneged: the current situation with Australian PM John Howard and Deputy Peter Costello.
It got me thinking about who would be the “boldest and best liar” if you compared John Howard and Tony Blair, particularly through the prism of their effectiveness in deceiving the electorate, winning elections and keeping power (ie., shafting their deputies).
Now, I do remember that Blair’s nickname for a time was “Teflon Tony”, as he seemed to have an uncanny skill at keeping electorate approval despite his government making unpopular decisions. However he is now infamous for lying to the electorate about the reasons for the Iraq war and it may be argued that this has led to him being a liability to his Party in terms of re-election. Blair has kept his deputy in check, but it seems only just, and for only a matter of time…
But Blair has nothing on John Howard in terms of effectiveness in lying to the electorate and getting away with it. Howard has been in power for longer than Blair and fought more elections (5 to Blair’s 3). He has been “caught” lying on more occasions (about the “Children Overboard” affair, Medicare, Iraq, industrial relations, etc.). This is the man who was so blatant about lying to the electorate to get elected that he established the concept of “core” and “non-core” promises, now part of Australian political life. His ability to play wedge politics is second-to-none and he continues to have a high approval rating, unlike contemporaries Blair and Bush.
There was a great letter to the editor after the “Liars” article in the LRB extolling the merits of Blair and Howard, and who is the more effective politician:
“Howard is a politician par excellence, and Tony Blair will never hold a candle to him. Why? Well, to use the parlance of the Australian street, Blair may be as flash as a rat with a gold tooth, but Howard is as cunning as a shithouse rat.” Michael Wong, 16 November 2006
It makes me proud to be Australian.