To everyone's complete unsurprise, newly-released Cabinet papers show that Arthur Scargill was right to claim during the miners' strike that the government planned to close many more pits than they were claiming in public. This is not the only way in which subsequent events have vindicated the miners. Jobs lost to pit closures have not (pdf) been fully replaced, suggesting that the slogan "coal not dole" did indeed make economic sense.
Scargill, then, had truth on his side. And what good did it do him?
Bugger all. He lost.
There's a message here that's still relevant today - that, in politics, power matters more than truth.Take just three examples:
- When Jonathan Portes tried to introduce some facts into the immigration debate, the BBC's Nick Robinson replied that "he would not have a chance of getting elected in a single constituency in the country".
- Critics of fiscal austerity were right. But for reasons which aren't entirely admirable, this fact isn't sufficiently recognised. Again, power wins. As Simon says: "the politicians want to go in the opposite direction to the one suggested by the economics."
You might think that post-truth politics is to be deplored. I fear, though, that such an attitude is little naive. To think that the truth should matter in politics is to commit a category error; politics is about power, not truth - and truth matters only to the questionable extent that it is a basis for a claim to power. Intellectuals' belief in the primacy of truth is an example of deformation professionelle - the tendency to believe that the values of one's own profession should apply more widely than they do.
I'm not sure the answer here is to fight lies with lies: the untruths of the powerless don't stand a chance against the untruths of the powerful. My inclination instead is to sympathize with Alasdair MacIntyre:
The barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. (After Virtue, p263)
Note for the hard of thinking: I'm not claiming here that the truth lies solely on the left. Immigration is not (or at least shouldn't be) a left-right issue. And on some matters - such as the denial about the incidence of corporation tax - many leftists are wrong and rightists are right. And I'd even concede that the rightist aim of shrinking the state isn't incompatible with the evidence.