Democrats should accept that some political deception is not only inevitable in a democracy but can be legitimate where it is conducted by elected politicians in the public interest where they have the tacit support of the electorate [emphasis added — FmH].
That is the key conclusion of Dr Glen Newey, a reader in politics at Strathclyde University, in his new research which is published today. The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
“We try to apply different moral standards to the public and to politicians, yet the more we do so the more likely it is that politicians resort to deception,” he argues. “Demands for openness and accountability create a culture of suspicion which makes it even more likely that politicians will resort to evasion and misrepresentation.
“These demands often arise because of increasing alienation by voters from the political process that they democratically control. Yet the greater the demands for truthfulness, the less autonomy we give to our democratic institutions and the harder it is for democracy to function effectively.”
Dr Newey adds that the electorate will decide in the end whether deception is justified: “In a democracy, the popular will is sovereign. The only general way to determine that will is through democratic procedures which must decided whether the people have willed a given course of action. They can make clear their support or opposition in subsequent elections.”