Far from being a dry book, The Assault on Truth by Peter Oborne takes us on a rollercoaster journey into the heart of recent political events with example after example of documented duplicity. This book is not a simple chronicle of lies told by Boris Johnson, his ministers and his VoteLeave associates but an explanation of how and why our democratic institutions have developed to be so strong when respected, but so fragile when men of bad faith get into power.
If those at the head and heart of our democracy have motives other than public service, and backers with their own private intentions, then the institutions that have supported our democracy since the nineteenth century are in peril.
Our democracy in danger
As Oborne is a former editor of The Spectator, former chief political commentator at the Daily Telegraph, former columnist for the Daily Mail and erstwhile supporter of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, this has led some to criticise his perspective on our current political situation.
It is true that his dislike of Tony Blair and New Labour comes through loud and clear. Also he does not dwell on the assault on truth during the 2016 Brexit campaign. Nonetheless, this book shows him as a poacher turned game-keeper, or right-wing journalist now a guardian of the truth. Oborne makes it clear that every fact and assertion in his book has been backed up with a detailed footnote. This is not a work of fiction.
The Assault on Truth is a short book but not because Oborne has little to say, quite the opposite. His journalistic training means that he does not waffle or go off at tangents but gets right to the heart of the matter. Nor is it simply a polemic against Boris Johnson’s lying. This book explains where we are now by looking at where we have come from and why the changes to our democracy, precipitated by the assault on truth, are so devastating.
The reasons for these changes to our political institutions and their consequences are explained clearly and chillingly. If you think that something is wrong with our political institutions, but you’re not quite sure what it is, then this is the book for you.
Private donors and press barons
Oborne explains why the separation between the private and public domains, which has been a pillar of our democracy since the 19th century, is so crucially important and how it is being dismantled. The fall in political party membership, the turn towards private donors to fill the coffers and the link with the major press barons who supported the Gove, Johnson, Cummings triumvirate are all leading to a dismantling of our public institutions. The assault on truth, philosophically and practically, is at the heart of this.
“Truth falls into the hands of a new and unaccountable set of owners. It can be bought and sold by shareholders, poisoned and polluted and turned into an instrument of state or private power.”
The privatisation of truth and the fight back
According to Oborne, truth has been privatised and its manipulation has become the ultimate weapon. Attacks on our independent judiciary and disinterested scholarship, along with the loss of six permanent secretaries by September 2020, are among the many indicators of the methods being used to dismantle the public domain. As truth becomes relative, instead of absolute, there is no basis for rational decision-making, which is no way to run a country.
The devastating changes to our polity and public institutions may anger and depress us, but Oborne’s conclusion leaves us with a seven point plan for action giving us, at the very least, the hope that all is not yet lost.
In The Assault on Truth, Peter Oborne gets to the heart of the matter. He cuts to the quick and doesn’t stop until the quick is in shreds. If you want the confusion at the heart of government explained and put into context, then this book brings enlightenment and a call to arms.
Talking of public institutions, our public libraries are amongst the greatest. If you are not a member of your county library you may not know that there is a huge e-library available where you will quite probably be able to read this book without delay.