The concept of The Big Lie as a propaganda technique has a long and well-documented, though tragically chequered, history. It was a charge levelled at Jews by Adolf Hitler, with chilling irony as it turned out, accusing them en masse of laying the blame for Germany’s defeat in World War I at the feet of German General Erich Ludendorff.
Hitler’s definition of the Big Lie in his infamous “Mein Kampf” referred to a lie so colossal that no-one would believe anyone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”. “Mein Kampf” was published in 1925, but history tells us that both Hitler and his loathsome creature of propaganda, Josef Goebbels, would use the Big Lie technique in an attempt to justify the persecution and mass murder of six million Jews, many of them German citizens, during World War II. Historian Jeffrey Herf maintains that the Big Lie was used by the Nazis to transform a long-standing anti-semitism into a culture of acceptance for a programme of genocide, at least among the thousands of people required to collaborate or actually undertake the mass-slaughter of so many fellow human beings.
The Nazis’ euphemistic reference to a “Final Solution” was intended to mask a foul crime, perpetrated on a vast pan-continental scale, and justified by the Big Lie. It is the most extreme example conceivable of what can happen when such an effective propaganda tool is deployed and redeployed, over and over, a drip-feed of hate-fuelled misinformation which sinks deeply into the public consciousness and breeds uncritical acceptance of dogmas that might otherwise be hotly disputed. But the identical technique continues in use today, and while the end result is not comparable to the fate of the Holocaust victims, the thinking behind modern propaganda, with its intent of marginalising an entire section of society, is directly analogous.
The present Government’s presentation of its policies to tackle a massive public debt is an object lesson in the effective use of the Big Lie. Pathologically opposed to any measures which might unduly affect the “wealth-creating potential” of the better-off, they are nevertheless determined to make massive reductions in public expenditure, and have targeted the Welfare Budget as a potential source of great savings. The impact on household budgets, of which every penny is already earmarked, is readily foreseeable. Once you cut to the bone, any further cuts are likely to lead to collapse, and fears are being expressed by voluntary organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau that the consequences for the poorest will be grave. It’s also realistic to fear that the creation of a sub-culture, helpless to resist the diminution of its resources and likely to be forced into dependence on food banks, is inimical to prospects for national recovery. Looked at in that light, how can such policies be presented as The Answer To All Our Problems?
Enter the Big Liar, stage right. Since the formation of Cameron's Coalition ConDem government, it’s been noticeable how much we’ve heard, via every mouthpiece and interface of the media, about Benefit Cheats. Benefit Fraudsters. Welfare Scroungers. Shirkers, Not Workers. Now, any government worth its rhetorical mettle is good for the odd sound-bite, but Mr. Cameron’s administration are as hot as any in peddling its preferred take on the “issues that face us all”. And after all, who could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously? It must be true, then. Those responsible for the banking crisis, the Libor scandal, and other examples of fat cats acting criminally - or merely irresponsibly - in their frantic scramble to get even fatter, must be very grateful for where the spotlight is currently shining.
You have to listen very patiently to the more serious news outlets to hear about the depredations visited upon us by the rich and greedy. But it’s open season on those hampered by disability, poor employment prospects, sickness, infirmity and grinding poverty. Soft targets all, and there are plenty of establishment-friendly tabloids happy to feed us a daily diet of how tax money is wasted on affording such ne’er-do-wells a life of luxury, and the privilege of snoring behind drawn blinds whilst the industrious head off to work.
So how do these stories stand up to closer examination? Well, hardly at all, in truth. The “shirkers, not workers” myth is easily exploded – merely by looking at the proportion of the welfare budget spent on in-work benefits. These are benefits paid to those who have a job, but one where the wage is so pitifully low that it’s impossible for the family to subsist without an income supplement. Hardly shirkers, these people – exploited? Yes. Scroungers? It’s the Big Lie in action.
What about Benefit Fraud, then? Again, you’d be surprised to read the figures, given the loud and plaintive trumpeting of this “scandal” by the likes of the Daily Mail. It appears the Great British Public believe that 27% of the Welfare Budget is claimed fraudulently. The official UK Government figure? 0.7%. 2-0 to the Big Lie.
The latest manifestation of the way in which a section of society is marginalised now rears its ugly head. Thousands of people currently entitled to Disability benefits due to their care or mobility needs are going to be re-assessed under notably harsher entitlement tests, over the next few years. No improvement in their condition, no lessening of their needs will be required for their benefits to be stopped. The goal-posts are being moved, and a lot of helpless people, who previously managed to conduct their own lives assisted by the benefit payable for their condition, will be shown the red card and banished to the hinterland of dependence upon others. Extreme examples of families on £20000 a year in benefits are quoted to justify swingeing cuts. You just don’t want to know how disabled you have to be to qualify for anything like that level of help. The Big Lie rides again.
This government is unfocused and incompetent, thrashing about horribly in its desperation to prove itself worthy of re-election. A shoddy, unattractive and vindictive lot. But, hey - credit where it’s due: there’s not a whole hell of a lot that Josef Goebbels could teach them about propaganda and the Big Lie.