Silly question? 

Nick Clegg has been widely condemned as a liar because circumstances forced him to renege on a manifesto promise about student tuition fees.  When the troublesome promise was made, he had no idea that he might finish up in a coalition with the Conservatives; effectively, in bed with the enemy.  So, does having to compromise on a previously firm pledge, mean that Nick Clegg is a liar?

A person has to know at the time that what they are saying isn’t true in order for a lie to be a lie.  I was once on a flight to Manchester that was delayed because we were waiting for a party of Japanese whose luggage was already in the hold.  The captain apologised for the delayed departure and explained that he had it on good authority that the Japanese had cleared immigration and were on their way.  Fifteen minutes went by with no sign of the Japanese. The captain came on again and said that he had reversed his decision and decided to off load the luggage belonging to the Japanese and go without them.  No sooner had they started to retrieve the luggage than the Japanese started to arrive.  The captain came on again and said that, in view of the arrival of the Japanese, he had decided to revert to plan A; to wait for the Japanese.  Eventually we took off at the time we should have been landing at Manchester and everyone was very cross.

So was the captain lying?  He might, of course,  have set out deliberately to mislead us, but it seems more likely  that the poor man was simply making the best decisions he could based upon the information he had at the time.  It was just that the information kept changing.

Isn’t Nick Clegg doing the same?  He made a decision about student tuition fees before the election.  After the election he decided it was in the country’s best interest to enter into a coalition with the Conservatives and he had to change his mind on student tuition fees.  No lies, it was just that circumstances changed.

I suppose the moral is; don’t make specific pledges in the run up to an election.  You run the risk of being branded a liar even though you aren’t one.

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