MITCH BENN: After forty years of lies about Europe it’s time to stop

The Truth Exposed: Stellan Skarsgard and Jared Harris in HBO's Chernobyl

The Truth Exposed: Stellan Skarsgard and Jared Harris in HBO's Chernobyl - Credit: Archant

MITCH BENN says it's time we all call out the lies and expose the liars peddling the myths about the EU and Europe.

I'm in the home stretch before heading up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, so my life consists primarily of coffee-fuelled songwriting and joke-rewriting sessions, interspersed with preview shows, each slightly less chaotic than the previous. The show is called Ten Songs To Save The World (Underbelly, at the McEwan Hall, 3.45pm, since you ask) and is, as the name suggests, a show about finding hope and optimism in an increasingly hopeless world.

The idea is to address, with each of the ten songs, one of the big issues currently affecting us all and to come up with solutions of varying degrees of seriousness, so that the audience leaves having had a good laugh and with a renewed sense of purpose about what we can all do to make the world a happier place.

And the more time I spend honing the show and refining these solutions, the more it becomes apparent that there really is just one thing we need to do (or one and a half things, anyway) and it's this:

Stop lying.

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And, equally, stop letting other people get away with lying.

I don't know if you saw HBO's relentlessly bleak but utterly compelling mini-series Chernobyl before it dropped off the Sky schedules; if not, do seek it out (I imagine it'll still be available on some platform or other, paid or otherwise).

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While it's specifically about the explosion at the eponymous nuclear power station in 1986 (and the unequalled environmental devastation it caused and indeed continues to cause) it's more broadly about the folly of a society in which, as was the case in the Soviet Union, The Official Version Of Events is held above everything, even reality itself. If The Official Version Of Events conflicted with reality then it was reality that was held to be in error.

As the programme depicts, for the first 24 hours after the explosion, the official position was that it hadn't happened. It wasn't that the relevant authorities were covering it up (that came later); initially, the authorities themselves didn't believe it had occurred. The official version was that Soviet Reactors Do Not Explode, therefore it hadn't exploded.

It was gone, there was a vast glowing hole where it had been, radioactive debris all over the ground and the firemen tending the blaze were dropping dead where they stood, but the state decreed that this could not happen, so it hadn't happened, even though it had.

The disaster, the show implies, came about not simply because of a chain of errors on the night in question, but as a result of a society being built on lies.

The lie that Soviet technology was supreme, Soviet workers the most diligent and competent in the world. Their technology was no ropier than most countries', nor their workers any shiftier or lazier, but such problems as inevitably arise in any system are all but unfixable when the system itself denies their existence.

There's a scene in the last episode, during the show trial of the plant managers and foreman - who, while by no means blameless, were nonetheless set up to take the fall for the whole disaster - when Jared Harris, playing Valery Legasov, the nuclear physicist who oversaw the clean-up operation (destroying his own health in the process) realises that he can toe the party line no longer. He speaks a sentence which perfectly encapsulates the danger of building a system on officially sanctioned falsehood: "Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth; sooner or later, that debt is paid."

Which brings us, of course, to Brexit.

It was 40 years of lies that poisoned much of the UK against Europe, it was a lie that led us to the referendum (it was nothing to do with sovereignty and everything to do with stopping UKIP splitting the Tory vote in 2015), it was lies that 'won' the referendum for Leave, it was a lie that Brexit would boost the economy, Boris Johnson was lying when he endorsed Leave and is still lying now, it was a lie that "we would hold all the cards", it was a lie that the withdrawal negotiations would be "the easiest deal of all time", it was an obvious lie that Brexit would "strengthen the Union", it was a lie that "technological solutions" would solve the Irish border question, it's a lie that the 52% knowingly supported no-deal, it's a lie that there's still a pro-Leave majority, it's a lie that those who oppose Brexit do so out of bitterness, or disloyalty, or because we "hate democracy", it's a lie that there could ever be a "jobs-first Brexit", it's a lie that Labour - or anyone - could "get a better deal", it's a lie that the whole working class is pro-Brexit and it's a lie that Remainers are all middle-class dilettantes. Lies, lies, lies, lies, lies.

We are racking up one hell of a debt to the truth right now and when the truth comes looking for its money back this country is going to be in so much trouble. Unless we turn it around.

There's a whole summer of People's Vote events to get involved with, so get involved.

Call out the lies. Expose the liars. And speak the truth. Shout it when you have to.


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