Imposter sin

I promise you this is about writing, but it won’t seem it for a while. Here’s the thing: Britain is the first country in the world to have a coronavirus vaccine. The vaccine is great news that’s come a lot sooner than could’ve been hoped, and it’s like the first light after a worldwide pandemic.

Worldwide. I can’t think of anything that’s hit the entire world and put us all on pause like this. So the world has been hit, but a pan-European effort involving a US company has got the first vaccine.

There cannot be even a scintilla of this that is in any way bad.

So the British government invented one. This week Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons, took this unequivocally good news and lied about it.

The vaccine is a win, it is a brilliant achievement, and he lied.

This isn’t a matter of opinion, it is not a difference in interpretation. He says –– and continues to say –– that Britain developed the vaccine because of Brexit. If we hadn’t left Europe, we’d have been held up by pesky red tape.

He might call it red tape, I might call it safety standards that mean fewer of us die, but, you know, that bit is splitting hairs.

What isn’t is that in this case Britain is still bound by exactly the rules and standards it was. Not for much longer, we’ve got that chlorinated chicken coming, but right now, this moment, we are. The vaccine was developed under these European rules, it was developed by people across Europe, it is a great thing.

And yet I’m embarrassed by it. Because of how Rees-Mogg told the story.

When I say this vaccine was developed across Europe, I do include Britain. My own country played a part here and that’s something to be proud of, but instead Britain is diminished by its own choice.

And there’s the writing part of this.

You have a story, the creation of the vaccine, but it’s your choice of how you tell it that decides whether you make people proud or embarrassed. It is literally writing this time, as Rees-Mogg tweeted that bullshit, but the fashioning of the story, the telling of it, that’s writing whether it goes into text or not.

It used to be that you knew politicians lied, but at least they made some effort and at least they knew it was bad. I mean, Richard Nixon resigned. Nobody does now. Nobody resigns because of something they’ve done, nobody gets fired, or at least not in politics.

There is something worse than lying these days. There used to be a disconnect between what politicians said and what they do, now there is a chasm between what they do and the truth.

The nearest similar chasm I can think of is going to sound trivial because it doesn’t end up killing lots of people. It severely damages one person, though. And it’s the imposter syndrome chasm. I know this as being something writers feel, that they’re not really writers and will be caught out soon, but actually I suspect it applies to everyone. Except current politicians, obviously.

I’ve been talking about imposter syndrome with a friend this week and somehow all the old jokes didn’t seem right. The key old joke is that actually I have solved imposter syndrome: I no longer suspect I’m a rubbish writer, I looked into it and proved that yes, I’m crap. All doubt removed.

This time I keep thinking of that chasm between our perception of ourselves as writers, and whatever the reality is. I keep thinking that there is no truth any more, you can and maybe must just choose what you want to believe. Make a choice to believe you’re good, regardless of the facts, and then at least you can remove the constant, time-consuming doubt and get on with actually writing something.


I hereby declare these three things to be true and self-evident. I am a brilliant writer, I am roguishly handsome and I invented chocolate.

Lies, damned lies and percentages

I’m not saying that people make up percentages, I’m saying if that they were telling the truth they’d give us the figures. I’m going to make up some examples here in part because my point is about the lying rather than these specific lies but also because it seems appropriate. For I’m seeing this particular lying technique used a lot at the moment over whether Britain should stay in Europe or not and if you’ve seen an actual fact for either side, well done.

I’m seeing it most of all in discussions about immigration which is apparently a dreadful problem. Oh, is it bollocks a problem. BBC Breakfast interviewed a woman this week who said, like so many others, that immigration is a very bad thing and it must to be stopped. Only, she’s an ex-pat British woman living in Spain. She’s an immigrant. You can’t buy stupidity like that but you can pander to it.

Consequently you’ve seen people banging their fists on tables about how immigration has – I don’t know, let’s make up some high figures here – doubled. Maybe more. Maybe there are 60% more immigrants.

Since when? Usually people say “since when” in the same tone and with the same meaning as something like “you and whose army?” but I mean it literally. Immigration has doubled since when? Wednesday? The 17th Century?

The 60% or whatever other percentage in whatever argument you like is not a figure, it is a red-alert klaxon saying the speaker wants you to believe something you wouldn’t if you knew the truth. Say it is 60%, say immigration is up 60% and let’s even throw in that it’s up that much since this time last year. We’re throwing in an actual baseline comparison, we’re throwing in a genuine since-when.

Only, say 10 immigrants came to the UK last year and a whole 16 came this time. That’s a 60% increase right there. Gasp. Doubtlessly or at least presumably the actual figure is more than 16 people but I don’t know what it is and people telling you percentages don’t want you to know.

It offends me that politicians think immigration is a vote-winning issue and it offends me even more that they’re right. For god’s sake, though, my family is from Ireland: I’m only first-generation British born. I shouldn’t be allowed.