Edmund Burke never said "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing". Marie Antoinette never said "Let them eat cake". Voltaire never said "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". Jim Callaghan never said "Crisis? What crisis?".
Politics is littered with false quotations that have somehow survived into the age of Wikipedia and Wikiquote. More insidious still are the quotations that, while not fabricated, are deliberately misleading.
Chief among these is Margaret Thatcher's remark that "there is no such thing as society", which has been held up for 30 years as an example of her supposed belief in a heartless, atomised, me-me-me Britain.
In fact, she was arguing for pretty much the opposite (the full 1987 interview with Woman's Own can be read here). She was responding to what she saw as a growing culture of entitlement and selfishness, a readiness to say "society is to blame" as a way of avoiding personal responsibility. Here are her exact words:
But it went too far. If children have a problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate. And the worst things we have in life, in my view, are where children who are a great privilege and a trust—they are the fundamental great trust, but they do not ask to come into the world, we bring them into the world, they are a miracle, there is nothing like the miracle of life—we have these little innocents and the worst crime in life is when those children, who would naturally have the right to look to their parents for help, for comfort, not only just for the food and shelter but for the time, for the understanding, turn round and not only is that help not forthcoming, but they get either neglect or worse than that, cruelty.
OK, it's not the most felicitous phrasing, but it's pretty obvious what she was saying. Society is made up of men and women: it has no separate existence outside human beings. The duty of behaving decently therefore lies with each of us.
Now you can agree or disagree with her. What you can't do, if you have a shred of honesty, is to pretend that she was defending greed when she was calling for "each of us to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate."
Why don't people ever check the original? The question nagged at me for years, but I'm pretty sure I now have the answer. People don't check the original because they don't want to have their prejudices challenged. If you believe that all Tories are heartless fiends, and that Fatcha was the most diabolical of the lot, you'd rather gnaw away at your grievance than risk having it corrected.
How do I know? Because, on a minuscule scale, I am experiencing the same thing myself. Over the last three months, some Continuity Remainers have been working themselves into a frenzy about an interview I gave on Channel 4 News in May 2015, in which I said that "no one is threatening our place in the single market".
Watch the interview yourself, and you'll see that I was talking about "the sort of deal that Switzerland has". I explained that Switzerland has free trade with the EU while having its own trade deal with China (Jon Snow was for some reason incredulous at this idea). I went on to argue that withdrawing from the EU's political institutions did not mean weakening our trade links: "Norway, Switzerland, all these countries have free trade with the EU".
I still regard a Swiss-style arrangement as overwhelmingly the likeliest outcome. I suppose you could technically argue that Switzerland is outside the single market in the sense that it is not under the direct jurisdiction of the European Commission and Court; but most people list it, along with the other EFTA states, as a single market participant.
Not that the angry Remainers care. Their sole object is evidently to make out that I was lying – something which requires them, as with the Thatcher quotation, not to look at the interview itself. Leave campaigners must be shown to be deceitful in order to undermine the authority of the referendum.
When people talk about referendum lies, they don't mean the non-existent emergency budget, or the £4000 per family tax hike, or the Calais jungle being shifted to Kent, or a recession in 2016, or David Cameron staying on as PM, or getting £10 back for every pound we paid in, or the house price collapse, or Scotland leaving the UK, or unemployment rising to 250,000 within two years of a Leave vote (one year on, there are an extra 379,00 people in work ). They are not, in other words, disinterestedly weighing the claims of the two sides. Rather, they are trying to delegitimise the democratic process.
My words have been cited as a lie by Labour MPs in Parliament and Leftist columnists. They even appeared on a Channel 4 News report, whose author was evidently unaware – or chose not to consider – that they had come from a Channel 4 News interview. Paradoxically, the people who claim to be setting the record straight, or pursuing the truth, are knowingly or unknowingly perpetuating a fib themselves.
It's becoming a theme. During the referendum campaign, I tweeted that EU nationals already in the UK should not fear a change in their status. It has now been confirmed that their rights to live, work, claim benefits and access healthcare here will indeed be unchanged. The only right they will lose – other than, obviously, that of being an EU citizen within the EU, with the right to vote – is the ability to bring in a spouse from outside the EU on more favourable terms than British nationals.
Again, for some reason, my tweet is being endlessly quoted by Remainers – including J.K. Rowling – as an example of a lie. But it seems pretty clear that EU nationals already here will indeed have their rights guaranteed. So why keep frightening them by suggesting otherwise?
It's odd. Throughout the campaign, and since, Remainers have portrayed themselves – indeed, have genuinely seen themselves – as more moderate, more reasonable and more honest than the other side. Yet here they are, not only debating at the level of five-year-olds ("You're a great big lying liar! Liar liar liar!") but casting accuracy aside as they do it. So much for "reality-based".
Daniel Hannan has been Conservative MEP for the South East of England since 1999, and is Secretary-General of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists. Follow : @danieljhannan