Renew member and candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 general election, Haseeb Ur-Rehman, argues that the Russia Report damningly reveals just how influential a part Russia has played within UK politics.
The Russia Report is a peculiar document, which obfuscates, skirts, insinuates and in some places almost sarcastically detracts from the Brexit issue; the latter of which nevertheless is central to the Report’s very existence.
It seems that this version of the Report is not the same as that from nine months ago, as it is not explicitly or directly as damaging to the Johnson’s Government, as his initial reluctance to release it, would suggest. Many things are left unsaid or implied and have to be garnered or pieced to together by the reader, suggesting that the Report was intended to be read in conjunction with other information in the public domain dealing with Russian influence over and interference with, the 2016 Brexit Referendum, yet still not providing a full and clear picture. For instance, the two threads more specifically dealing with the 2016 Brexit Referendum; “Case study: the EU referendum” and the political influence of “Russian Expatriates”, are not explicitly linked together, although when considered together, do more clearly indicate the nature of the relationship between Russia and Brexit. The Russia Report, unto itself, almost confirms the very issue that it is trying to address; the weakness and inability of the UK security and intelligence agencies to protect the UK from Brexit and is almost a testament to the extent of party-political control over the security agencies, particularly where they are almost tasked with protecting the UK from the very political party, forming the government they report to.
The Russia Report deals with Brexit indirectly in its various parts and has to be read in its entirety to draw conclusions. The portion “Disinformation and Influence” begins to touch upon Brexit and states in Paragraph 28 that “Russia’s promotion of disinformation and its attempts at broader political influence overseas have been widely reported” with the example of “Kremlin-linked entities hav(ing) made ‘soft loans’ to the (then) Front National in France, seemingly at least in part as a reward for the party having supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea”. The source for this statement is redacted. Without admitting to anything untoward on the part of any UK political party, pressure-group or “think-tank”, the suggestion here is that Russian funding for Far-Right movements across the EU is a documented fact, indicating that the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament is fully aware of such funding being received by such groups.
In the following Paragraph 29, the Report states, “Russia may spread disinformation or seek to influence political events for a wide range of purposes, but all in support of its underlying foreign policy objectives” with the example of “direct support of Russia’s preferred outcome in relation to an overseas election or political issue; and (the) general poisoning of the political narrative in the West by fomenting political extremism and ‘wedge issues’”. The Report states that ‘wedge issues’ refers to “highly divisive subjects which bifurcate a country’s population, often (but not always) into socially liberal and socially conservative camps, and which often to at least some degree transcend traditional political party boundaries. Examples of wedge issues include abortion and gun control in the US and Brexit in the UK.” ]
Paragraph 29, is therefore very laterally confirming that Brexit is a Russian foreign policy objective and is subject to Russian disinformation campaigns and “astroturfing”: “a propaganda technique whereby a viewpoint is falsely presented as belonging to a certain group”.
Confirming both Paragraphs 28 and 29, Paragraph 31 states that “(t)he UK is clearly a target for Russia’s disinformation campaigns and political influence operations and must therefore equip itself to counter such efforts.” noting that “that the formal HMG assessment categorises the UK as a “REDACTED” target for political influence operations.” Paragraph 31 goes on to further state that “(t)he Agencies have emphasised that they see their role in this as providing secret intelligence as context for other organisations… and do not see themselves holding primary responsibility for the active defence of the UK’s democratic processes from hostile foreign interference, and indeed… appeared determined to distance themselves from any suggestion that they might have a prominent role in relation to the democratic process itself, noting the caution which had to be applied in relation to intrusive powers in the context of a democratic process.”
This is followed in Paragraph 32, with “Overall, the issue of defending the UK’s democratic processes and discourse has appeared to be something of a ‘hot potato’, with no one organisation recognising itself as having an overall lead.” Paragraph 33 and 34, then proceed to discuss issues of scale, capability and access of the various organisations who would ordinarily be tasked with protecting electoral and democratic integrity, with various recommendations from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.
Paragraph 31 and 32, in essence, state that Russia targets the UK with its disinformation campaigns and political influence operations, yet for largely unstated reasons including “nervousness around… intelligence and security Agencies (being) involved in democratic processes” (as stated in Paragraph 33), the various organisations, who would ordinarily be tasked with protecting electoral and democratic integrity, are not prepared to do so, as doing so evidently in their view, is a task for Government.
Paragraphs 39 and 40 specifically begin to deal with the “Case study: the EU referendum”, in the context of that above, stating that the impact of attempts by Russia to influence the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU “would be difficult – if not impossible – to assess, and we have not sought to do so” and that yet “it is important to establish whether a hostile state took deliberate action with the aim of influencing a UK democratic process…”. Paragraph 40 states that the brevity (“six lines of text”) of secret intelligence provided by MI5 at the outset of the Inquiry, is also indicative of the “nervousness” described in Paragraph 33. This “nervousness” is described in relation to an issue “as contentious as the EU referendum” as “illogical; this (being) about the protection of the process and mechanism from hostile state interference, which should fall to our intelligence and security Agencies.”
Paragraphs 39 and 40, in effect, admit that Russian influence in the 2016 Brexit Referendum occurred, although no attempts have been made by Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament to ascertain the impact of such influence, for perceived difficulties in doing so. Paragraphs 39 and 40 further state that the failure of organisations tasked with protecting electoral and democratic integrity, vis-à-vis such Russian influence in the 2016 Brexit Referendum, occurred as a result of an illogical reluctance of these agencies to be involved in, or be seen to be involved in, democratic processes and a lack of ownership of such responsibilities by any one agency.
Continuing to deal with the 2016 Brexit Referendum, as part of Section (i) of “Case study: the EU referendum”: “Failure to prepare”, Paragraph 41, refers to “credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014” particularly referencing “Ben Nimmo – #ElectionWatch: Scottish Vote, Pro-Kremlin Trolls, 12 December 2017”. This Paragraph concludes with “We note that – almost five years on – “REDACTED””; presumably referring to the United Kingdom General Election held on 12 December 2019.
Paragraph 42, states that it was only following the conclusion of the 2016 Brexit Referendum did “the Government belatedly realised the level of threat which Russia could pose in this area” and admitting that such levels of threat were a “game changer” and that “prior to what we saw in the States, [Russian interference] wasn’t generally understood as a big threat to [electoral] processes”.
Paragraph 42, referring to two redacted conclusions of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) as of May 2017, states that “(h)ad the relevant parts of the Intelligence Community conducted a similar threat assessment prior to the (Brexit) referendum, it is inconceivable that they would not have reached the same conclusion as to Russian intent, which might then have led them to take action to protect the process.”
In Paragraph 41, the reference to Russian influence, specifically concerning the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, seems to be a party-political throw-away and the “credibility” of the “open source commentary” by which this particular instance of electoral interference is substantiated, seems primarily to be the pro-Atlanticist and ideological credentials, of the originator of the said commentary, more than anything else. Notably, the same commentator has previously, at least partially, acknowledged Russian influence in the 2016 Brexit Referendum and has variously and conspicuously tended to focus on the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014, as subject to such influence. By merits of acknowledged Russian influence in the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, and presumably in the United Kingdom General Election in 2019, as well as the acknowledgement of the severity of such interference only becoming apparent to the intelligence services, subsequent to the 2016 Brexit Referendum, Paragraphs 41 and 42 again confirm the high likelihood of Russian influence on the 2016 Brexit Referendum, particularly as the Report admits that this conclusion would have been reached had the Intelligence Community, assessed such risks prior to the 2016 Brexit Referendum.
Still dealing with the 2016 Brexit Referendum, as part of Section (ii) “Narrow coverage”, Paragraph 44, states that “HMG had not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes or any activity that has had a material impact on an election…” and proceeds to reiterate the innocence of Arron Banks. Paragraphs 45 and 46 deal with the failures of the government, intelligence and security agencies; to even have been able to detect Russian influence on the 2016 Brexit Referendum, from “open source materials”, which given that the Intelligence and Security Committee’s belief “that open source material is now fully represented in the Government’s understanding of the threat picture” was “surprising”.
Paragraphs 47 and 48 conclude the Report’s analysis of Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit Referendum in Section (iii) ”Lack of retrospective assessment”, stating that, given the issues at stake for Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit Referendum are not as “clear-cut”, as for Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election, “where an intelligence community assessment was produced within two months of the vote with an unclassified summary being made public”, the Committee’s view is that a similar assessment of Russian interference in 2016 Brexit Referendum should be conducted and published. Paragraph 48 states that the discovery of minimal Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit Referendum would “represent a helpful reassurance to the public that the UK’s democratic processes had remained relatively safe.”.
The next portion of the Report deals with Russian Expatriates, resident in the UK, stating in Paragraph 50 that “Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal’, with “a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin…well integrated into the UK business and social scene”. Paragraph 50 further states that “that any measures now being taken by the Government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation.”
Paragraph 51, addresses the “(g)rowth industry of enablers” “who manage and lobby for the Russian elite in the UK” including “(l)awyers, accountants, estate agents and PR professionals” who “played a role, wittingly or unwittingly, in the extension of Russian influence…” “…linked to promoting the nefarious interests of the Russian state.” In Paragraph 53, the Report states that “it is widely recognised that Russian intelligence and business are completely intertwined”. Paragraph 54 states that “several members of the Russian elite who are closely linked to Putin are identified as being involved with…political organisations… having donated to political parties, with a public profile which positions them to assist Russian influence operations”. This Paragraph follows on, stating that “it is notable that a number of Members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state…” which should be scrutinised, “…given the potential for the Russian state to exploit them”. References are made to “the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament requires that MPs register individual payments of more than £100 which they receive for any employment outside the House”, which is recommended to be introduced at the Lords.
The portion of the Report dealing with Russian Expatriates admits the extent of political influence Russia has over politics in the UK, including discussing the direct involvement of persons close to Vladimir Putin in making donations to political parties. For the purposes of Brexit, aside from undisclosed funding to other pro-Brexit organisations and parties, such donations would specifically be relevant to donation receipts by the Conservative Party. In the discussion involving “enablers”, the Report does not specifically focus on but presumably includes, such enablers who demonstrably had and have, a specific interest in promulgating the pro-Brexit narrative, particularly the various “55 Tufton Street” pro-Brexit think-tanks and especially the “Conservative Friends of Russia” (now re-labelled as the “Westminster Russia Forum”). For the purposes of Brexit, the participation in these organisations, by various Conservative Party MPs, almost certainly constitutes “Russian Influence” on politicians and is therefore within the scope of the consideration of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Although the business interests of the Lords are explicitly referred to, such relationships amongst others, of various Conservative Party MPs with compromising Russian interests, are not. This is also particular in the case of persons close to Number 10 and simultaneously close to the promulgating the pro-Brexit narrative, who have questionable relationships with the Russian State and Russian actors and enablers in the UK and Russia.
The Russia Report very apprehensively and indirectly confirms that Brexit is a Russian foreign policy objective and was, and is, subject to Russian disinformation campaigns, with a view to destructively divide the British public into diametrically and ideologically opposed camps. The Report also indirectly suggests that Russian funding likely reached Far-Right pro-Brexit groups before the 2016 Brexit Referendum. Russian influence over British politicians and the political establishment is almost ubiquitous and the ability of Russia to facilitate Brexit as a foreign policy objective vis-à-vis the UK is an issue the British government were unable, or more likely unwilling, to take steps and measures to contain or prevent. The Report confirms that the intelligence and security apparatus of the UK were not able to contain, anticipate and did not even seek to anticipate Brexit as a Russian foreign policy objective and are almost entirely subservient to the Government on a party-political basis. The Intelligence and Security Committee finds some solace in celebrating the unlikelihood of Russian inference in the physical “paper-based” electoral processes of the UK, but are very unfortunately unable to even adequately discuss how Russian influence can actively and successfully manipulate the very national narrative of the UK that lead up to the 2016 Brexit Referendum.
Renew's Terrance Knot investigates the demise of democracy in the UK.
The term "democracy" first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the city-state of Athens during classical antiquity. The word comes from demos, "common people" and kratos, "strength". Led by Cleisthenes, Athenians established what is generally considered the first democracy in 508–507 BC.
Since then, many countries have claimed to be democracies, but none more so than the United Kingdom. Indeed those who still profess to be British, and who identify, more or less, as English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh, have often taken pride in a supra-national United Kingdom: renowned worldwide for its sense of honesty, fairness and democratic decision making and rule, although in some cases harshly, but with “tough love” over countries comprising a quarter of the globe.
Nowhere was the sense of a thriving democracy more portrayed than in the coming together to support the “mother country” in the two World Wars, with thousands laying down their lives, for a concept founded on a common ideal, principle, or faith. Meanwhile one of the modern bodies of democracy was - at the same time as women got the vote - a health system, created for all. We also battled with the consequences of the national sale of assets to fund the defence of democracy – still living, believe it or not, with the abolition of the Slave Trade. Many will find it hard to come to terms with the fact that, although the UK connection with this trade officially happened in 1833-1840, throughout the British Empire, we were still paying off the money borrowed for the Slave Abolition Act in 2015!
On a lesser scale, the UK took steps to abolish child labour, to improve schooling (although the battle between so-called private and state-run schooling continues to this day) and workers were striking and marching against poverty and unemployment (Yarrow march 1936 et al.). On the back of this poverty and the feeling of frustration about the condition of the country, trade unions gained in power, especially in the fields of mining, textiles and transportation. An even-minded person would perhaps admit that the people of the country were fighting back in the only way they knew how: by denying their labour. Indeed they were “voting with their feet”, a democratic exercise of their human rights.
Before readers assume that this is a rant about human rights, let me assure you that it is not: it is simply a portrayal of some of the major steps along the way, as the British people, led by the English in 1215, gradually threw off the yoke imposed by royalty, later the “robber barons” and finally the affluent upper classes. This development of the “rights of man” (Thomas Paine in 1791, published a book, in which he linked the French Revolution with the idea that popular political revolution is permissible “when a government does not safeguard the natural rights of its people”) was a gradual process, over several centuries, but sped up as modern communications allowed ideas to be spread over the internet and similar systems.
Meanwhile the other major component countries, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, in no particular order, also showed a strong and understandable tendency to rebel and "do their own thing".
It is of note that, impoverished though she was after the Second World War, Britain (readers will forgive if I shorten Great Britain and Northern Ireland to “Britain, or the UK), played a major role, in international deliberations, post WW2. This applied, amongst other activities, to help to rebuild Europe, much of which was in ruins, both financially and in terms of assets and infrastructure. Of course, anyone with a grasp of basic history knows that this included the initial building blocks of a Free Trade Area, or Market, which grew in time, into the European Union.
This one short paragraph above disguises an enormous development, which in time has proved enormously popular, no matter how some may try to gainsay it, encompassing an amazing mixture of long-term civilisations, including a rather unsteady Greece, the so-called cradle of democracy, and many younger and smaller countries, some of which did not exist, at the end of WW2.
Again, despite sniping and protestations to the contrary, this union, as opposed to the British one, developed a democratic system of elected members from each country, a council and a mechanism for enabling each countries’ own elected senior ministers to exercise the right to contribute to - and vote for – its further development. It would be a surprise only to the most naïve, that this development, enabling seventy-five years of relative peace in Europe, has not been without its problems along the way, but try to point to a similar union which has not? Indeed compare the UK’s chequered history of sometimes vicious infighting between Irish, Scots, Welsh and English. Compare also, the “Land of the Free”, in which the American Confederacy fought against its Southern counterpart; and some in Virginia still quarrel to this day!
So, while the Continent of Europe was rebuilding itself, with initial whole-hearted input from the British, what of our own “Home of Democracy”?
We have only to say the word “Brexit”, to recall immediately the appalling schism that has developed in our union, and the negative effect this is having on our immediate international neighbours. One has only to take advantage of the Freedom of Movement that we have enjoyed for the last seventy-five years, to realise the shock and horror, the incredulity and derision, the snigger behind the hand that confronts the British, as they travel, holiday, or read the international press.
To say that we have become an international laughing stock, as the present Tory government wrangles about percentage points of approval or disapproval, is an understatement.
Yet, this wrangle, voiced in every newspaper, TV show and published article, both pre and during the pandemic, seem to make little difference to the small yet vocal group of alt-right politicians, bent on wresting political and financial advantage and lining their own pockets and those of their friends and cronies. Never mind that current polling indicates some 55-65% of the population of the UK would prefer to cancel Brexit. (Professor John Curtice, political guru, asserts that many of the young, who were unable to vote in 2016, are now “twice as likely to vote Remain and puts the Leavers on only 44-47%).
But here is the crux of the matter. Under the current “first past the post” (FPTP) electoral system, the public vote of 2016 overturned the referendum of 1975 and since then, the 2019 election, by what some regard as devious means, persuaded the great British public to return the Tories with a majority of 80 members in Parliament. This completely ignored the fact that a “proportional representation” (PR) electoral system would return a very, very different result. Yet neither the Tories, nor indeed the Labour Party, would vote for such a change, as their power base depends upon the status quo.
It does not help that the major party, in favour of PR, the Liberal Democrats, were completely out-manoeuvred and beaten, in the 2019 election: hardly a cause for confidence in the future. Other smaller parties also exist, such as the relatively new and centre of the road Renew Party, and the Green party, but again, under FPTP, the “big beasts” of politics are reluctant to switch loyalty, to more centrist policies, which lack a high profile. Except by honest and reasonable people, of which there seem to be fewer and fewer these days, most support tends to go to the headline catching extremists, rather than the outmoded concept that “the government of the people should be by the people, for the people”!
In that respect, the writer and many others, both friends and acquaintances, are amazed at the supine attitude of the average “Brit in the Streets”, compared with, for example, the French and many other significant countries in Europe, who are not slow to voice their views on poor government. Apart from two major marches, which saw not a single person arrested, the British public seems to have rolled on its back to have its tummy tickled! People outside the UK regard this as quite extraordinary and quite at odds with the battles and indeed a Civil War, fought for democratic freedom.
Meanwhile, the UK’s current government takes full example of the impact of the pandemic, to cement its grip on power and to railroad through policies and stratagems, that cannot be queried or fought on the floor of the House of Commons. It might be said that the Tories have a stranglehold on the throat of Democracy.
One other point before I close. From one who lives most of the time now, in Mainland Europe, amongst a thriving, educated, motivated group of 1.3 million British citizens, I must note that two aspects of life are paramount. We view with mounting horror, the downward slide of democratic freedoms in our mother countries of the union; and we feel embarrassed at the pity we encounter, amongst our fellow Europeans.
Is Democracy dead in the United Kingdom? Not yet, maybe, but on its last gasp.
The Royal Prerogative has forced the Prime Minister to go back to the people. That’s a good thing, says Renew supporter John Nucciarone.
British parliamentary democracy maintains, in essence, a balance of power.
As the country changed over the centuries, the balance of power between the monarch, Lords, and Commons did too. In the 1900s, majority governments became the norm, with the executive not only becoming more powerful but also with a higher degree of concentration in the Prime Minister’s office and his special advisors. The checks and balances reserved to not only the Commons but also the Lords and Her Majesty increased in importance. But, as the Commons and Lords are driven by partisan politics, Her Majesty’s powers cannot be re-characterised as only ceremonial by the very people she is meant to provide a check and balance against. Her powers must remain relevant. In the 21st century, they belong to the people.
An unconstitutional prorogation?
The UK constitution is a political constitution, and its conventions have a political dimension to them. That would include Her Majesty’s powers including her right to grant prorogation. The power to deny or grant it rests with her and is neither political or a convention. It is her legal right. The convention that she follows the advice of her PM is only that - a convention. The political aspect comes in when she uses her judgement as to whether to follow the advice or not.
The only way one could argue Her Majesty granting prorogation (and perhaps the advice given by the PM) is unconstitutional is if it eliminates an option MPs would otherwise have had, meaning the Queen is no longer seen as being a check and balance on Parliament, but rather a threat to the Commons.
And then you have to answer the question: did Her Majesty, in granting the prorogation, eliminate the possibility of stopping a no-deal Brexit by legislative means or reducing the amount of days available for a new government to be formed?
A court would also likely take into account the possibility of a No-Confidence Vote being held before the Queen’s Speech has been eliminated. It should then note that the Opposition was unlikely to call for one during the period before prorogation and has been playing tennis with both the government and itself on this issue for over two years.
It is important to note that a court would need to rule that the advice given by the PM and Her Majesty’s decision to grant the prorogation was illegal, as to do otherwise would reduce Her Majesty’s role to that of a figurehead, throwing the rest of the UK constitution into a spin and putting us on the road becoming a Republic. This is not something within the court’s jurisdiction and powers.
More than a pretty crown
Under the guise of not politicising the Queen, a process has started where the Queen is seen as only as a figurehead with no subjective element in her decisionmaking process. This could not be more wrong or unconstitutional.
This reasoning or interpretation of the constitution would enable a PM to request a prorogation beyond 31st October, or linger on after losing a non-confidence vote and another government is ready to be formed. The Queen may rely on her PM to convey an accurate picture of the political landscape, but the final decision still rests with her. For this reason, her advisors at the Palace must be independent of the Prime Minster’s Office.
Her Majesty likely granted this prorogation as a result of thinking that, should the House of Commons wish to finally make itself heard, it can - either by bringing down the government or passing legislation preventing a no-deal Brexit.
Perhaps she is asking them to get on with it if that is what is necessary or desired. Either way, have no doubt that the Queen’s legal powers, including her power to dismiss a PM (after the Commons has acted) now have our Prime Minister considering an election to avoid a No-Confidence vote and the possibility of having to leave Downing Street so soon.
In this piece, Renew member Paul Gerken compares Boris Johnson's proroguing of Parliament to Jafar's control and exploitation of the genie's powers in Aladdin.
As much as our new overlords will try to convince you otherwise: this isn’t normal. As much as our unwritten constitution can’t define the proroguing of Parliament as illegal, it shouldn’t mean that we understand it as a correct resolution to our Brexit crisis. It isn’t.
What Alexander “Boris” Johnson is doing, as an unelected Prime Minister with no mandate, is wielding the monarch’s power in a way usually vested only in those who have been voted for by the majority of the population. Yet within a matter of days of being honoured with these privileges, he has taken those powers and stretched our political fabric to the point of breaking.
He has not acted like a guardian of our institutions and traditions, but a wanton destroyer. This ain’t right; this ain’t OK.
The power of the Prime Minister is eyed enviously by many western democratic leaders. The freedom to act comes from being able to execute many things in the name of the Queen, who still holds ultimate authority. But, like many commentators state, the idea that the Queen will suddenly begin to exercise these powers herself and go against the will of the Prime Minister is for the birds. The Monarch’s power is like the genie in Aladdin; in the hands of the good it can be a force for great success. In the hands of Jafar? Well, all shit breaks loose and the kingdom lies in rubble.
And see how scheming, duplicitous, machiavellian Jafar has got his hands on our genie.
Ladies and gents, if you think BoJo is only going to pull this stunt once, I think you’ll be in for a surprise. Once someone tastes power, they don’t give it up easily. Especially not someone who has committed more backstabbings to get power than those in the entirety of Game of Thrones.
This man, this caricature, has been rewarded at every turn for his deceit and treachery. It was he who turned on his leader and supported leave, just to take down David Cameron. It was he who quit the cabinet, just so he could manoeuvre against Theresa May. And yet his star has continued to rise. He has now retired parliament to push through his own agenda and it’s so far, so good. So why should he change? With every outrageous act, he becomes emboldened.
This is not a man who will later turn around and believe in a genuine parliamentary democracy when the choppy waters of Brexit are cleared. He will do this again and again, unless he is stopped now.
Those that support him should be losing sleep for shame. Rudd, Javid, Hancock and the rest are the squawking parrots to this egomaniac Jafar. The best they can and should do is fly away, whilst Parliament returns to enact its vengeance. And Parliament must unite without equivocation nor hesitation and bring down this man. Once gone, we need to write our constitution to ensure this never happens again.
The genie must be placed firmly back in the bottle.
Another day, another moment where you can’t believe Anne Widdecombe isn’t an actual zombie from an apocalyptic Brexit-dystopian future sent to the present to kill us all, according to Renew member Paul Gerken.
Strictly’s Anne Widdecombe has taken to the Brexit limelight like, as she may put it, an oppressed slave to a 17th-century transatlantic trading vessel. Shackled, bound, beaten, gagged, tortured and ripped from her family and possessions, Widdecombe took to the stage in Brussels. Anne was here to tell her oppressors that enough was enough; Britain - that cowed, bruised and abused nation - was setting itself free. Like the displaced Africans in America, we will rise up to a glorious future once rid of our brutal subjugation. Just you wait and see…
Not lost on Anne is the fact that the EU Parliament is the only democratic institution that has actually ever given UKIP, and latterly the Brexit Party, a democratic voice. Widdecombe is aware that the UK’s first-past-the-post system means that their voice and party would have inevitably always been crowded out by the two big parties. Of course, it is only the democratic institutions of the EU that have given them the oxygen and platform to survive, but this doesn’t matter at all, because – FISHING NET LEGISLATION! Damn you to hell, EU, and the laws we’re allowed to vote on.
All this reminds me of is that point in history where we ruled a quarter of the globe, shipped people around in chains and sucked vast swathes of the world of their resources without a hint of a democratic voice. It’s exactly the same as our evil past, and we want out!
Alas, at least like with slaves past, there is a generous per diem on offer to Anne for her commitment to voice for the oppressed. I’m not sure how much it was back in ye olde days, but one can only imagine that, with inflation, it was similar to the 320 euros Widders will claim. Did all oppressed slaves also get about a £7.5k base too?
Who’s to know. Probably. Anne wouldn’t go throwing around the comparison if it weren’t pretty much like for like.
Oh for the time we can be free, ruled by the Brexit Party that has no members, just an altruistic Nigel Farage at its helm. I can smell the freedom now. Glorious!
It’s often said that a free press is essential to a healthy democracy. When compared to standards elsewhere in the world, the British press looks to be doing pretty decently.
We shouldn’t get too carried away, though; in the absence of a Xinhua News equivalent, control over our national media has been granted to an entirely different (though perhaps equally troubling) faction. Most British media outlets are controlled by a tiny and very wealthy elite, who are typically as elusive as they are unaccountable.
It was Napoleon who once argued that “four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” Judging by the situation today, he seems to have been on to something.
News broadcasters wield tremendous power over politicians, who for the most part, do everything they can to avoid unfavourable coverage. It’s easy to see why, given the considerable influence papers can have on voting behaviour.
With SW1 at their heels, media moguls are free to present whatever version of events they so choose – however far this may deviate from the truth. Indeed, Brexit has made this more obvious than perhaps ever before.
It’s no secret that some of Brexit’s major backers have already got richer as the rest of the country’s economy has wavered post-2016. All the while, it’s been easy enough to funnel public anger towards Westminster and Brussels and away from their own misgivings – unchallenged by a government more than happy to dance to their tune.
If anyone needs convincing, they need only look back on Westminster’s response to 2016. Its unquestioning insistence on respecting the referendum result, despite the serious legal failures of both major Leave campaigns, is telling to say the least. In any other circumstance, such violations would have been more than enough to entirely cripple any mandate. In fact, the only thing preventing courts nullifying the result altogether was the fact that it wasn’t legally binding.
Yet, politicians were complicit and the right-wing press in particular was handed full control of the narratives surrounding the referendum. Why? Put simply, being tarnished with the ‘Enemies of The People’ brush doesn’t exactly strengthen your electoral prospects.
Of course, we’ve come to accept a level of bias in major publications as being pretty much par for the course. Most papers are unashamedly prejudiced in their political leanings, and after all, sensationalism is how they sell their wares.
It’s no secret that people are drawn to papers that create echo chambers for their own views – a problem no doubt, but the phenomena’s very existence relies, at least, on a conscious public awareness of newspaper bias. We’re perhaps less susceptible to spurious headlines from the usual suspects, but they’re by no means the only offenders.
Worse, arguably, is the bias that now exists within broadcasters with an explicit duty to be neutral. I’m referring, of course, to the BBC. BBC complaints have reportedly been flooded by remain voters angry at the lack of coverage given to pro-Remain MPs and anti-Brexit marches.
Despite his recent outburst on BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Farage has a lot to be thankful for. Even his most pernicious claims, and those of others on his side, continue to go largely unchallenged despite their (in some cases obvious) untruth. Lest we not forget, talk of leaving the single market was “absolute madness” until an overnight U-turn in the direction of a no-deal; a decision that flew seemingly under the radar of the mainstream media.
Last week, an episode of a BBC panel show was cancelled, due to it featuring the interim leader of new pro-Remain party Change UK. The feature was deemed inappropriate to run during election time. Meanwhile, Farage’s countless fish-related photo-ops continue to get air time (needless to say, the fish do not look best pleased).
While it might be doubtful that the BBC is harbouring an express pro-Brexit bias, it’s easy to see where it’s unwillingness to challenge key Leave supporters has come from. The corporation is consistently under pressure from the reactionary right, and its fearfulness of this is palpable.
It is hard to imagine a world in which even the most popular frontmen of Brexit will escape the process unscathed; as the realities set in and public opinion turns against them, the democratic process will hold them to account. But writers, journalists, media fat-cats – the less discernible architects of Brexit – are unlikely to suffer the same consequences. People will be buying The Sun long after Rees-Mogg is cast into political irrelevancy.
We must maintain a free press, but there is no freedom without responsibility. Our media is responsible for public education, which we cannot do without if we are to place trust in democracy.