Modern governments respond to only two varieties of emergency: those whose solution is bombs and bullets, and those whose solution is bailouts for the banks. But what if they decided to take other threats as seriously?
This week’s revelations of a catastrophic collapse in insect populations, jeopardising all terrestrial life, would prompt the equivalent of an emergency meeting of the UN security council. The escalating disasters of climate breakdown and soil loss would trigger spending at least as great as the quantitative easing after the financial crisis. Instead, politicians carry on as if nothing is amiss.
The same goes for the democratic emergency. Almost everywhere trust in governments, parliaments and elections is collapsing. Shared civic life is replaced by closed social circles that receive entirely different, often false, information. The widespread sense that politics has become so corrupted that it can no longer respond to ordinary people’s needs has provoked a demagogic backlash that in some countries begins to slide into fascism. But despite years of revelations about hidden spending, fake news, front groups and micro-targeted ads on social media, almost nothing has changed.
In Britain, for example, we now know that the EU referendum was won with the help of widespread cheating. We still don’t know the origins of much of the money spent by the leave campaigns. For example, we have no idea who provided the £435,000 channelled through Scotland, into Northern Ireland, through the coffers of the Democratic Unionist party and back into Scotland and England, to pay for pro-Brexit ads. Nor do we know the original source of the £8m that Arron Banks delivered to the Leave.EU campaign. We do know that both of the main leave campaigns have been fined for illegal activities, and that the conduct of the referendum has damaged many people’s faith in the political system. But, astonishingly, the government has so far failed to introduce a single new law in response to these events. And now it’s happening again. [Continue reading…]