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Democracy Health Check : the Power of Distraction

By Fiona Grahame

There’s a well worn phrase thrown out to justify a government’s actions: ‘you get the government you vote for’. And like most old adages it is complete nonsense. Let’s take a look .

In the 2016 advisory referendum vote to leave the European Union many people voted to do so because they genuinely believed what they were told by politicians that the money that was sent to the EU would now go to the NHS. £350million extra every week would go towards funding the National Health Service.

People voted for Brexit – not massively but they did and an advisory referendum somehow became binding and the UK left the EU. Is the NHS getting £350million extra every week – no it is not. Nowhere near it. In fact nurses, who have been brought to the point of exhaustion in dealing with the Covid19 pandemic are to get a shocking rise in pay of only 1%. Which in real terms is not a rise at all.

Meanwhile the UK Government’s failed track and trace system for England has cost £37billion, more than the whole budget for Scotland.

A court has also found that Prime Minister Boris Johnson misled Parliament over the publication of coronavirus contracts awarded to companies. The Good Law Project which brought the case to the High Court state (5th March)

3 days after the High Court ruled Government had acted unlawfully by failing to publish Covid contracts, Boris Johnson stood up in the House of Commons and reassured MPs and the public that all Covid-related contracts were “on the record”. However, the final Order handed down by the Judge today shows that what the Prime Minister told the House was not true. 

A 100 of the contracts have still not been published. Contracts paid for with public money and which lack transparency.

The Good Law Project statement continues:

Government has not only misled Parliament and placed inaccurate information before the Court, it has misled the country. 

Unless contract details are published they cannot be properly scrutinised – there’s no way of knowing where taxpayers’ money is going and why. Billions have been spent with those linked to the Conservative Party and vast sums wasted on PPE that isn’t fit for purpose. 

We have a Government, and a Prime Minister, contemptuous of transparency and apparently allergic to accountability. The very least that the public deserves now is the truth. 

The cynical would say ‘well you expect politicians to lie’, as if that somehow absolves them from the misuse of public funds and awarding contracts to their mates.

And that tack like ‘you get the government you deserve’ is a distraction technique to shift the ‘blame’ to the voter instead of where it firmly rests, with those we elect and in particular those in government.

Distraction is a powerful tool particularly when it joins forces with a leadership ‘cult’.

Let’s look at QAnon and Donald Trump.

QAnon started in the USA but it’s here now in the UK. It’s a huge group of people who believe their country is in danger. Indeed even their children are in danger. This belief runs deep. CNN interviewed a group of 6 people: 3 were former QAnon followers and 3 have family in QAnon. When you listen to their testimony you can see how people were sucked in to fake news and ‘blocked’ out other reports that didn’t fit in with what they were growing to believe. There was no real way to counter their arguments because that is seen as being part of the very conspiracy they say exists. They are totally resistant to rational discussion. They only hear and read reports that confirm their views.

Central to this is the figure of Donald Trump himself who they have elevated to the position of truth teller. He tells it straight they say. The election lie. The election was stolen. All disproved by factual evidence but so entrenched is their belief and love of leader that it is unshakable.

This love of leader is a worrying trend. You see it not just in the US with Donald Trump.

If you were to do a health check on democracy in the UK , including Scotland, you would have cause for concern. Don’t expect social media to help you out either. It’s very shouty. No one is listening. It’s as if all logic and common sense has left the building.

Journalists who try to ask searching questions, to hold political leaders to account for actions taken, statements made, documents not released – are attacked for doing what is their job. Some of the media take up the cheer leading or choose to join in with the distraction techniques to take the pressure off those they should be holding to account.

And what is the end game in all this?

Politicians and particularly leaders seek short term gains by the actions they choose to take. ‘How will this affect my popularity?’ ‘Will this be enough to win the election?’

It’s not how they started out. Most of them possibly had noble ideas of making a difference, improving society in some way. But that’s not how it’s turned out. They like being in power. They like the grace and favour of being able to appoint supporters to committees, ministerial posts and even to award contracts to mates. And when their focus shifts from the desire to make a difference to the personal pursuit of power then we as citizens have much to worry about. For retaining that position will require skills of distraction and deflection all backed up with a frenzy of supporters on social media closing down the discussion.

And whilst the short term gain may be retaining that position of power, keeping control, closing down the voices of dissenters and stifling discussion, in the long term the result may be very different. The unintended consequences for any leader in playing the popularity card is that it can vanish as quickly as it appeared. They will be yesterday’s news.

Politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians. Charles de Gaulle

4 replies »

  1. Lets turn a blind eye to the spin, obfuscation and hubris of our own dear leader.
    It is more important to point the finger at the hated Westminster rabble for it is there all our problems lie!.

  2. Lachlan, this article reads as a cautionary tale for the very thing you imply the writer is asking us to ignore. Further, it is Independence supporters who are trying to bring that to light in Scotland. Some of them have been arrested for doing so. It is telling to witness the level of support our own FM has been receiving from the traditional media in Scotland which is resolutely supportive of Westminster rule to the point of effectively being an arm of it.

  3. Lachlaun McDougal, this article reads explicitly as a cautionary tale for the very thing that you say is being ingored.

    As for Westminster. The traditional press in Scotland which is so resolutely in favour of Westminster rule as to be am arm of its power in Scotland and it has been providing a remarkable level of support for the FM. On the other hand it has been Independence supporters, SNP members and pro Independence bloggers who have been trying to bring these issues to light these past two years. Some of them have been arrested for doing so.

    The UK civil service in the form of the Permanent secretary and the crown agent are up to their necks in it. You speak as if we are somehow separate form Westminster?

  4. A great piece Fiona which needs to be spread far and wide to get people to wake up to the threats for democracy outlined in your article. We should all be sharing this asking the question “why are we allowing this to happen?” and “Do we care?” if the answer to the last question is Yes we care – then as a minimum we need to share and show we care

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