How does one begin to explain the current social and political climate in the Western world? A chain of unprecedented events has created a plethora of new, futuristic vocabulary (such as alternative facts, fake news and the Oxford English Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016, post-truth) that are yet to be properly defined. Although, that hasn’t stopped some individuals from taking on the mammoth task of providing much-needed clarity. Matthew D’Ancona’s exploration of post-truth delves into existentialism, post-modernism and digital mediums with a final call-to-action which is to be expected from an established British journalist and columnist.
With such a relevant background, one would assume that fake news – as a by-product of post-truth – would be featured heavily in the 150-page book. Yet, save for a couple of small sections on the topic, fake news isn’t mentioned that often. Instead, D’Ancona’s analysis of post-truth acts as a centre-point – a springboard – for him to jump seamlessly from discussions about social media and clickbait to the role of satirists.
Given the short length of the book, Matthew is quick to jump to the heart of his commentary, which appears to be that of post-modernism. To explain such a complex subject (and one which lacks clarity) with a critical perspective that is just as vague and detailed is a bad move, but a move d’Ancona makes nonetheless. Whilst he should be commended for trying to define the indefinable, a couple of sentences is not enough to clarify the main basis for his argument. Long story short, I was thankful that my knowledge of post-modernism from A-Levels hadn’t left my mind completely, but that’s not to say that I didn’t struggle to understand the basis for d’Ancona’s argument. As someone who approached the book with a brief knowledge of what post-modernism entails, one has to wonder whether someone without said understanding would be able to comprehend the more intrinsic aspects of Matthew’s commentary.
Nevertheless, like most works of non-fiction, Post-Truth includes some interesting and thoughtful points about the decline of trust and accuracy following Trump and Brexit. It’s towards the end of the book – the fifth chapter titled ‘”The Stench of Lies”: The Strategies to Defeat Post-Truth’ – where d’Ancona really sells his perspective. Summarising the best bits from previous chapters, the columnist reminds us of the current situation, and attempts to provide some solutions to the post-truth problem the Western world is currently experiencing. Although this section contains the motivational bravado possessed by most successful newspaper columnists, it still feels somewhat disorientating despite D’Ancona stating many options for society going forward.
If anything, Matthew d’Ancona’s Post-Truth raises more questions than it does providing answers, although that is understandable given the complexities of the subject matter. Whilst it is far from the definitive conclusion to the problem of falsehood, the journalist has at least begun to shed some light on an important socio-political issue in this small publication.
After nearly three weeks since the triggering of Article 50, the Tories have finally spat out the Brexit pill which no party wants to swallow. A snap election on June 8 will continue to create more uncertainty that Theresa May promised to end.
“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.
“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” the Prime Minister said in a speech earlier today.
We must be suspicious. An arrogant Conservative Party determined to defy the rulings of judges and Lords to pass the Brexit Bill has once again resorted to Cameron’s levels of cowardice. Voters will remember that, but they must question the true reason for calling the election.
The immediate presumption would be that it is an attempt to decimate Labour, but that is questionable. It seems too great a risk for May to sacrifice the Tory majority (and a supposed lack of opposition on Brexit from Corbyn) to ‘kill’ the left-wing party. If the PM expects to win back a majority in June, then she is forgetting that a general election has become more than a Labour vs. Conservative battle.
A call for a snap election is – of course – a gamble, and it’s one May appears to have taken due to the disunity in other parties (according to her speech, at least).
With Labour’s in-fighting continuing to bubble every once in a while, the SNP tackling their own referendum and the Lib Dem’s membership slowly rising, it seems as though May is aiming for a wipeout whilst building upon her majority. But when has disunity within other parties ever hindered the Tories’ Brexit plans? If anything, it’s almost given May a ‘carte blanche’ to do her thing without any real scrutiny.
It’s even more confusing when the Conservatives have always been arrogant and stubborn when enforcing policies. To gamble their majority for the sake of silencing other parties, or getting them to support their plan, seems unfathomable.
So what is the explanation for the snap election? My friend Jarrad Johnson raises an interesting point, saying on Twitter that “someone or something has forced May’s hands behind the scenes.”
It’s an interesting comment when we look back at the past. The last time we had a vote between the typical five-year period was, of course, the 2016 EU referendum. On that occasion, it was believed that this was to end the internal conflict within the Tory party about whether we should leave the European Union. Now, as we face another surprise election before the end of the usual five-year term, we have to consider whether the same arguments are occurring once more.
There’s a dangerous indignation sweeping the right. Donald Trump’s war against the media is an annoying distraction from his ‘Make America Great Again’ mantra, and in the UK, the judiciary and legislature continue to frustrate Theresa May’s Article 50 deadline.
This week, it was the House of Lords’ amendment to the Brexit bill to secure the rights of EU nationals living in Britain. It comes just over a month after the High Court ruled Parliament must have a say on the legislation, and the PM isn’t happy. The government has said that it will try to overturn the amendments.
“Our message to MPs is that we expect this bill to go through unamended,” a No. 10 spokesman said in an article on Sky News’ website. “MPs voted it through unamended and we expect that to be the case.”
Indeed they did, but the two arms of Parliament must agree in order for a bill to be passed. A constant ‘ping pong’ between the two houses until a deal is made would only highlight the pure indignation of the Tories. They must stop this childish attitude of refusing compromise on such an important issue. Their fight against the decision of the judiciary was alarming, and now their reluctance to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK is hypocritical.
“We will provide certainty wherever we can,” Theresa May said in a speech at Lancaster House in January. “There will have to be compromises. It will require imagination on both sides, and not everybody will be able to know everything at every stage.
“But I recognise how important it is to provide […] everybody with as much certainty as possible as we move through the process. So where we can offer that certainty, we will do so.”
If anything, the issue with the Lords continues to cast doubt over the whole Brexit dilemma. The above comments contradict what the Conservatives are planning to achieve at the moment. If the Tory government can’t even reach a compromise with the House of Lords, then how on earth can they compromise with the EU member states in Brussels? The worrying remark by the PM in the January speech that ‘no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain’ hardly provides certainty. It sounds like a game of blackmail with the EU – a sense of hostility which we do not need at a time when the UK is so delicate.
It’s no surprise that EU nationals living in Britain feel like bargaining chips. The government has explained that it wants the rights of Britons living in other EU countries guaranteed before it can promise that the rights of EU nationals living here will be protected. Aside from the ‘putting our own people first’ connotations that creates, what happens in the unlikely circumstance that the European Union cannot guarantee the rights of ex-pats? Will the ‘no deal’ rule still apply, and we would start deporting EU nationals living here?
As Lady Molly Meacher said to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I believe it [the amendment] can be won in the Commons on the basis of morality and principle” – to fail to guarantee the rights of EU nationals would be a dismissive action at a time when the definition of ‘Britishness’ is under scrutiny.
The Tories must of course keep some cards close to their chest, but the dangerous levels of blackmail which the Conservatives plan to adopt in Brussels – with EU nationals as a ‘bargaining chip’ – is an arrogant way to approach negotiations. It also contrasts the sweet-talking of Trump and the state visit invitation – why must we treat a divisive President with respect yet approach the EU with hostility?
To ‘cherrypick’ and blackmail our way to a deal will only decrease our chances of getting what we want, and could effect the strong relationships with other European countries that a post-Brexit Britain desperately needs.
The post-Brexit debate has always been about seeing both sides of a very complicated equation. Our exit from the EU must satisfy the leave voters that wanted a return of Parliamentary sovereignty, whilst pleasing those who wanted more controls on immigration. It must be a clear removal from a union, whilst also reassuring remainers that their rights to live, work and travel around Europe won’t be affected – at least not too much. However, one of the biggest problems Theresa May failed to solve in her speech at Lancaster House yesterday was that of certainty.
There is a balance to be struck ahead of triggering Article 50. Understandably, May must keep some of her cards close to her chest, as it were, when going to the negotiating table – not everything can be disclosed to the public beforehand in case it jeopardises our position. Yet, the vagueness that comes with describing Brexit with cake metaphors, colours or the popular line ‘Brexit means Brexit’ does not provide certainty to those who need it most: the remainers. Uncertainty leads to frustration and anger, which only adds to a debate which is currently dividing our country.
Of course, the first point about the PM’s 12-point plan for leaving the EU was about certainty, but whilst the transitions of EU law into British law after Brexit (until they are repealed by Parliament) was reassuring, that’s not the only thing remainers are worrying about. Sure, all this talk about a ‘Global Britain’ may reassure some business owners if they forget about the fact we’re leaving the single market, but what about dealing with the division in the UK? What about addressing the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and right-wing populism? What are you doing about those, Theresa?
In a sense, it was a statement structured like a non-fiction novel. They mostly tell us things we already know, but present some new information too so we don’t feel patronised. Unfortunately for Mrs May, telling us that we’ll need to control our immigration and that we want to make our own laws doesn’t prevent a feeling of deja vu from lingering in the air. Likewise, mentioning that we’ll be leaving the single market and protecting workers’ rights (the latter should please Labour to an extent) in passing won’t help either.
It was a speech littered with juxtapositions too. LBC’s James O’Brien mentioned on his show yesterday that it suggested “we’re a global country that doesn’t want you to come here”. Whether it’s a lack of detail or contradictory remarks, both don’t provide the clarity we need.
Finally, there came a line which will only add to the anxiety remainers have at the moment. “While I am sure a positive agreement can be reached,” said May, “I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”
During the referendum campaign, those who backed a vote to stay mocked and joked about Brexit having a disappointing outcome. The comments all followed the same tone of it being a magical post-Brexit future which never comes to fruition (be it told in the style of a dodgy divorce, bad plans for a night out or so on). It’s a joke which may just become possible.
After all, Theresa May plans to give Parliament a vote on the final deal. Yet, with Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party MPs all opposing the Conservative’s plan for Brexit (on varying levels), it’s unlikely that an agreement on the terms of exit will be struck in the Commons.
A disastrous ‘no deal’ remains a possibility. This, combined with May’s unclear comments on leaving the single market and resolving our country’s division, has only created more uncertainty – something forced optimism always fails to mask.
December is a month which always prompts reflection. It’s a time when we all look back at the New Year’s Resolutions we made in January and then subsequently forgot about, whilst once again scrutinising the news stories which broke over the past 12 months.
The past year was a one of fear, loss and division, but as the New Year offers us the opportunity to hurl our favourite expletive at 2016, we must not put it in a box and simply move on. We all know that 2017 will likely involve some aftershocks from key political events this year (those being Trump and Brexit, of course), but we must be ready, and use the lessons of 2016 to prepare ourselves.
UK politics is like a soap opera full of unnecessary drama that none of us want to see, where the theatrical Prime Minister’s Questions is like an argument on the cobbles of Coronation Street. However, with any soap opera, tuning in at the wrong time leads us scratching our heads and wondering what on earth is going on. Yet, when it comes to British politics, we only have to thank our vote to leave the European Union in June 23 for shaking up and redefining the system. Now, the soap opera that is the UK political scene has gone right back to episode one. This is the time for young people to get interested in public affairs.
One can only hope that 18-25 year olds are still passionate about the subject after Brexit, as the historic vote determines how our future pans out. Although, whilst leave voters will keep a close eye on the government’s plans for our exit, the question of whether those who backed remain continue to be involved in politics is debatable.
A YouGov poll earlier this year revealed that 71% of 18-25 year olds voted to stay and 64% of 65 and overs backed the leave vote. It was a poll (or a variant of it) which made its way onto social media after the vote was announced and numerous people made the remark about the voices of young people being drowned out by the older generation. However, as we move into 2017, young people must not be angry at older people for carrying out a democratic act. To give up voting in resignation or protest would only reduce the voice of young people in general elections or referenda. The frustration and disenfranchisement must stop and be replaced by a call for politicians to listen to us as a generation – especially when it comes to having our say on Brexit. As British politics returns to phase one, now is the perfect time for young people to grasp the current political climate, stand up, and voice our concerns.
Whilst 18-25 years must continue to place pressure on politicians, another sense of redirection must occur when it comes to dealing with the rise of right-wing populism. The referendum in June asked the British people whether they trusted the representative body that is the European Union, and we decided that we were going to leave it. Rather than the aftermath of the decision raising questions about the political establishment in both the UK and Europe, a campaign of misdirection by Vote Leave moved the topic of discussion onto immigration and free movement (after their economic argument somewhat failed and the giant red bus became a parody). This, of course, is an important issue to debate and consider, but this new, nationwide talking point also gave the racists, neo-Nazis and far-right nationalists a sense of validation when it comes to targeting specific races or religions. That has to stop in 2017.
It’s something which has been explained before, but instead of blaming government (the policy-makers), those who possess these extreme right-wing views blame immigrants when it comes to issues such as jobs and housing.
This is why 2017 must be the year of redirection. Frustration, if it is to remain in the new year, must be aimed at the right people: the establishment. Alongside that, of course, positive emotions and feelings must emerge – those being love, passion, unity and hope.
Britain is in stasis. Ironically, for ‘leave’ voters who put a cross in the box out of a desire for change, progression is yet to take place. The general public are left confused and twiddling their thumbs as a leaked memo fuels concerns that Theresa May has ‘no plans’ for Brexit. We are forced to ‘make-do’ and accept the result of the referendum, despite no clear signs of moving forward, and whilst we must have hope, it’s likely that most people have sunk into a state of defeatism as the establishment remains in power and right-wing populism sweeps the western world.
The EU referendum vote started the politics of emotion. We were forced to prophesise; we couldn’t predict what would happen if we voted to leave or remain a member. Granted, there were some facts – a minimal amount, mostly from an economical standpoint – but soon politicians realised that the limited supply of facts, soundbites and trump cards were not enough. It was time to play with people’s feelings. Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave opted for scaremongering, with the latter also encouraging nationalism towards the end of the campaign period. Now, months after the result, both emotions are present in our society: a fear for the future overshadowed by false patriotism and anti-immigration sentiment. Anger and frustration are the feelings to harness in order to win votes – it was used by Vote Leave and Trump, and it will soon be adopted by other Western countries (take France’s Marine Le Pen, for example).
This change in the political climate was even noted by the Oxford English Dictionary when it came to their word of the year. ‘Post-truth’, which they defined as being when ‘objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’ is the perfect description of the strategy political parties are adopting at the moment. Yet, it cannot just be applied to Westminster, but also to the media outlets which manipulate the masses.
We only need to turn to The Daily Mail for an example of this. The outspoken right-wing newspaper wet themselves when the vote to leave the European Union came in and now, as nationalism sweeps the western world, they feel as though their over-the-top, emotive journalistic style is now justified – and can be exaggerated further.
Bound to the pessimism of journalism, and with a sense that their emotive opinions are verified after Brexit, The Daily Mail has adopted a narrative of hate and extreme nationalism. The Enemies of the People headline still continues to attract controversy to this day and demonstrates the pure vitriol fired at any news which veers away from said narrative.
Britain’s vote to leave the European Union left an anti-establishment rhetoric hanging in the air. A clear vote against the Brussels elite (amongst other things) worried right-wing politicians. Underneath the facade of warped patriotism came the concern that this vote would impact the establishment’s position. After realising that, they twisted the story. It was not the 1% responsible for most of our country’s problems, but immigrants. However, the anti-establishment sentiment in society hasn’t gone completely.
Labour still has a very large membership and more people are seeing the true definition of who and what the elite is. We’ve realised that Theresa May’s promise of being a party which works for the 99%, not ‘the privileged few’ was a broken one, as they couldn’t help but enact their right-wing policies. Whilst our say over these decisions are minimal, there’s other methods people have adopted in order to change the structure of our establishment. If we can’t change the politicians, we can change the media.
To go back to topic of The Daily Mail, a campaign called Stop Funding Hate attracted huge amounts of press coverage last week. Its aim, as described in its bio on Twitter, is to “take on the divisive hate campaigns of the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express” and it received mass media attention after it encouraged toy manufacturer Lego to stop advertising with The Daily Mail.
Whilst Lego’s withdrawal of advertising is an ‘indirect’ way of changing the media’s message, the ‘banning’ of the three papers at the university is more direct, which some have branded as censorship.
The motion itself argues that “freedom of speech should not be used as an excuse to attack the weakest and poorest members of society”, but others believe that it restricts discussion and debate. At what point does freedom of speech no longer apply? It’s a question which has lingered around in our society for a long time, but as unpopular and controversial opinions dominate politics and the right-wing media, it’s been brought to the forefront.
There’s no clear answer, but in an era of post-truth, journalists must make factual reporting their priority, rather than emotive sensationalism. If that’s what Stop Funding Hate aims to direct the far-right newspapers towards then so be it. One of the main influencers of public opinion is the media, and so if we can get rid of extensive and excessive emotive reporting, we may just see a return to the politics of fact which we desperately need.
The answer lies in change and challenge, rather than dismissal. As the spoof reporter Jonathan Pie argues in his video on Trump’s victory, the left cannot continue to shut down political debate by hurling insults at individuals with controversial or opposing opinions, as that then leads to bottling their views up until they reach the only safe place they have: the polling booth.
The Stop the Hate campaign is a wise move against tackling hatred in society, but whilst we can try to change the media outlets which influence public opinion (to an extent, a biased media does benefit a democracy), the one thing we cannot censor are the people with these opinions themselves. Otherwise, the silent voters will elect the right-wing candidate again and the sense of defeatism in society will become ever stronger.
Brexit is a political enigma. Whilst Theresa May continues to scratch her head at what it could possibly mean – apart from the very helpful ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – the British public’s vote to leave the European Union has caused an economic crisis (until a recent decision saw it increase dramatically) and now, a constitutional one as well.
What is democracy? It’s a question with a sense of political existentialism which can only come around after such an important vote. The winning ‘leave’ vote was democracy in action, but now a ruling by the High Court has thrown up this question once again. Is it a decision which undermines the voice of the people, or is it a constitutional necessity? Now is a time when constitution and democracy collides.
The EU Referendum was nothing more than an advisory vote. Constitutionally, legally binding decisions come from Parliament and not the British people. MPs do that job for us and on this occasion, a little blip in the writing of the European Union Referendum Act 2015 means that the view of the public may be ignored in order to make a decision which is encased in law. Whilst making the ‘leave’ vote legal would do a good job of ending some aspects of the debate and add another big string to the government’s bow, the big concern lies with MPs: will they represent the view of their constituency, stick to the party line or vote based on their own opinions?
Keen to get to work on leaving the European Union and ‘make a success out of Brexit’, Theresa May and the rest of her cabinet seem to have shut themselves off from Parliament when it comes to triggering Article 50 and the negotiations that follow. Although the Prime Minister’s point about not having ‘a running commentary’ about the government’s plans is valid, having a political party make such a big national decision without criticism, commentary or accountability through Parliament sounds awfully familiar. In particular, it’s arguments you heard from the ‘leave’ side about the European Union. Oh, the irony.
If MPs do get to vote on triggering Article 50, then they should reproduce a result identical to June’s vote – to do the opposite would undermine the democratic element of Parliament. A decision as big as Brexit needs cross-party involvement. An early general election may not be at the forefront of the debate for now, but it is still on the horizon (worryingly for Labour). Although this would be great for allowing the public to choose their preferred avenue out of the EU – be it hard Brexit or soft Brexit – the Conservatives seem so keen to do the job all by themselves. Therefore, the involvement from other parties must come from criticising the government’s decisions on a regular basis.
Will politicians honour the result of the referendum if an Article 50 vote goes to Parliament? Of course, that’s uncertain, but it’s likely the Conservatives will vote to formally leave the EU to respect the view of British people (a stance they’ll promote like crazy under Theresa May’s ‘working for the majority, not the privileged few’ slogan). Meanwhile, the SNP – a thorn in the Tories’ side ever since the vote, after Scotland voted remain – are likely to oppose the triggering of Article 50. The Liberal Democrats, with leader Tim Farron keen to encourage more scrutiny of May’s Brexit decisions, will probably vote against it as well (the party opposed Brexit). As for Labour, it’s a question of whether the party is able to group together under Corbyn’s leadership to vote ‘no’ to the vote. In the most dramatic and undemocratic of u-turns, MPs could vote against Article 50, we’ll rejoin the EU and the months of crises will just serve as a haunting reminder of the right mess that the UK can get itself into. It’s a long shot, but let’s be honest, Brexit has taught us that anything could happen.
After the High Court’s ruling, what you have are numerous battles. People versus bureaucracy, government versus Parliament, democracy versus constitution. Members of Parliament are there to represent us, but if we’ve already had our say on a particular issue, are they required to do it again on this occasion?
A key element of democracy is accepting the result of a vote, but with the government announcing that they will appeal to the Supreme Court, the question of what decision is being made remains unknown, six months later.