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Opinion

Dishonesty is being institutionalised at Westminster, with profound implications for democracy

01 Feb 2022 3 minutes Read
Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons. ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Jane Dodds, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

Maria Ressa, a Filipino journalist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, said: “Without facts, you can’t have truth.  Without truth, you can’t have trust.  Without trust, you have no shared reality, no democracy, and it becomes impossible to deal with our world’s existential problems:  climate, coronavirus, the battle for truth.”

Boris Johnson continues to be accused of lying.  The latest reports of parties taking place at the heart of Government when the rest of the country was obeying lockdown rules are only the most recent of a long and list – the events surrounding the refurbishment of Downing Street; the claim on the side of a Vote Leave bus that the NHS would get £350m per week from the NHS; and even misleading the Queen over the advice he gave her on suspending Parliament.

Yet Johnson, and the Government he leads in Westminster, appear to get away with it again and again.

And when – as increasingly seems to be the case in Government at Westminster – dishonesty is institutionalised, the implications for democracy are profound.  The corruption at the centre radiates outwards; we’ve already seen those hapless government ministers delegated to repeat the line, compromising their own integrity to defend that centre, or the culture of exceptionalism that leads to public servants being dragged – whether willing or not – into that apparatus of dishonesty.

Cynicism rules, giving a free pass to the climate change deniers, the anti-vaxxers, the conspiracy theorists.  There is no trust, no objectivity, just a contest for who can shout the loudest.  And it’s particularly dangerous when the same government is seeking to limit judicial review and criminalise protest, closing down the means by which government is challenged.

Crisis

This undermining of truth is particularly problematic when tackling two of the greatest challenges facing humanity – Covid 19 and climate change – is so dependent on trust.

Covid and Climate Change have one key factor in common: that tackling them involves us changing the way we live our lives – Covid in the immediate term, climate change in the longer term – with severe consequences, for ourselves and others, if we do not.  And that means as a society we must be able to trust the people we elect to make the big decisions, based on the evidence, because trust is what makes it possible to take difficult decisions collectively.

Liberalism is a political philosophy that is rooted firmly in adopting grounded, rational decisions towards our objectives of a fairer and more open society.  We always seek to distinguish between ends and means.

And throughout the pandemic, Welsh Liberal Democrats have sought to support the science.  We have aimed to be a critical friend to the Welsh Government – recognising that they have to make difficult judgement calls against the background of uncertain and changing science.  Where we have criticised – as for instance over Covid passports – we have done so on the grounds of evidence.

And on climate change, we have placed ourselves firmly on the side of the science.

As a party, we Liberal Democrats have learned some hard lessons about what happens when politicians in Government fail to match deeds to words.  But the latest revelations from No 10 make it clear that we are now facing an unprecedented crisis of democracy.

Because when dishonesty is institutionalised at the top of Government, the victim is democracy itself.


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hdavies15
hdavies15
3 months ago

I guess I’d find it easier to swallow lectures on integrity from any LibDem if they had not engaged with Cameron in 2010. The ditching of their policy on low cost access to higher education in some ways signposted the drift towards looser and lower standards among government ministers and politicians in general.

Richard 1
Richard 1
3 months ago

There was never a better time for the centre and left parties to unite against the broad self-interested coalition that is the Parliamentary Conservative Party. We need an electoral pact to contest the next election as a straight fight between Tories and The Rest on a platform of delivering a proportional voting system.

CJPh
CJPh
3 months ago
Reply to  Richard 1

Coalition building can work to form government, not for opposition. When a sum combines to enforce a negative it quickly implodes. No votes for unionist parties, no support for parties without a pro-indy wing. There is no Liberal party in Wales or this extant UK. Jane drops her dog whistles pretty heavily here – “conspiracy theorists”, “anti-vaxxers”, “the science”, all deeply illiberal, ideological terms that serve only to ‘other’ dissenters. Liberalism once sought to counter such ideas with better ideas, compitence and, as Ms Dodds ironically mentions, “rational decisions” (supporting ‘the science’ is an act of blind faith, not rationality… Read more »

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
3 months ago
Reply to  Richard 1

Absolutely. But its a mountain to climb in England, so join with us in Cymru, Jane?

Quornby
Quornby
3 months ago
Reply to  Richard 1

Labour will oppose PR for exactly the same self serving reasons as the Tories.

Erisian
Erisian
3 months ago
Reply to  Quornby

As they did in preference to forming a coalition with the Lib Dems.
Never forget Cameron was avoidable and it was Labours fault he led us where we are today.

Richard
Richard
3 months ago

Finding a distinctive space for Liberal views must be quite a task. Others move onto your ground and steal your best ideas. Environment, PR , Civil liberty matters and Equal Opps plus localism we’re all their bags 💼- all good issues In over 33 years in elected governance I found their dwindling number of Lib elected members so decent and community focused. Many were very pro Welsh language and favoured Wales based structures though others were just looking for a ‘ none of the above ‘ home on rough times for their natural affiliation. Their passing in Wales reduces electoral… Read more »

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard

The general thrust of the article is reasonable and Richard 1’s suggestion of a united Anti-Tory front at the next election standing on an Electoral Reform platform would seem to be the only way to make votes matter. Sadly, the parties of which I have been a member all seem to have the bunker mentality that there must be a candidate from ‘our’ party rather than raising their sights to achieveing the greater good of electoral reform and the rejection of the Tories.

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