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