Democracy

Error message

  • Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).
  • Deprecated function: implode(): Passing glue string after array is deprecated. Swap the parameters in drupal_get_feeds() (line 394 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/common.inc).

‘Ukraine Fatigue’ Will be Vladimir Putin’s Biggest Ally in the Months Ahead

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 8:34pm in

Ukraine's victory matters to the world and the West should continue to provide support in whatever way it can, says Paul Niland

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

Vladimir Putin’s war of choice against Ukraine is now entering a new phase, necessitated by his failure to accomplish his early goals militarily and the attrition rate of his stockpile of equipment, ammunition and personnel.  

What began as an attempt to capture the entire country – through the thoroughly mistaken notion that if he could take the capital and install a proxy as head of state to replace the democratically-elected president – is now a battle focused in the eastern Donbas region and a coming battle to re-take the areas in southern Ukraine that have been occupied since 24 February.

Before this year's invasion, Russia controlled 7.2% of Ukraine, after it annexed Crimea and occupied parts of the east in 2014. The latter was made possible by the Russian Army’s hollowing-out of Ukraine’s border defences, leaving more than 400km of the internationally recognised border fully open for the insertion of fighters and weapons supplies from the Russian Federation.

Today, Russia is occupying some 20% of Ukraine and the active frontline extends to 1,200km. This has been allowed to happen by apathy, indifference, and ignorance.

The horrors of Bucha were not an isolated occurrence. The way the Russian Army has been shown to behave there are their standards, applied everywhere – and so the occupation of 20% of Ukraine leaves millions of people subject to abductions, executions, rapes and looting.

The near-total destruction of Mariupol was also not a one-off. In Severodeonetsk and Popsana Russia’s prime military tactic is one of scorched earth – everything in the path of their advance is being destroyed.

But the percentage of the country that is occupied by Russia is not the most important factor. The lives of individuals are being shattered.

One of the victims of Russia’s occupation of Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, was a 75-year-old woman named Larissa. She had founded a kindergarten there, which she ran for decades. She was a matriarch of that community, with many people having been entrusted to her care when they were very young. Larissa had just recently retired. She is one of Putin's victims.

Ignorance is cured by knowledge. Every voice from Ukraine has been telling the same story since 2014: they know they are not fighting 'separatists' but forces deployed by the Kremlin. This fact is important because is the weak response to Russia's 2014 invasion was the result of some people tending to believe that there is a shred of truth in the notion that the people of eastern Ukraine, being Russian speakers, have an affinity to Russia and are different from other Ukrainians. The conflict that started in 2014 wasn’t locally initiated but it led to Ukrainian citizens in 7.2% of the country becoming Russian hostages. Now, residents of 20% of Ukraine are hostages.

Apathy and indifference is also playing its part. But the notion of 'Ukraine fatigue' is a difficult one to fathom for those of us living in the country. With the war having now raged for 110 days, the only party with the right to be fatigued are the Ukrainians themselves, but they are not. Because they are engaged in an existential battle for the survival of their nation and the freedom of their fellow citizens. Not only can they not walk away from this fight, they will not – and nobody should expect them to.

In this way, the war in Ukraine does not stand at a crossroads. We are not facing a situation where it could go either way and either side may be able to win, for a variety of reasons.

While some commentators predicted that Kyiv could be encircled and fall in 72 hours, Ukrainians never accepted any such notion. While some expected that the significantly out-matched firepower that held on to the port city of Mariupol would collapse within days, Ukraine’s defenders in that city fought on for 84. This is no surprise to veteran watchers of this war who remember the heroic defence of Donetsk airport, which lasted for almost a year.

We will see the same commitment in Severodonetsk and Slovyansk, both of which are cities in the Donbas that are now the scenes of heavy battles. These will be contested street by street, building by building, by the land forces stationed there. They too will be protracted battles, despite the fact that those places are simultaneously being destroyed by Russia’s long-range artillery.

ENJOYING THIS ARTICLE?
HELP US TO PRODUCE MORE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.

PAY ANNUALLY - £39 A YEAR

PAY MONTHLY - £3.50 A MONTH

MORE OPTIONS

We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.

The Ukrainian Army will fight on until the end as long as it has the weapons and ammunition to do so. And it must – as Ukraine’s victory will have demonstrable international consequences too.

A global food security crisis is now at risk due to Russia’s continued blockade of Ukraine’s southern sea ports. If it continues, millions of people in Africa will face famine. The resulting flow of refugees and migrants will mean that the fall-out from Putin’s manufactured food crisis will not be confined to Africa.

Ukraine’s win will also be a clear win for democracy. At the heart of Putin’s rationale for war is the fact that Ukraine presents a democratic success story that is anathema to his corrupt rule. It shows that political plurality and free and fair elections are models that can be applied to countries that were once tethered to Russia’s yoke. This remains something that is, at the same time, irksome to Putin and a longstanding goal of the West.

Finally, Russia has presented a growing threat to the wider world for years. Recent months have seen rhetorical aggression aimed at the Baltic countries, Sweden, Finland, Poland and the Czech Republic to name but a few. By giving Ukraine the weapons it needs to legitimately crush Putin's army while it invades Ukrainian soil, western countries will reduce the future threat to themselves at the same time.

The West's continued support of Ukraine's battle is not only the right thing to do morally – it is also the best thing to do strategically.

Paul Niland is an Irish journalist based in Ukraine. He is the founder of the country’s national suicide prevention hotline, Lifeline Ukraine

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

European Court of Human Rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 9:58am in

This is from 2016 but bears repeating if you haven’t seen it before – what was decidedly comedic now turns out to be a straight prophesy: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was set up in 1949. It is completely separate and has nothing to do with the EU. It was actually set up... Read more

Johnson is Attempting to Revive his Prorogation Ploy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 12:56am in

His unlawful suspension of Parliament in 2019 is now informing the Prime Minister’s last-ditch attempt to save his political career, argues Sam Bright

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue – suspend – Parliament in late August 2019 was short-lived, but it dominated the news agenda through to 24 September, when the Supreme Court ruled that it was unlawful.

There was a palpable sense at the time among political observers that Johnson could feasibly resign, having instructed the Queen (she, after all, is the person who orders the prorogation of Parliament) to effectively break the law.

It was a moment that shook our constitutional consensus. By trying to shut down Parliament for a month, Johnson was attempting to bend democracy to his individual will – a means through which to limit scrutiny of his Brexit plans and force them through a divided legislature.

Johnson did not resign and his plan was eventually rationalised as the act of a Prime Minister trying to break a parliamentary impasse – one that had dominated democratic debate for the previous three years. Exceptional circumstances justified a radical response, some argued.

However, especially in recent days, it has become evident that prorogation was not a one-off event – it is now Johnson’s governing playbook.

The Prime Minister – guided by his former chief aide Dominic Cummings – gleaned a valuable political lesson from the prorogation affair: he could attempt to break the law, ultimately fail, and win political favour among crucial constituents of potential supporters.

In July 2019, Johnson took over a Conservative Party in office but not in power. Party unity had dissolved, with new Brexit alliances forged between Labour and Conservative MPs seeking to prevent a hard departure from the EU, while the DUP and the Tory-Brexit ideologues pulled in the opposite direction – taking down Theresa May in the process.

To survive in office, Johnson needed to create a new political settlement – and, just a few months after unlawfully proroguing Parliament (and suspending 21 rebel MPs who tried to stop a no deal Brexit), he won an 80-seat majority at the 2019 General Election.

Prorogation undoubtedly played a role in this outcome. Johnson is a wrecking ball – he destroys personal relationships, conventions and often his political opponents. His innate sense of superiority bestows a belief that destruction is justified, because the world is designed to serve his interests, and if institutions or individuals don’t serve this higher purpose, he can simply reorder them.

Fortunately for Johnson, this instinct seems to resonate among Brexit voters in more deprived parts of the country – forgotten people who’ve seen the political system strip their towns of jobs and decent services, all while pumping money into metropolitan lodestars such as London and seemingly burgeoning the bank accounts of those at the top, including MPs.

People want a wrecking ball to dismantle the established order, which they see as financially corrupt and morally bankrupt, and they have been willing to look past Johnson’s elite background if he can achieve this.

Last Chance Saloon

Yet Johnson has betrayed that trust. ‘Partygate’ exposed his charade – showing his willingness to lie to protect his personal fame and political fortune. He’s not the messiah, as said Monty Python, he’s just a very naughty boy.

And so, the Prime Minister is walking the same political tightrope as in 2019.

His parliamentary majority has dissipated, with 148 Conservative MPs voting for him to stand down. He’s clinging onto power thanks to a rump of support among hardline Brexiters, who – in alliance with the DUP – are pushing him to effectively scrap a key component of the Brexit deal that Johnson negotiated and signed after the 2019 victory.

Therefore, once again, he needs to manufacture a new political settlement – to win over the public and stop his slide into political oblivion.

To do this, he appears to be reapplying the principles of prorogation – summoning his powers of demolition and aiming them at institutions of power, in order to regain his anti-establishment aura.

Britain may withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, he has suggested, after a judge in Strasbourg blocked the Government's attempt to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. And the EU is threatening legal action, after the Government sought to introduce legislation that will unilaterally amend the trading relationship between Northern Ireland, the EU, and Britain.

As in the case of prorogation, it’s not actually important to him that he succeeds – Johnson is simply trying to generate enough political heat to prove to his 2019 constituents that his Partygate transgressions were a one-off; a terrible, regrettable mistake.

But he is a repeat offender – a man seemingly captured by his own cult of personality – and it’s unclear whether voters will buy his bluster.

A test case will be the Wakefield by-election on 23 June – a ‘Red Wall’, pro-Brexit seat won by the Conservatives in 2019 for the first time since 1931. The polls currently show the Tories trailing Labour in the constituency by 20 points – which is perhaps why Johnson has grasped the nuclear option. He knows, as in 2019, that he has little to lose.

Meanwhile, as our fatally wounded Prime Minister tries to play king for a few more weeks, people and political institutions will suffer. The desperate asylum seekers threatened with deportation to Rwanda will be traumatised – scarred by the prospect of being trapped in a foreign country, away from their families, potentially subject to human rights abuses.

And while our democracy may rebuff many of Boris Johnson’s assaults, he is showing how the desecration of rules, standards and conventions is a politically lucrative profession – one to which future generations of power-hungry plutocrats may well subscribe.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

Demolition of the Health Secretary…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/06/2022 - 8:34am in

Many will not be fans of Wes Streeting , considering him in much the same vein as Jess Phillips. Nonetheless I consider this is a pretty good demolition job of the Health Secretary: He has had an interesting life and it seems to me that we have to take what talent (and I suggest that... Read more

“If the opposition doesn’t start working to fix our ‘democracy’…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/06/2022 - 6:44am in

Then I much agree, “things are going to be bad for a very long time”: As is suggested in this video of a couple of minutes or so – which is well worth your time, I suggest. The EU’s reply seems likely to be cold and calculating (and who can blame them?) particularly as the... Read more

Banks v Cadwalladr: Shining a Torch in the Darkness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/06/2022 - 3:31am in

Peter Jukes looks at the precarious persistence of investigative journalism in Britain – especially when it comes to Russia, Trump and Brexit – and the importance of the public interest defence

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

Even though I had little doubt Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr had a great defence against the libel suit brought by the Leave.EU backer Arron Banks, the night before the judgment was handed down by the High Court was still a sleepless and troubled one. 

Through the five years I have personally known Carole and followed her award-winning investigations into Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and Russian interference in the Brexit and Trump votes, there had been very little in the way of justice. 

Back in June 2018, when I first obtained the tranche of emails between Arron Banks, his head of Communications Andy Wigmore and various figures at the Russian Embassy during the Brexit and Trump campaigns, I knew this was way beyond the one “boozy lunch” Banks had admitted to his book The Bad Boys of Brexit. These emails became the basis for several co-written articles in the Observer, and various follow-ups of Banks’ connections to Russia in The New York Times, the Washington Post and on Channel 4 News. 

Those articles and programmes still stand. For the past two years, neither I, nor any of those august news organisations, have been sued for libel and threatened with financial ruin or public disgrace. Only Carole Cadwalladr has had to suffer that ordeal for 24 words she uttered in a 15-minute TED talk:  “And I am not even going to go into the lies that Arron Banks has told about his covert relationship with the Russian Government.”

I barely noticed those lines at the time. It seemed quite simple. Banks has constantly changed his story about the number and content of his meetings with the Russian Embassy. As for “not even going to go into it”, all I took Carole to mean was that Banks’ reasons for being evasive were unknown. Carole has never once said Banks financially benefited from the multiple meetings with the Russian Embassy. Indeed, one of the first things she said to me after seeing the email exchanges about gold consolidation deals and diamond mines between Banks and the Russian Ambassador was: “There’s no sign he received any money.”

British libel law, however, does not rely on intention but on what an average listener would have understood. At a preliminary hearing over ‘meaning’ three years ago, Mr Justice Saini ruled a reasonable listener would understand that “Banks told untruths about a secret relationship he had with the Russian Government in relation to acceptance of foreign funding of electoral campaigns in breach of the law on such funding”.

It was a blow. Since Carole had not intended that meaning, she couldn’t provide evidence that Banks illegally accepted foreign funds. The truth defence would no longer work. 

She and her legal team had no choice but to opt for the public interest defence: in other words, even if people understood a false defamatory meaning from her words, this was defensible given the enormity of the issues at stake. 

British libel law is difficult for journalists and so encouraging for rich would-be claimants that many overseas citizens pursue cases in the English courts (even on words which are barely read here) because the costs and the burden of proof are so chilling that publications are more likely to capitulate, issue an apology and pay damages. It’s one of the reasons why the late Sir Harry Evans told me he preferred working in the US, where the burden of proof is on the claimant rather than the journalist. 

In general, every journalist wants to tie down every fact and meaning so they can have a truth defence. In that dream scenario, lucid information is clearly at hand so one can lay out all the story in such forensic detail no challenge is possible. But, in the messy real world, investigative journalism isn’t like visualising a vast spreadsheet or dissecting a body on an autopsy slab. The subjects of your investigation are either surly, aggressive, deceptive or silent. It’s less like a post-mortem or data crunching exercise than shining a torch in the dark while others try to wrest the torch from your hand. 

That’s the reality for most journalists taking on organised crime, rich business people or collusion between oligarchs and their political placemen. You get a fraction of the truth and you pose questions and have to raise inferences, in good faith, hoping you are not misunderstood. When it comes to the hard edge of investigative journalism, the public interest defence is one of the last redoubts for those taking the risk of raising matters of urgency and import. 

Essentially, the public interest defence means that, even if the meaning of a statement is potentially inaccurate or defamatory, there is an added protection if those statements – whether they concern high-profile policy decisions or the use of public money – speak to matters of high importance, and are published responsibly with an opportunity to comment. 

Given that Banks is the largest-ever political donor in British history, loaning and donating at least £8 million to Nigel Farage’s Leave.EU campaign, it is not hard to see how his undisclosed meetings with the officials of a hostile foreign power – especially in the controversial and momentous result of the 2016 EU Referendum – wouldn’t be in the public interest. 

As Gavin Millar QC said, summing up for Carole Cadwalladr, the TED talk was “unquestionably speech which addressed the matters of the greatest possible importance to the organisation of the political life of the country. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of matter in which the public interest could be greater”. 

Since the failure of his libel case, Arron Banks has said he is considering an appeal, and has tweeted “I won the only thing that mattered – Brexit” – thereby underscoring that this was always about politics rather than personal privacy and reputation. Banks has made himself a political figure who has used his money to affect the lives of all of us. 

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

Over the past four years, Banks and Wigmore have defamed me on several occasions, claiming I had hacked his emails or used blackmail to obtain them (Justice Steyn dismissed these claims). But such is the political importance of those Russian meetings, I’m not going to use the law courts to dispel his misrepresentations of my work. I’ll use the public sphere to appeal to the court of public opinion. 

Back in 2018, the suspicion of Russian interference in British elections was mocked by many from the left and right. It has since been underpinned by US congressional reports and confirmed by parliamentary select committees. Even Boris Johnson conceded Vladimir Putin tried to interfere in British elections, only adding that he had not ‘successfully’ interfered. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Byline Times has produced official US military investigations that assessed that Brexit was part of the Russian President’s greater strategic plan.

None of this matters to the legal defence of Carole, or her reasonable belief in the public interest ‘at the time’. But it surely matters to the country, and to the future resolve of investigative journalists who would follow in Carole’s footsteps. 

Since Banks is claiming Brexit as his brainchild, we should be allowed to ask how financially ruinous it has been for the country. If he had been victorious, this would not only have been ruinous to Carole financially, but would have chilled any further investigation into Russia’s role in Brexit. 

But the cost of this victory has been too high and no individual should have to suffer over two years of such an ordeal. 

The law should provide for a quicker strike-out for public interest cases. It should ensure defamation cases proceed from the substantial moment of publication (for example in the Observer) rather than consequent remarks made by the journalist.

I have seen firsthand the psychological isolation Carole has suffered without the backing of a publisher, not to mention the constant threats and trolling on social media and the silence of many of her peers. Justice Steyn wrote that she didn’t think Banks’ claim was a SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) case but there is little doubt that this protracted libel case has had the effect of silencing a prominent investigative journalist for over two years.

As Carole herself commented after the judgment, “my investigation into Brexit, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook triggered investigations on both sides of the Atlantic, record-breaking fines and findings of multiple breaches of the law, including by Mr Banks' Leave.EU campaign. But I am the only person to ever face trial”.

What kind of country are we where no good deed goes unpunished; in which journalists are hounded for exposing wrongdoing, while the political and media class either applaud or sit on their hands? 

We need those torches shining in the darkness, even if they flash across our minds with incomplete or partial impressions of the bigger picture. Because, without those shining a light, however small and flickering, we would never see anything. Our democracy would die in the darkness. And the costs of getting the small things wrong should never be at the expense of getting the big things right. 

Peter Jukes is the Co-Founder and an Executive Editor of Byline Times

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Get the Bylines App for iPhone and iPad

SIGN UP TO BYLINE TV PLUS

Gruen: detox democracy through representation by random selection

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/06/2022 - 1:43am in

Tags 

Democracy

I use Troppo to make various notes for file as it were for reference in future. And on wanting to record something I found that I hadn’t reproduced this post — which was originally at The Mandarin — here. So here it is, with some notes to file below.

Part one. Part two is here and part three is here.

As Western democracy degrades before our eyes, (President Donald Trump wasn’t really imaginable even a few years or so ago and is still hard to fully comprehend) we need to remember the choices that were made as modern democracy was founded, at the time of the American and French Revolutions. Democracy was a dirty word!  Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws repeated Aristotle’s claim that “Voting by lot is in the nature of democracy; voting by choice is in the nature of aristocracy”.1

With great anxiety about democracy degenerating into mob rule, Montesquieu’s ideas were taken up as the best chance for the new republics of the United States and France. There was much concern to ensure that republican government mobilise a “natural aristocracy among men”, one of “virtue and talents” as Jefferson put it expressing a widespread sentiment which went out rather more slowly, though no less comprehensively than poke bonnets.  Elections seemed far more promising than selection by lot. 2 The Roman Catholic priest Abbé Sieyès “one of the chief political theorists of the French Revolution” was more unequivocal insisting that “In a country that is not a democracy (and France is not a democracy), the people can only speak and can only act through representatives.” 3

However, a second method of representing the people was far more common at the time in many cities in Europe stretching back from early modern times to ancient Athens: Sortition or the selection of citizens at random from the citizenry as in the Athenian boule and was far more common.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century parliaments were about establishing checks and balances between popular electoral democracy and upper houses intended to represent the aristocracy or some new world simulation of it via property franchises — with different houses of the legislature representing these two poles. Likewise, I would argue that today we should be seeking to balance representation by election with representation by sortition as occurs, in juries by random selection from the citizenry. I’ll elaborate more on this in a subsequent essay.

In any event, in this essay, I itemise under subject headings firstly how various problems with our current system of electoral democracy manifest themselves, and secondly, how sortition based representation could help detox our democracy.

Careerism

Careerism is a central thread that enables political power — wielded both within political parties and bureaucracies. The signal achievement of the Australian Parliament that first assembled in 2013 was to abolish the carbon pricing regime which had emerged from the bipartisan consensus for carbon pricing that had been forged with great difficulty over the previous 15-odd years. A majority of parliamentarians voted for something that an overwhelming majority of them understood to be against the public interest. 4 Why did they vote against their consciences? They did it because they were careerists. Of course ‘careerism’ is a pejorative, but I’m not using it in that way. The centrality of one’s career is an indispensable building block of modern life in politics as elsewhere. If you’re to make a success of yourself as a politician — for yourself, but hopefully also for the things you believe in — you need to build your standing. And rocking the boat within your party will generally set-back your career.

There’s nothing like random selection to take these kinds of considerations out of contention. There’s certainly nothing one can do to increase one’s chances of being (randomly!) chosen to participate in a citizens’ jury or citizens’ deliberative chamber. One can’t completely guard against people currying favour with the powerful in their participation in a deliberative chamber, but one can criminalise making and/or taking bribes and other inducements to such people both before and after their service and one can also specify that accepting a position in the people’s chamber disqualifies one from traditional political office either forever or for some period of time. It has also been normal throughout history for there to be limitations on the extent to which someone can continue or repeat their service on deliberative bodies. 5

There’s something else also. In addition to the privilege which those randomly chosen almost all feel and their desire to honour that privilege by doing their best, the evidence we have from an odd experiment in Australia whereby for a substantial period the vagiaries of our preferential system chose what I call the ‘randos’ in the Senate, people with vanishingly small primary votes like Ricky Muir of the ‘Motorist Enthusiasts Party’ for instance, or Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus is that they don’t seem to be easily manipulated by career incentives. When their immediate self-interest in reelection was threatened by the reform of the system that gave rise to the ‘preference whispering’ that saw them elected, they were not swayed in their vote — against the expectations of the hard heads of politics and journalism. In other words, acting in your own career interests over and above your political principles is largely a learned behaviour on which political careers are predicated.

Superficiality, sensationalism, expression

This is a terrible problem for our current democratic institutions as political debate is conducted through the media. And the media is a finely honed machine to arouse and entertain, rather than to inform. And arousal, it turns out, is much more easily stoked for all kinds of destructive emotions — envy, disgust, resentment, contempt and hatred than it is for more salutary ones — like affection, respect, care and love.

Our legal institutions show some understanding of this in the way in which they seek to insulate juries from the media and the eyes of the outside world so that they can deliberate in their own way in their own time. One couldn’t insulate citizens’ juries or chambers on political matters from the media nearly as comprehensively, but at least the whole process is far calmer with people making decisions after being given time to think, consider and deliberate with others (see ‘Deliberation’ and ‘Polarisation’ below). Indeed, I rather like the idea of naming what I’m calling for, ‘slow democracy’.

Deliberation

Except in the very unusual circumstances of conscience debates or on the cross-bench, as John Dryzek puts it:

“Australia’s federal parliament is today … not a deliberative assembly in Burke’s sense [but] rather a theatre of expression where politicians from different sides talk past each other in mostly ritual performance. Party politicians do not listen, do not reflect and do not change their minds.”

This has been highlighted recently by the independents in the lower house during the Gillard Government and the crossbench randos in the Senate each of whom tend to judge the merits of the case by (amongst other things) listening to the various sides of the argument in parliamentary debates.

By contrast, on citizens’ juries and in people’s chambers, the whole point is to facilitate joint deliberation by citizens. Overwhelming majorities feel the process is fair and that it helped inform them on issues as for instance with this jury. Jurors often report their (already low) opinion of the media sinking further precisely because they realise they’ve been misled about the issues.

Participation

In the 1940s Joseph Schumpeter proposed thinking of electoral democracy analogously to markets with politicians being the producers and voters being the consumers. In fact, since then politics has come to resemble such a market more and more with ideological differences narrowing along with participation in politics by the community. As membership has plummeted, the parties have become dominated by brand management techniques — and in my opinion a surprisingly large amount of the public’s disenchantment with politics gets down to the dissonance this creates. On the one hand debate is conducted using high blown moral rhetoric, but the actual words used are equivocal, evasive, scripted and transparently inauthentic. To change the metaphor, politics is now a spectator sport.

Aristotle’s idea was that it was intrinsic to democracy that people took it in turns to govern and to be governed and that rotating responsibility for government was not only the best way to arrange this, but also the best way to educate the populace to the virtue necessary to do this well.6

Modern social science finds something similar. Participants in citizens’ juries almost unanimously report it as having been a very good experience in which they felt keen to give of their best and privileged to be invited to participate. 7 As it turns out, random selection of citizens for juries provides the ideal test bed for generating causal data about the effect of jury duty and there’s good evidence from the US that participating in just one jury is a powerful form of civics education producing subsequent increases in voter turnout of as much as 7% with that increase in the average being disproportionately from those with previously low voting turnout. Likewise in the recent Melbourne City Council citizens’ jury, of less than fifty participants chosen at random from the community, at least two stood for council at the next opportunity.

Polarisation: competitive and unitary political institutions

Modern liberal democracy operates in a way that would have horrified most of the architects of modern government in the 18th and 19th century. Where they warned gravely against the spirit of ‘faction’ infecting the polity, the spirit of faction is more or less institutionalised today. I remember when I was young thinking that having an official Opposition to the Government was weird. I still do. Of course, I understand the purposes it and the party system more generally serve as a means by which voters can project their will into the political process by expressing broad ideological and programmatic sympathies in their vote. Moreover, division and contest ideally serve to clarify and sharpen disagreement and that might help forge more considered resolution on the floor of the legislature.

Even so, opposition for opposition’s sake really is weird. People talk about polarisation in politics, but it’s a weird kind of polarisation because other than in the USA where policy differences between mainstream parties have arguably grown, in the rest of the Anglosphere polarisation has intensified as policy differences have narrowed. If one looks at what they do in office rather than their rhetorical positioning, each mainstream party, whether of the right or left want a large state of at least a third of the economy, relatively free markets, a strong welfare state, substantial government underwriting of health and education services and standards and regulation of clear market failures — for instance for the environment and public and workplace safety. We’re all in favour of the mixed economy now.

Yet for all manner of reasons, Oppositions are rewarded by making life as difficult as possible for governments (though I suspect this is truer for centre-right than centre-left parties). We saw this in Australia in the years of Tony Abbott’s leadership of the Opposition. In the US, even Republican voters think the Republicans were much less prepared to compromise to reach solutions — even though they thought they should. But it’s unclear how many changed their vote on a thing like that — in my experience, people don’t tend to vote on such abstract things. This is their one chance to express their beliefs. See eg this report containing this table.

Indeed, US studies suggest that reality comes to be interpreted not through experience of the world but through party affiliation. Responding to the same report, Andrea Campbell, professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had this to say. “I was not surprised party affiliation influenced people’s opinions of the Affordable Care Act, but I was surprised that partisanship trumped personal experiences with our health care system. Personal experiences, like being denied health insurance for a pre-existing condition, have little effect on public support for the law. Instead, support is largely based on political party affiliation and beliefs about the likely impact of the law in the near future.”

Ideally, democracies need both adversarialism and consensualism to function well, just as Aristotle and others championed the idea of mixing elements of different constitutions – aristocracy and democracy for instance. In her book Beyond Adversary Democracy, Jane Mansbridge contrasted Unitary versus Adversary Democracy. Unitary democracy focuses on getting to a compromise consensus – or near-consensus position. As I’ve argued previously I think the beauty of the Prices and Incomes Accord between the Australian Government and its unions (and informally its business community) was that it mobilised the forces of unitary democracy to offset the forces of adversarial democracy sitting back in Parliament in Canberra. The search for consensus often identified politically viable means of making policy progress while addressing the concerns of major interest groups. And once policies had been broadly agreed, the partners to the process then helped sell the sometimes difficult messages that emerged like the need to rein in expenditure, reduce real wage costs, protection and means test benefits.

Thus, where particular difficult positions had been arrived at through the Accord, for instance, unions agreeing to wage restraint in return for expansions in the social wage and removal of some tax loopholes for business, the business representatives participating in the Accord would then pressure the right-leaning Liberal-National Party Coalition not to obstruct the policy progress to which the Accord had contributed.

Compare this with the way in which, in parliament, progress is constantly re-litigated wherever there’s scope for political advantage. The institutions of deliberative democracy — citizens juries and people’s chambers– likewise embody the dynamic of unitary democracy. As with a jury in a legal case, the task of the body is to make progress and if it can’t do so, everyone has failed. And progress isn’t some bare majority — which would be divisive — but a broad (if not necessarily unanimous) consensus. All the evidence I’ve seen of citizens juries backs this up. Participants almost invariably comment on their relief that they’re not presented with the self-righteousness of activists, but are rather discussing things with ‘ordinary people’.8

The balance of emotions

It is a commonplace that the emotions drive political debate and political campaigning. Yet it is only recently that political thinkers have given much attention to the role of emotions in guiding decision making both in our private and our political lives. As Nussbaum puts it “All political principles, the good as well as the bad, need emotional support to ensure their stability over time.” Embracing the importance of emotions in politics, Nussbaum suggests there are, broadly speaking, two alternative paths. In the first the focus is on shared identity. The two most important pronouns on the African Savannah were “us” and “them”. And so, one way of holding a polity together is to emphasise its shared identity. And there’s no better way to cement those emotions of solidarity – of togetherness – than against an external ‘other’. That’s why “we decide who comes here and the terms on which they come” was such devastating politics for John Howard in 2001. These are the emotions of nationalism.

To some extent these emotions of shared identity are inevitable, necessary and healthy in a political community – which must have some sense of a collective identity to function. But in a diverse, liberal society there’s a problem with too heavy emphasis on identity. Unleashing these kinds of emotions transforms our politics into competing witch-hunts against ritualised ‘others’ whether they’re fat cat bosses, ‘elites’, tax cheats or dole bludgers. The worst is routinely assumed of others. There’s little real debate between different perspectives, and lots of shouting down. This is true not just on “shock jock” radio but in ‘quality media’ such as the ABC’s Q&A which orients itself around conflict, not on the, less immediately compelling task of forging some common understandings between people with different perspectives.

Nussbaum talks about the two roles of the emotions in her imagined, alternative liberal society. The first role is to inspire to worthy collective projects requiring effort and sacrifice from national defence to protecting the poor and weak. Nussbaum continues:

The other related task for the cultivation of public emotion is to keep at bay forces that lurk in all societies and ultimately, in all of us: tendencies to protect the fragile self by denigrating and subordinating others. .… Disgust and envy, the desire to inflict shame upon others  – all of these are present in all societies, and, very likely, in every individual human life.

There is a gender dimension to all this as well. In interpreting Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro Nussbaum contrasts two worlds. The world of the men of the ancien regime, whether exalted or lowly are status hungry participants in a zero sum world in which one person’s status gain is another’s loss. The women meanwhile are the cooperators. An ethic of care is central to their sensibility.

This contrast between masculine and feminine emotions seems worth pondering. One set associated with competition and aggression and looking outward from a group to defend against or attack enemies, the other with building cooperation and care within the group. These constellations of emotions even have their own hormones – testosterone and oxytocin. Vox pop democracy is so drenched in testosterone, so full of aggression and the instinct for division that it’s deranging us. Our polity is becoming like a punch drunk boxer lurching from one dimly comprehended drama to the next.

And we can see how testosterone crowds out other ways of being. On the day that gave rise to the infamous events associated with the “children overboard” allegations, Naval Commander Norman Banks gave a phone interview to Channel Ten from the deck of the HMAS Adelaide fresh from rescuing the children whom it was later infamously alleged were thrown into the sea for a photo op. In it he said “[i]t was quite a joy to hold the little kids’ hands and watch them smile”. Compare that expression of care – rapidly shunted off the stage of our vox pop democracy – with the combative, macho sound bite which dominated the campaign and still rings in our ears today. “We decide who comes here and the terms on which they come”. Since then it has been axiomatic that asylum seekers must be kept away from the media lest they be humanised.

Emotions within citizens’ juries

It is notable how much citizens within citizens’ juries tasked with arriving at political decisions are eager to compromise, rather than compete their way to some conclusion. Here’s what one juror said in a citizens’ jury deliberating on the question of how to keep Adelaide’s nightlife safe and vibrant. “I’m a man, I’m six foot two, I have no considerations for my safety in Adelaide. Then being with other people: older, smaller, females, you learn that their experiences are very different”. Contrast this with the way the issue would have been presented for our entertainment with a spokesperson for the hoteliers facing off against some opposing left-wing activists, playing to their base. There’d be plenty of ideology and name calling. The hotelier might anathematise the nanny state, the activists ‘free market capitalism’.

Here are two more typical quotes from the same citizens’ jury.

I know more how it is now – I have a broader perspective of it and there is a lot more happening than I realised.

My political views haven’t changed. But my opinion about how you move things forward, yes. But to be in the process of really having something that you want, and having to allow it to not come out in exactly the way you want, but nevertheless having some contribution to it, I suppose that’s the essence of democracy

Electoral campaigning as road rage

In many ways, the impersonality involved in mass campaigning for elections, and the various media (including social media) strategies to arouse interest and engagement encourages something akin to road rage. Media outlets stoke people’s contempt for others, their sense of entitlement and resentment towards others (even identifying individual people as hate objects). Politicians tend to be more circumspect about individuals, focusing instead on misrepresenting the policies and motives of their political opponents.

You know those occasions where you express or get close to expressing road rage only to find that your target is someone you know? If you’re like me it brings you up short. What was I thinking? Well, something similar occurs in mass democracy as we practice it now. Compare this to the human scale of deliberative groups – even relatively large groups. (It’s probably one reason why those in the elite get on with each other and show such solidarity. They mostly know each other, bump into each other in the Captain’s Club, in the corporate boxes etc.) In addition to the anecdotal evidence I’ve presented above, Sally (1995) reports that “A meta-analysis of over 100 experiments found that face-to-face communication in social dilemma games raises cooperation by 40 to 45 percentage points.9 That’s huge!

Interdicting oligarchic power

Sortition or selection by lot also offers a powerful bulwark against the power of elites and interest groups. Indeed, this has very often been one of the major reasons it was adopted, both in Athens and in European cities since the Rennaissance. Athens’ political mechanisms were self-consciously developed as antidotes to the ever-present danger of Athens’ aristocratic families fighting between themselves and/or plotting to re-install oligarchy. Likewise in Renaissance Florence and Venice, selection of bodies by sortition was chosen to moderate rivalry between great families.

A creative renaissance?

I make no claims to science here, but of the one or two handfuls of great creative flowerings of civilisation, it’s rather remarkable that two to three of them (I’ll take Venice as a half of one) occurred in the very few examples we have in history of cities with constitutions that made extensive use of selection by lot.

  1. Though Montesquieu regarded democracy as a scary prospect, he respected the constitution of ancient Athens as protected by the richness of its checks and balances and the way it was mixed with aristocracy. “The people’s suffrages ought doubtless to be public and this should be considered as a fundamental law of democracy. The lower class ought to be directed by those of higher rank, and restrained within bounds by the gravity of eminent personages.” The secret ballot used to be called the Australian ballot after Australian innovation on that score in the 19th century. ↩
  2. In Madison’s words:

    “Who are to be the objects of popular choice? Every citizen whose merit may recommend him to the esteem and confidence of his country. … [A]s they will have been distinguished by the preference of their fellow-citizens, we are to presume that in general they will be somewhat distinguished also by those qualities which entitle them to it, and which promise a sincere and scrupulous regard to the nature of their engagements.”↩

  3. Wikipedia . See this reference for an elaboration of his four reasons for his assertion. ↩
  4. Amongst coalition parliamentarians I would expect well over half thought carbon pricing was in the public interest. (If I’m wrong make it a third or a quarter – it doesn’t really affect the argument). ↩
  5. For instance in Athens ↩
  6. “It has been well said that ‘he who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander.’ The two are not the same, but the good citizen ought to be capable of both; he should know how to govern like a freeman, and how to obey like a freeman – these are the virtues of a citizen.” Aristotle. This idea of participation as ‘civics’ education is something that Tocqueville took up in Democracy in America:

    “[H]owever great [the jury’s] influence may be upon the decisions of the courts, it is still greater on the destinies of society at large. … The jury contributes most powerfully to form the judgement and to increase the natural intelligence of a people, and this is, in my opinion, its greatest advantage. It may be regarded as a gratuitous public school ever open, in which every juror learns to exercise his rights, enters into daily communication with the most learned and enlightened members of the upper classes, and becomes practically acquainted with the laws of his country, which are brought within the reach of his capacity by the efforts of the bar, the advice of the judge, and even by the passions of the parties.” ↩

  7. For instance in this jury, “all (17) jurors indicated that, if given the opportunity, they would participate in another citizens’ jury”. ↩
  8. Here are some quotes from this report of a citizens’ jury run by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation.
    “Not just the young activists”
    “I was expecting the blue-rinse set from the Eastern suburbs. I was delighted to find that wasn’t the case”
    “Even if you have an open forum, you get the polar views there, you don’t get people in the middle who don’t… have to have their way. Here you get the average person and that’s really good”.
    “I’m a man, I’m six foot two, I have no considerations for my safety in Adelaide. Then being with other people: older, smaller, females, you learn that their experiences are very different” ↩
  9. Sally, D. (1995). Conversation and Cooperation in Social Dilemmas: A Meta-Analysis of Experiments From 1958 to 1992. Rationality and Society, 7, 58-92. See also Ostrom, E, Lin, 2003. Trust and Reciprocity: Interdisciplinary Lessons for Experimental Research, p. 31 ff.  ↩

What is the “mad left”?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/06/2022 - 2:03pm in

Tags 

Democracy

Even before the Albanese government was certain that it would have a clear majority, the Sky News chorus had begun baying about the “mad left” taking power. What the madness constitutes is never quite made clear. It is “vibe” rather than diagnosis. It is not to be dismissed because of that inexactitude. This is another…

The post What is the “mad left”? appeared first on The AIM Network.

The Conservative Wheeliebin ….

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/06/2022 - 6:09am in

…needs to be consigned to the rubbish heap – not only itself, but also its contents – so I rather appreciated this: Indicating – yet again – that the First Past the Post system is completely broken.... Read more

Even Johnson’s family have occasion to protest…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/06/2022 - 5:52am in

I’m just linking this article without further comment, as I thought it a rather interesting read and I think it could also be to those who haven’t seen it….... Read more

Pages