The political lie that has taken hold so forcefully in the UK, as in the US, is that the state has become corrupted. Nostalgia for a ‘neutral’ civil service reining in the excesses of their supposed political overlords shouldn’t obscure the fact that many Whitehall departments have lost their historic sense of their mission in the public interest. The checks and balances once provided by both the civil service mandarins and by the media have atrophied. This is the culture that meant political chicanery won out over science in February and March. This is the culture that cost tens of thousands of lives.
Colin Crouch, in a recent piece for Compass assessing a government communications strategy based on the ‘promise, the boast [and] the slogan’, says one of two things may happen:
“As the immediate crisis recedes, will most people continue to believe in the boasts and forget the distortions and failures? If this happens at a time of such alert citizen consciousness, then the battle to restore serious mass political debate will have truly been lost. Politicians will be justified in teaching themselves a new three-word slogan: Carry on Manipulating! But if enough citizens demand in future to be treated like adults, then cleaner air and stronger neighbourhood bonds might not be the only goods that the extraordinarily ill wind of Covid-19 will have brought us.”
I am hopeful that it will be the latter – hopeful enough to have joined Compass to help this happen.
I am hopeful because the public mood is swinging against the government’s handling of the crisis, during which reality has caught up with the political lie. Previously, the government’s lie machine had been able to outpace the truth tellers, but the body count now is too big, too obvious.
I am hopeful because, as a population, we displayed a spontaneous agency that the political liars had started to think we no longer had the will to muster.
We saw the virus was amongst us, realised that we were being lied to, and started to do what was needed even before the government caught up and started to try and spin its new web of deceit about how this had been the plan all along. Now months on, while the government’s inaction cost tens of thousands of lives, the popular move to self-lockdown saved a hundred thousand more. As a collective, we can be proud of what we achieved in spite of the state, not because of it.
As a result, a new age of truthfulness may be with us, but to reach it progressives need to make one big conceptual shift.