Friday, 6 July 2018

So who’s the real enemy of the people?


I want you to try to imagine that a foreign power has systematically, secretly and illegally been spending huge sums of money to weaken its overseas rivals -- including the UK -- and subvert their political systems.

Its aim has been to weaken their global influence and strengthen its own position. I also want you to imagine that there is substantial and increasing evidence that its efforts have been successful beyond its wildest dreams.

If you can, imagine that while one wealthy British businessman was spending more than £8 million to promote a policy dear to this nation’s heart, he was also being offered at least three potentially lucrative investment opportunities in its gold or diamond mines.

Imagine that at the same time, his main corporate asset was posting a loss of £32 million. And imagine, moreover, that a journalist who ghost-wrote a book for this same businessman, and who had access to forty thousand emails provided by him, concluded that he had been ‘shamelessly used’ by the foreign power.

What’s more, according to the BBC, a parallel campaign is about to be found guilty by an independent election watchdog of breaking the law on election finance by making an inaccurate return of campaign expenditure; failing to provide a complete set of invoices and receipts; and exceeding permitted spending limits.

I suspect that – in your imagination – this would all seem like a pretty big deal. Certainly something that would be all over the media, with teams of investigative journalists digging away to get to the bottom of it. 

I’m afraid I’m not done yet. I now need you to imagine that in a different country, a senior lawmaker has called a disruption campaign organised by the same foreign power extensive and sophisticated’, and said that its goals were to ‘undermine public faith in the democratic process’, to hurt one presidential candidate and to benefit another. (Guess what. Its favoured candidate won.)

A special prosecutor is already hard at work gathering evidence to see if crimes have been committed. Several arrests have been made, and the president’s former personal lawyer is the latest figure said to be ready to dish the dirt.

So let me now spell it out, to give your over-heated imagination a break. In the words of New York magazine: ‘In 2016, Vladimir Putin reaped two of his greatest foreign policy triumphs in quick succession. The United Kingdom voted narrowly to exit the European Union, advancing a longstanding Russian goal of splitting Western allies that have long been united against it. Later that year, the United States voted even more narrowly to elect Donald Trump president ... The more we learn, the more similar the pattern of behaviour in the two countries becomes clear, and the more suspicious the denials of Putin’s partners grows.’

By now, perhaps, your imagination has started to join up the dots. It will have no difficulty imagining that there are connections between the parties involved – that the British millionaire businessman, for example, is a vociferous supporter of, and has met with, the victorious US presidential candidate.

So why have I asked you to imagine all this? After all, if you have clicked on any of the links above, you will know that none of it needs to be imagined. There really is growing evidence that Russia has spent millions to subvert the democratic process in both the UK and the US – and indeed has tried to do so elsewhere.

But somehow, it hasn’t broken through into public consciousness yet – perhaps because Westminster correspondents are obsessed with the minutiae of Tory party Brexit-inspired meltdowns, and anyway, it’s July, the sun is shining, and both the World Cup and Wimbledon are on TV.

With one exception – the indefatigable Carole Cadwalladr of The Observer, who has done more than anyone to bring all this to light and was recently awarded the highly prestigious Orwell prize for journalism – much of the UK media seem to find it all far too complicated and arcane. It is frankly bizarre that there is so little coverage of what may turn out to be the most serious attack on Western democracies since 1945.

(Credit, however, to the BBC in Northern Ireland, where the Spotlight programme has been investigating the DUP's record £435,000 donation during the EU referendum campaign.)

My view is that if a foreign power illegally financed a campaign to take the UK out of the European Union -- and helped to elect the most dangerous US president in recent history -- then that’s something we need to know about. And if laws were broken in the UK, especially if they were broken by senior political figures (and their aides), prosecutions must follow. Anyone would think we just don’t care very much if someone illegally buys their way to a momentous political decision of their liking.

Did I hear someone say novichok? I think I’ll leave that one for now … although you may care to re-read my piece from last March on the subject.

One final point:  I should add that just about everyone alleged to be involved in the various events I have outlined above deny any wrongdoing.

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