We live in an era where some of our most powerful leaders are trying to normalise 'post-truth' and 'fake news' as legitimate political concepts. Donald Trump especially, but also UKIP, Jeremy Corbyn (having used the phrase during a BBC interview), and others. It is an endemic problem that threatens our democracy.
The problem with these phrases is they are often used to undermine legitimate questions and/or arguments that are normal within a liberal democracy. Furthermore, they destabilise the process of discourse between the politicians and the voters by creating a barrier of distrust. In different ways, this prevented Russia from fully forming into a democracy following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The impact on the west, however, is to reverse the quality of our democracy and, by doing so, risking the stability of the global order. Indeed, the 'post-true' pledges during the EU referendum (also can be described as lies) risk the future stability of Europe.
Some of the hardest 'Brextremists' wouldn't see this as a problem, so before proceeding it is worth reflecting on why the EU is so important to the stability of Europe. First up, it is clear that England and Wales are leaving the EU shortly. The Brexit debate has been won by the Leave side, however there are always other debates to be had. This is healthy in a democracy. For example, Scotland and Northern Ireland's future relationship with the EU is (at the time of writing) somewhat less clear. However, if we can put the UK to one side for a moment and consider that for the EU27, the EU has been (and will continue to be) the lifeblood of Europe through which war has been replaced with trade, cooperation, and cultural intermixing. Often we hear 'the EU and Europe are not the same thing'. This is true. But they are very much dependent upon each other. For the 27, the EU is not some alien entity on the continent that takes away the identity of member states. Rather it magnifies it and gives smaller countries a voice.
However, in the 'post-truth', 'fake news' world inspired by the Kremlin, we are told to believe the opposite. As was argued by UKIP in the UK, the EU is instead cast as insipid, intrusive force that sucks the money, power, and history out of member states in order to forge some new country. This argument is an act of deceit. In France and Germany the same process of deceit is currently underway which brought Trump to power. Le Pen is the expected beneficiary of the Kremlin's intervention, which will be based upon assassinating the characters of her opponents whilst hiding her own improprieties. Should any come to light, these will be attacked as 'fake news'. So, what can be done to counteract this?
Over the last 12 months the defenders of liberal democracy have been caught off guard. The victory of the Leave side in the EU Referendum and the election of Donald Trump surprised many because they did not take into account the style of the Kremlin-inspired campaigns that they were facing. Put simply, the assumption was that they would face a conventional campaign and were instead faced by focused and deceitful adversaries that were supported by groups such as 'Wikileaks'. How to respond has been a challenge; however the response that would be most effective is simple.
Defenders of liberal democracy need to tell the truth. Don't spin. Don't try and 'out fox' the lies. To respond to the greatest challenge the west has faced for decades, we need to fight back using honesty and integrity. Not as weapons, and certainly not as a cynical tactic. Rather, the honesty needs to be genuine. By being honest the lies will be exposed and those using them will be held up by their own records. I will not state here which lies should be confronted, however as an example it is clear that one of the biggest lies of the EU Referendum campaign was the £350m per week for the NHS. It was a calculated act of deceit in order to win the war rather than win the argument. The truth is there will be no extra money for the NHS.
At the moment it is hard to defend politicians because of the sheer level of deceit and calculation that has been used. However, there is still potential for an honest political discourse between politicians and the people. The first step, I would suggest, is to de-normalise lying. The best way to do this is to force politicians by exposing their lies to take account of their actions. For example Paul Nuttall has a growing reputation for being less than honest over his comments. His claims to have a PhD; to have been a professional football player; and most troubling over Hillsborough. This has confirmed the casualness by which some can tell lies. Given this, he should take responsibility for his actions, stand down as UKIP leader, and face the music. Furthermore, those members of the Labour Party who argued for £350m for the NHS and also to defend the rights of EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit should also stand down. Their voting record in the Commons confirms the deceit. Finally, Jeremy Corbyn's behaviour as leader has been to spin of web designed to keep his leadership in place rather than articulate a clear vision. Whether this is a product of deceit or strategy is unclear, however it does have a degree of deception about it which contributes towards the morally bankrupt image of politicians.
By injecting honesty and integrity into our politics we may have a chance of fighting back against the 'fake news', 'post-truth' normalisation that is taking place. Needless to say politics is a dark art, and we'll never have a political order based on complete honesty, however all I'm really talking about here is the need to take responsibility for their own actions. Something which used to be more common. Put simply - if you lie or screw up, then you resign. Simple.
To normalise lying risks ending up with a democracy riddled with casual, open corruption, massive lies, with the consequence being a population as ill-informed, disengaged and poor as Russia.