The Russia report, whilst still redacted and once liberally flavoured with context from political experts like Peter Oborne in his book “The Assault On Truth”, gives a damning indictment and insight into the eyes-wide-open approach of the UK government when it comes to Russian meddling in our democracy. Certain factions of the UK government- both within and outside of the tory party were hopeful of a leave result in the Brexit referendum because they felt that the European Union stymied their efforts for their legislative and political overhaul- a statement that could refer to benign protection of UK citizens over state or, as we have now, authoritarian reductions of freedom to protest, enfranchisement of citizenship and the open discussion of the reform of the human rights act. But wider fears were known for a long time about the referendum- potential political interference from those who would wish our democracy, economy and world standing harm. Having read the report, political experts speaking about the referendum and Russia’s wider role in infiltrating our politics, it paints a worrying picture of those who would cry “sovereignty” without understanding the word.
In 2017 the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, a committee designed specifically to investigate probity in parliament along with MI5, MI6 and other designated security bodies, announced an investigation into the Brexit referendum- specifically around Russian interference in the leave campaign & in our democracy as a wider scope, from the suffusion of Russian money into the bedrock of our politics and the rot that dampening of fiduciary enticement would wreak on politics. We saw only last year that politicians were keen to take lobbying money and that this led to literal death during the pandemic, and so with a retrospective glance, one prepares for the worst as they load up the 55 pages the ISC produced.
Due to the enormity and importance of this report along it wasn’t completed until march 2019 and then subsequently went into its final checking stages (ensuring it was factual and redacted to protect British security). It was finally completed in October 2019 at which point the report in its entirety would have been passed to the Prime Minister for review and for publishing. The (redacted, naturally) report is now available for public perusal on the government’s website: unfortunately due to the obfuscation of large sections of information, without a wider understanding of the recent and current political spectrum it is difficult to draw a conclusion from its wording into whether Russia had specific aims in its interference, though there is no doubt that meddling has occurred, both within the leave campaign and in the wider spheres of UK politics.
Two weeks after the report was dropped on Boris Johnson’s no doubt busy desk Michael Gove appeared on the TV twice and was asked where the report was- to which he responded “it’s going through the regular processes and will be published in due course”- a lie.
Gove may be an amateur at exhibiting appropriate behaviours but he is arguably an experienced politician at senior level & would have known that the report lay on the desk of the Prime Minister. Rishi Sunak, at the time an inexperienced but liked politician within the party, appeared on TV a week later and repeated this lie- it’s unknown whether Sunak knew he was spinning a web first cast by Gove and the PM but regardless, he did.
A week after this Johnson appeared on PMQ’s and amongst several open lies, he said that the report was “subject to the usual checks” and he saw “no reason to interfere” with its publication. The report was sat on his desk.
At this time, the conservatives were sinking quite literal millions into digital advertising. An ombudsman at the time condemned around 80% of their advertisements, stating they were “outright false or demonstrably untrue” in their wording. A lot of these adverts were targeted towards swing voters to capture their interest- pulling in undecided voters with untrue statements or, to use common parlance: lies.
When questioned on the veracity of their digital advertisements, Dominic Raab stated “nobody gives a toss about the cut and thrust of online advertisement” which is a truly odd sentiment for a man from a political party investing two million pounds into adverts deemed majority misleading- clearly the tories did and do care about digital advertising and the use of digital spaces to reach people- including deploying their own bot farms to exculpate themselves from accusations of negative press coverage, as demonstrated here:
Russia had long been known by the time of the referendum to be engaging in unfriendly cyber attacks against the UK, and the UK had begun to name them as digital adversaries- prior to 2010, the ISC was asked not to do so due to the worries around diplomatic relations, but several key cyber events were linked to Russia after this- and yet, we see echoes of this in the Russia report, even redacted as it is: the report itself in clause 10 of the introduction points to the fact that any report would be seen as a diplomatic thorn in the side of Russia, because even the inference of investigation implies distrust- ironically, a distrust well founded in said report. Even with laughably heavy redaction, the lingua franca in the report is indicative of conclusive findings of Russian meddling.
It was also found though, that whilst the government knew this, no findings were given to the committee as they completed their report on Russia’s interference. This doesn’t mean no evidence was found- it means the government either didn’t investigate at all, or did and saw fit not to share their findings. Either of these outcomes is troubling and infers that the government either knew already or was suspicious that the sanctity of electoral processes had been violated.
Russia’s under-arching aims seemed to be geared towards creating a climate of distrust in information surrounding events- which as we can imagine has had demonstrably disastrous influence over how the UK has handled the coronavirus pandemic.
One of the most frustrating and regularly encountered sentiments around political discourse in the UK now is “they’re all the same”- because it is indicative of the UK’s failure to engage its populace and be trustworthy enough to show benefit in political engagement- the entire ethos behind this blog and my deep obsession with bringing the everyman back into political discourse in the UK.
One would assume that Russia’s overarching aim would be to weaken the UK politically, but has also cheerfully achieved the side effect of creating societal divide so deep that family members refuse to speak over it.
The shift in political discourse was disquieting- suddenly you couldn’t believe what was said because it wasn’t true, or an expert said it and we don’t trust political experts. Even trusted UK assets like Christopher Steele had spoken, though in limited terms, about Brexit and Russia’s wider impact on geopolitical Democratic purity:
“There was some evidence that Russia had funnelled money into the Brexit campaign… it was like a virus that had moved westwards, started off in places like Ukraine and Georgia and so on, had come into Eastern Europe, then Western Europe, and then obviously had made the leap across The Atlantic, to the US in 2016”Christopher Steele, in an interview with Sky News about Russia’s troubling influence on global democracy and alleged links to Election interference
One could generously supply a list below of general discussions occurring in the public sphere which could ostensibly be linked to Russian ideals flooding the UK beyond the referendum which became a daily wedge issue- the push against “woke” culture is an obvious topic. Any move away from the important implementation of diversity inclusion highlighted in “anti woke” discourse would arguably worsen societal existence for groups already enmired in ensuring their rights, freedoms and protection are not eroded from beneath them- but as the side chases away the sand below our feet, “anti woke” rhetoric has pervaded our society. I hasten those involved in the obsession with ‘the war on woke’ to question what a society without “woke” culture would be like.
Similar with the anti-trans debate. One needs only look at how Putin’s Russia treats minorities to see that Russian society is the ideal- a strange coincidence? I think not.
One of the most troubling parts of the report focuses on who actually implements real checks and security on our democratic processes- from MI5 to Nadine Dorries’ remit of the media office, nobody seemed to want to claim ownership of the safeguarding of democracy. The report suggested that perhaps MI5 should do so- and yet no information could be found online as to whether this was implemented. This, then, indicates that regardless of outcome the government is not interested in preventing further attacks.
From leaders to deceivers
The UK seems to have almost wilfully lost its place in the world as a leader in diplomatic relations. There will of course be some amongst us who laughably argue that we never had a prime place but even as a harsh critic of the Tory Party I would argue that we were always regularly involved in sweeping political events in tandem with the US and EU and even seen as distinct from the EU as our own political force majeure.
Our report makes mention of the sanctions, expulsions and harsh rebukes of Russia that came from the Litvenenko assassination and the poisonings of the Skripals- an event which harmed several British citizens. No longer do we see the UK leading the way on Russian sanctions in the face of the war in Ukraine- arguably the UK has fallen behind of other leaders like the US and the EU who have worked extremely quickly to sanction Kremlin-linked individuals, but to implement harsh domestic and foreign policy on Putin linked allies. The UK’s government is more keen on defending its lacklustre approach to doing so than it is on actually putting action to word- as seen with silly infographics about sanctions for individuals or tweets with demonstrably false statistics from Michael Fabricant.
This alone would be indicative of the UK government’s fall from grace due to brexit and the gleeful instalment of Boris Johnson at its head. But the falsitudes of UK discourse are now so thick and fast that, quite apart from seeing our diminished standing as a loss, it’s being hailed as a win and reframed as good leadership. A Swedish politician on Question Time only last night corrected Nadhim Zahawi on the idea that Russia would see the UK as “leading” when clearly the EU has worked in perfect concert to help refugees and to punish the Putin regime.
Looking at the installation of by-design corrupt political figures like Priti Patel (let’s not forget that Patel was found to have been undertaking unapproved meetings with officials abroad which is close to subterfuge) in key roles like the Home Secretary, in which she has protected a terrible police commissioner, ended free movement, pushed for the removal of arguably human rights like protest, the confusion grows as to why our political prowess has decayed.
Putin’s meddling is not wholly responsible for the decline of UK political discourse but it is a figment, or a fragment of it. The regular lacing of mistruths was always part of politics- from the Lib Dems throwing students under the bus to Blair misleading the public on weapons of mass destruction to enable war. But the appointment of the Johnson cabal to public office was the attempt to checkmate British democracy- as Johnson seeks to remove scrutiny from public justice, as he hides more reports into his deceitful behaviour during covid, as courts find his government guilty of preferential treatment for PPE one must ask…
Can we turn around or is it too late?
The UK has failed everyone: it failed its own populace by allowing its brexit referendum to be hijacked by those who sought to weaken us and as a rejoinder to this, made the populace believe its own severance from the EU was a benefit- whilst it decimated the economy and livelihoods of farmers, fishers, and businesses who imported to the entirety of the Central European bloc.
It failed every single person who died here from Coronavirus- and thought that is arguable, lest we forget that the tories- in the face of science- argued for herd immunity in the pandemic’s initial stages and has continued to throw off restrictions in spite of the science and is still doing so today (cases are again rising and the government does not speak out).
Its failed America, by working fully and openly collaboratively with a man like Donald Trump – another Russia linked pawn who was installed by luck after losing the popular vote, and a man who tried actively to dismantle America’s already tenuous democracy.
Its failed the EU, our neighbours and a bloc we were part of, had huge influence in and worked collaboratively with to the enrichment of our society and our culture- now our relationship lies in ruins because of the pomposity of a PM who blundered us into a disastrous deal and failed to even negotiate as a politician would.
And its failing the people of Ukraine- obfuscating routes to entry, releasing open misinformation through the home secretary’s twitter, lying openly about how refugees can obtain visas- and keeping a visa system which could easily be superseded by a digital entry system akin to the one developed for pre-settled and settled residents from the EU.
One can only infer that the citizens of the UK are being failed systemically by our state- headed up by a government entrenched in ineptitude and scandal one switches from “unfortunate circumstance” to concern about whether this was the grand plan all along.
Through the looking glass of the proletariat to the state’s sweeping machinations one can only assume that the Kremlin’s secretive pushing against our society via subterfuge have led us into a deep and dark pit, dug by the feverish arms of the Tory Party and so many disaffected voters. The question is- do we now start the climb out, or keep digging deeper?
Daviemoo is a 34 year old independent writer, radicalised into blogging about the political state of the world by Brexit and the election of serial failures like Trump and Johnson. Please check out the rest of the blog, check out Politically Enraged, the podcast available on all streaming platforms and share with your like minded friends! Also check him out on ko-fi where you can keep him caffeinated whilst he writes.