Just over a year ago, thousands of pro-Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol Building in a bid to overturn the result of the 2020 Presidential Election. An unprecedented chapter in US history, it was made all the more extraordinary by the President’s own role in inciting his fellow Americans to riot. The events in Washington D.C. served as an important reminder, not just for the USA but for democracies across the globe: democracy is not a given.
On 18 June 1984 – a literary coincidence, perhaps – thousands of striking miners gathered outside Orgreave coking plant. The miners sought to prevent lorries carrying coke from leaving the plant in the hope that it would allow them to pressurise the government into keeping the pits open, and thereby safeguard their jobs and communities. This was their protest.
To say that 2020 has been an unusual year is an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the package of government measures introduced in response, continue to dramatically impact our day-to-day lives. Even the most ordinary activities are subject to myriad restrictions and we find ourselves consciously weighing up the potential risks that even the simplest acts pose to others. In these respects, the pandemic has highlighted issues that form the crux of debates concerning human rights and civil liberties.
This week, a report into government procurement practices during the pandemic was released by the National Audit Office. According to the report, Covid-19 contracts worth over £9 billion were awarded without competitive tender. We also learnt that the government has been operating a “high-priority lane”, whereby politically well-connected suppliers were ten times more likely to be granted public contracts.
On 23 September 2020, Parliament voted in favour of the Overseas Operations Bill after its second reading. The Bill is part of the government’s plans to prevent ‘vexatious’ claims against military personnel, but Human Rights Watch have suggested that the Bill could prevent individuals being prosecuted for legitimate war crimes.
Over the last few years the political situation in Hong Kong has deteriorated markedly. Whilst Hong Kong had gotten used to a long period of democracy and autonomy from China, the last few years have been fraught with social tension, culminating with the introduction of a new National Security Law.
The Government failed to take the necessary action to safeguard our democracy from Russian interference. That was the damning conclusion drawn by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (the “ISC”) in its report, which was finally released on Tuesday following a nine-month delay.
There is nothing new about political favours. Party leaders will often nominate loyal supporters for peerages, and key allies tend to find their way onto government or opposition front benches whether they are qualified for their office or not. Such appointments seem to have attained the status of political convention and are borne with a certain acceptance. That acceptance, however, has it limits.
It seems to me that we find ourselves on a very slippery slope, and are further along that slope than we are perhaps willing to admit to ourselves. Arendt’s words have an uncomfortable resonance almost seventy years on from their publication. It is no coincidence that Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” to be their international word of the year back in 2016.