So we have the situation in the UK where Gary Lineker is being disciplined for posting a tweet criticising government policy. And Sir David Attenborough has had an episode of his latest nature series pulled to avoid offending the government. Apparently this is to avoid questions about BBC impartiality. This despite the fact nobody objected when Lineker previous criticised Qatar…while in Qatar (yes Qatar can now claim to be more in favour of free speech than the UK!), or when he aired his views on Jeremy Corbyn (he’s not a fan), as did Alan Sugar and Laura Kuenssberg. And we are also going to ignore that the BBC chairman donated hundreds of thousands to the Tory party and basically paid a bribe to Boris Johnson to get his current job. But somehow that doesn’t violate impartiality rules. Welcome to the era of the dark enlightenment.
The answer of course is that you can say what you like so long as it doesn’t offend the shadowy figures quietly funding far right demagogues. Take for example Peter Thiel, who has been a major supporter of Trump and numerous other Qanon candidates (who then unsurprisingly end up shilling for causes that benefit him, low taxes, ditch regulations, etc.). Or here in the UK a white supremacist party run by Laurence Fox (a regular on GB news) has received as much funding from various Tory donors, as the lib dems (despite the fact it regularly receives very few votes).
And since we are talking about it, GB news and Talk TV, both far right supporting mouth pieces (who aren’t even pretending to be impartial), have received massive amounts of funding (including from hedge funds based offshore), despite having very low viewing figures. You may ask yourself why is this?
Well because we are in the post-democracy era, but they still have to pretend to have elections. The Tories (or the GOP of the Reagan or Bush era) are essentially a spent force, solely devoted to running out their time on the gravy train. So it makes sense for the wealthy elites to fund more malleable political actors. I mean its not like bank rolling the far right and helping them into power has ever backfired massively in the past.
One other advantage is that politicians who are willing to take money from such sources, tend not to be the most morally virtuous. Thus, they will happily do certain favours, even if its to the detriment of the country. The brexit referendum was a template for this. And that is essentially how politics on the right is going to work from now on. Rather than a public debate instead we have conspiracy theories set by the right wing demagogues working in the shadows.
Take for example the “controversy” over 15 minute cities, with various conspiracy theories about them being spread by astroturfing organisations. This is a concept of making cities more walk-able and easier to commute around by bike and public transport. Its not actually a new idea (nor is the propaganda against it anything new either). In fact its more an admission of failure on the concept of car centric cities, which was originally the master plan of capitalist elites.
Most cities just weren’t designed for cars. Which are also a very inefficient way of moving people around an urban area. Widening roads & adding a few lanes often just isn’t an option. And even where it has been attempted it doesn’t do any good anyways, due to this little thing called induced demand. By making it easier to drive, you encourage more people to do so. Thus within a few months or years the city is gridlocked again and the council is a couple of million poorer. Plus they have the costs of maintaining all of this extra tarmac to pay for….forever!
Given the poor state of finances for many UK towns and councils they have essentially two options. Firstly, do nothing and allow traffic to get worse and worse until eventually town centres die (as nobody is going to go shopping there if you have to spend an hour getting a mile or can’t get parking), leading to a drop in tax revenue (and a downward economic spiral). Or secondly reverse these pro-car policies. Which is sort of the point of these 15 minute city proposals.
Of course, in order to successful reverse policy you need an element of carrot and stick. Putting in bus and cycle lanes is all well and good, but pointless if nobody uses them. And if the cyclists have to put up with gridlocked traffic and the dangerous antics of motorists, while buses keep getting caught in traffic, nobody is going to use them.
So you need to give people a bit of a nudge. For example, my city has begun to cul de sac certain suburban streets that motorists have been using to take short cuts. And before I’d see them scream along these streets at 40 mph in a 20 mph zone, a street barely a car & a bit wide, where kids play. Or beeping at cyclists who get in their way, running stop signs, even going the wrong way down one way streets. The idea is to divert such traffic onto truck routes and the ring road (which is sort of the whole point of a ring road!). My understanding is that some councils implementing 15 minute city policies are looking at using automatic gates (or filter lanes) with number plate recognition, rather than just sticking up bollards, so it doesn’t impede residences on those streets.
But how did we get here? Well like I said, this was all the result of a right wing plot. Back in the late 19th century and early 20th century, cities were far more walkable with better public transport. In fact urban developers (often private companies) used to worked hand in hand with public transport companies (again often fully private) to ensure new housing estates had good public transport links. Some of the nicer suburbs in cities such as London or New York (basically anywhere with good housing and a tube stop a short walk away) were developed during this era.
However, this was not to the liking of certain special interest groups. Most notably those in the fossil fuel or auto industry. They started a public relations campaign to paint public transport as somehow dirty, socialist (again, most of the early tram and subway links in the US and UK were fully private ventures) or prayed on racist fears (who knows who you might have to sit next to on the bus!). At the same time they embarked on a PR campaign to promote car ownership as a symbol of freedom (around about the same time they were also promoting smoking as an act of women’s liberation!).
And inevitably many politicians on the right, jumped on the band wagon, pumping billions of dollars of taxpayers money into road building programmes. They even passed laws mandating minimum parking requirements. And when those measures didn’t work fast enough the car companies resorted to buying up tram and public transport companies and intentionally running them into the ground, to pretty much force people to buy a car. When pedestrians started getting run over, they engaged in victim blaming by inventing the term jaywalking (its not the motorists fault for driving too fast, its the pedestrian’s fault for getting in the way of the cars).
So now they are at it again. And people fall for it because unfortunately many people will buy a comforting lie over a inconvenient truth. Case in point, back during the lead up to the January 6th riots, Fox news were quietly approached by a number of republican grandee’s who asked them to back off and admit Biden won. They didn’t so, despite many Fox news commentators privately acknowledging that they knew that Trump et al were mad as box of frogs. It was all about more viewing figures for them. And it serves the purposes of their dark corporate masters (including some in the Kremlin), who don’t seem to mind if they bring down democracy.
Meanwhile here in the UK we’ve seen a trend of many Tories coming out with outrageous statements recently (pro-death penalty, anti-trans, playing the race card). Its pretty obvious, given that brexit has turned into giant mess (along with the rest of the economy) that they are going to be unemployed in after the next election. So they are basically prostituting themselves to right wing oligarchs, hoping they can get a spot on GB news, or a weekly column in the Sun. Or be nominated as a candidate for a far right party. And some of those questions asked in parliment, for example related to 15 minute cities, were likely facilitated by a handsome bribe, so its cash for questions all over again.
This is the reality of modern politics and journalism. To which one has to ask, where are the left in all of this? (or what passes for a left these days). Why aren’t the democrats investigating Fox news with a view to revoking their broadcasting license. They are clearly not in the news business anymore (if they ever were) and are just peddling fake news and fascist conspiracy theories. They are basically as much a news source as the history channel is a source of history.
And here in the UK it is stated that you must be a fit and proper person to run, or own, any media organisation. Does any of this sound like the actions of a fit and proper person? Labour should be promising a full investigation into the media and its ownership, as well as more transparency into politics. Notably that we clearly can’t trust politicians to police themselves (nor indeed the police), so set up an independent body to investigate politicians.
And, as I’ve mentioned before, switching to proportional representation and making the judiciary non-political would scupper much of the dark money’s plans, as it only works in a situation where politics presents a binary choice and the courts can be effectively controlled (otherwise they’d be the ones who end up in jail, e.g. look up how many French politicians have ended up being jailed over the years).
But instead, from labour and the democrats, all we get is silence. Even when one of their own gets forced out by right wing conspiracy theorists and their corporate attack dogs, no reaction, just pearl clutching and hand wringing. And its this lack of action that will ultimately kill democracy.