Are we part of ‘the Deep State’?

If you have been reading reviews of Liz Truss’s self-justifying new book, you’ll know that she was defeated as Prime Minister by the sinister forces of the bureaucratic deep state. Michael Gove has for years called the same phenomenon ‘the blob’.  Others on the populist and irrational right call this ‘the liberal conspiracy.’  In the House of Lords some weeks ago, Peter Lilley began to attack the ‘liberal conspiracy’ that was preventing honest Conservatives from following ‘the will of the people’, and became almost incoherent when our benches began to laugh.  He clearly believes that these conspiratorial forces are real, and powerful.  How many of those in the Telegraph and Mail and on social media who write profusely about this actually believe in what they allege, as opposed to using it as a convenient way to attack ‘the Guardianistas’ and the reasoned consensus, is hard to tell.  But there’s no doubt that the message does convince some of its listeners that democratic institutions are biased against them, and that only their populist heroes can represent the pure people against the corrupt establishment – to which you and I all, according to them, belong.

Rationally analysed, it’s completely fantastical to allege that right-wing populists are a gallant minority, struggling to speak for ‘the real people’ against the overwhelming weight of established institutions and conventional thinking.  There they stand, with only the Murdoch Press, the Telegraph and Mail, GB news (and its astonishingly generous fees – in effect subsidies – to Farage, Rees-Mogg etc.), and financial support from hedge funds, offshore billionaires and American foundations to support them, facing the serried ranks of self-satisfied liberals in the establishment.  At the core of the conspiracy, they claim, are all those North London dinner parties where the members of the blob gather to plot, before fanning out to the BBC, the civil service, the universities, schools and courts.  Liz Truss has now added the Bank of England and the Office of Budgetary Responsibility to her list of conspiratorial enemies.  She was ‘brought down’, she explained to Saturday’s Financial Times, ‘by Britain’s lefty establishment’.

It’s not clear how far she believes all this, as opposed to finding it the easiest way to dismiss arguments – and uncomfortable evidence – that she disagrees with.  Rushing across the Atlantic to visit libertarian Washington think-tanks, she and her Conservative colleagues are attracted by the collective irrationality that has captured much of the Republican Right.  In Trump world evidence and statistics are swept aside by faith and assertion;  demonization of opponents and conjuring up hostile plots block out the reasoned debate and compromise  that democratic politics depends on.

None of us should under-emphasise how much of this alternative-world politics is driven by American sponsors, and funded with American money.  Truss has given several of her post-PM speeches in the USA.  Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger’s National Conservatism links connect them to evangelical foundations in the American South; money flows to other factions of the Conservative right (and to other European right-wing groups) from other wealthy US foundations.

We need to understand where this anti-rational approach to politics leads to in order to combat it effectively.  Its milder form starts with dismissal of ‘experts’ (Michael Gove’s term; Truss calls them ‘unelected technocrats’). That extends into dismissal of public servants as ‘bureaucrats’, state intervention as malign, and reasoned criticism of market failures and corporate misbehaviour as ‘woke’. In its deepest conspiratorial form it extends to ‘the great replacement theory’, which believes that feminism (and access to abortion) discourage white women from having children and that left-wing politicians are deliberately encouraging immigrants (Muslims, in the European version) to replace our native stock.

Alongside the true believers, there are many ambitious Conservatives who use this dangerous rhetoric to play to the right or win a sympathetic hearing on GB News.  Mark Harper as transport minister cannot really have believed the American nonsense that traffic calming measures in British cities are part of an authoritarian plot; but he got a good reception for peddling it to a credulous audience.  Are you fighting a Conservative candidate who is light on principles but strong on ambition, or one who has faithfully swallowed the culture-war conspiracies spread by Fox News and its British imitators?  Can you get voters to laugh at his or her suggestions that ‘wokery’ is destroying family life, that the Bank of England is dangerously subversive, or that experts (and judges, and professors – and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and for some even the Pope) are inherently left-wing?  There’s useful material to be gathered for use in campaign hustings and debates.  Except that the underlying issue isn’t funny.  Once politicians abandon reason and evidence they are well on their way to abandoning democracy.

* William Wallace is Liberal Democrat spokesman on constitutional issues in the Lords.

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36 Comments

  • “ are all those North London dinner parties where the members of the blob gather to plot…”
    This would seem to be a coded attack on the educated “middle class” who don’t vote Tory and (in their view) should be.

  • I don’t agree with any of the arguments made by Truss and the alt right but I do believe there is a kind of less sinister deep state. For example if you look at the Unherd video about how they were listed by the “disinformation index” it is quite concerning.

  • Steve Trevethan 23rd Apr '24 - 2:20pm

    “It takes less effort to condemn than to think.” (Emma Goldman)

  • William Wallace is quite right to recognise the appalling danger of delusional fantasy politics. Conventional wisdom says never talk about Hitler, because he was a unique one-off, never to be repeated. Rubbish! Putin, Trump, Mao and Stalin have all replicated the Hitler model – creating, in each case, self-serving fantasies revolving around national “greatness” and its supposed betrayal. Netanyahu, Sunak and Modi exemplify somewhat moderated versions of the same appeal to aggressive unreason.

    Let’s not pretend that politics is about philosophical disagreements between sages such as JS Mill and Karl Marx. Politics is about crazies, of whom Hitler is merely one terrible example. It’s about stopping them wreck the planet!

  • Martin Gray 24th Apr '24 - 5:19am

    ‘reasoned debate and compromise that democratic politics depends on’….
    The progressive left went into the last GE – with one party wanting to cancel the votes of 17.5 million people & the other wanting a rerun with remain or remain in all but name as the options …Is it any wonder that some voters think it’s them against us..Only a few politicians on the left understand what it’s like for those at th bottom. The rest are wallowing in metropolitan student politics.
    ‘For me, it is becoming increasingly clear that the price of unregulated globalisation, mass immigration and the free movement of labour is paid for by the lower classes’….Mette Friedriksen

  • Martin Gray – the referendum was consultative so you can’t “cancel” the votes any more than you can cancel an opinion poll.

    You talk about people “at the bottom” but you refuse to say how Brexit has helped to improve their lives.

  • David Garlick 24th Apr '24 - 9:48am

    Great article. Thought provoking and it makes me wonder how on earth some of the intelligent people have become so irrational.

  • Peter Martin 24th Apr '24 - 10:23am

    It’s highly unlikely, IMO, that the so-called “Deep State” exists as a sort of secret society. However the “Overton Window” which defines an “acceptable” range of political opinion clearly does exist.

    The boundary on the right seems to be LWW’s main concern. However there is a boundary on the left too. For example, anyone supporting the Palestinian cause needs to be exceptional careful about what they say. Anyone wishing to be a candidate in Starmer’s Labour Party is probably better saying nothing at all on the topic!

  • Marco – that old consultative chestnut has been debunked so many times ..It’s a fanciful remainers phrase trotted out now & then – thankfully on the wane.
    The EU was an irrelevance in those in the post industrial towns that voted heavily to leave…Didn’t make one iota of difference in their lives …The status quo is never a good sell .. Looking at those towns who could blame them..

  • Martin Gray 24th Apr '24 - 6:39pm

    Marco …The status quo is never a good sell . In those towns EU membership didn’t save one job or one factory from closing . For those communities – what exactly was it there for. The social aspect of the EU is a myth ..

  • Martin how has it been “debunked” exactly? Britain is not a direct democracy and referendums aren’t binding on anyone.

    People in deprived post Industrial towns are struggling everywhere whether in or out of the EU (as people have said on other threads). And Brexit has led to more rather than less immigration.

  • Since William Wallace – I think – was one of the choristers at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, I think he is definitely part of the deep state…

  • Peter Martin 25th Apr '24 - 9:29am

    @ Marco,

    The legal concept of de jure refers to what happens strictly according to the law, in contrast to the concept of de facto which is used to refer to what happens in practice or in reality.

    So you’re quite correct in your argument that, dejure, the referendum wasn’t binding. However, de facto, it was. Especially as Remainers and Leavers alike had voted overwhelmingly for it to occur.

    In any case it’s coming up to eight years since we had the referendum. Rightly or wrongly we voted to Leave and we’ve now left. Time to move on.

  • Peter Martin you are making up concepts that don’t exist. The precedent in the UK is that that the governing party that calls the referendum tries to implement the result but if there is a general election a new government does not have its hands tied by its predecessor.

    And as its 8 years and most people think its going badly now is the time to revisit it.

  • @Peter Martin + Marco
    The trouble is events such as the war in Ukraine and Trump going cold on NATO (ie. Not being there to backup the UK and France) mean the UK needs to be even more engaged with Europe, particularly as I expect the “European/EU army” will be raised again.

    I do think it is too early to be talking about a full rejoin of the EU, but the time is right to take steps to minimise the distance and to get UK voters (especially the kippers) to think working together with European nations and the EU is a normal part of modern UK life.

  • @Peter Martin: “it’s coming up to eight years since we had the [EU] referendum” Surely that implies that the “mandate” it allegedly bestowed is spent and thus the question of whether to rejoin can legitimately be revisited. The referendum “instruction” was for the UK to leave the EU. It said nothing about not being allowed to rejoin in the future, which in any case it would have no power to do. As for the idea that the referendum was “de facto” binding, you might be able to argue that it was for the duration of the Parliament in which it was enacted, because many politicians were saying it would be honoured. However, it is now two general elections ago, and will soon be 3. A fundamental principle of Parliamentary democracy is that no Parliament can be bound by its predecessors. And a fundamental principle of any democracy is that any new mandate overrides the previous one on the same issue. In Switzerland, if a binding referendum is won and implemented in law, then that mandate is spent and voters can call for a new referendum to reverse it. That’s how binding referendums are supposed to work. Not saying there was a referendum x years ago and so no-one is allowed to oppose its outcome.

  • Martin, Marco , Roland & Alex ..
    Rejoining isn’t quite like a lapsed gym membership..
    Article 49 involves a commitment to Schengen & the eurozone – that in itself would be more than enough to discourage a considerable number of voters . The Euro – good luck with persuading the British public on that ..
    You would also need complete agreement from both main political parties . None of that is going to happen for the foreseeable. Rejoining is fantasy politics…As Ed stated it’s for the birds..

  • Peter Davies 25th Apr '24 - 12:49pm

    After the next election, MPs who voted for the referendum will be a small minority. Voters who were eligible to vote will be a bit over 80% of the current electorate and a majority of surviving voters from the referendum will have voted to remain.

  • Peter Martin 25th Apr '24 - 1:14pm

    @ Marco, @ Roland @ Martin @ Others

    The concepts of de-Jure and de-facto do exist and I’m not just making them up! It would, of course, have been legally possible to reverse the referendum result by revoking it, or by having a another referendum, but I doubt it would have been practically possible. It could well have resulted in widespread civil disobedience and even violence.

    A new referendum with the options of remain or quasi remain would have been boycotted and wouldn’t have solved anything. In a de-facto if not a de-jure sense!

    Of course those who still favour UK entry into the EU are perfectly entitled to campaign. It was 41 years between the first two referendums. So, some patience may be called for.

    As Martin Gray says we can’t just turn the clock back and have our old membership conditions restored. If so that would give the rejoiners a fighting chance. I can’t see that we’d ever vote to become members to the same extent as France and Germany. But maybe I’m wrong!

    I don’t think any of us on the Leave side have a problem engaging with “Europe”. UK/England/Scotland has been doing just that for pretty much all of our history. We’ll carry on doing that and with the EU too. Just like we engage with the USA. It doesn’t mean we’ll end up joining them! But you never know 🙂

  • Alex Macfie 25th Apr '24 - 3:25pm

    @Peter Martin: What Marco is calling “made up” are the ideas that (i) what politicians said during the 2016 referendum campaign can bind Parliament now, and (ii) the passage of time since the referendum somehow delegitimises seeking a fresh mandate to override it. Perhaps the government should find some pretext to postpone the upcoming election until, say, 2028. Then 8 years will have passed and “Rightly or wrongly we voted for the Tories to govern and they’re now governing. Time to move on.” Hey presto the Tories get to govern in perpetuity.

    And the idea that we need to wait 41 years for another referendum on Brexit, because that’s how long it was between the last two referendums — again, that’s something you just made up. There’s no particular reason why the Brexit referendum had to be 41 years after the one in 1975 — it was only politics that made it happen at all, i.e. the election of a government that planned to hold the referendum. There is no reason for it to set a precedent for anything at all.

    As for reversing the referendum result causing “widespread civil disobedience and even violence”, you obviously think that public policy should be influenced by the reactions of people who have no respect for the rule of law. It’s like saying that Americans should vote for Trump in November this year to prevent a repeat of the January 6 2021 United States Capitol attack.

  • Peter Martin 25th Apr '24 - 11:04pm

    @ Martin,

    What would be the question in this hypothetical new referendum of yours? Something like “Do you want a better relationship with the EU? ” I’d vote yes. Why wouldn’t I ?

    @ Marco and Martin,

    There’d be no reason to boycott another referendum now. We had a referendum in 2016. We voted out. We left in 2021. So that was the end of it until you guys can get enough support to negotiate a new deal with the EU and put it to the test of public opinion. I don’t have a crystal ball. I really don’t know if it take 4 years or 41 years or if it will never happen at all; but, if it does I’d still vote in it if I were still around!

    The situation would have been different after the 2019 election, had the new Government tried to impose a second referendum then. We’d previously voted to leave but hadn’t actually left. That’s the difference. So why support a process which clearly would have had no democratic meaning? The only pro-democratic choice would have been a boycott.

  • I was not proposing rejoining aka rerun the referendum, but something more immediate and practical.

    “ I don’t think any of us on the Leave side have a problem engaging with “Europe”. “
    The trouble is the level of engagement and co-operation we need to achieve to enhance our security, and facilitate our trade, will look a lot like rejoining to the kippers…

    40 years seems a sensible timeframe; with many of those involved in the 2016 referendum having moved on and a new generation of politicians engaged, who’s outlook will have been formed during and by the UKs self imposed exile.

  • What we need is a written constitution and no country without one should ever hold a referendum. This would set out what has to happen (and doesn’t) following a referendum so everyone knows where they stand. Although it’s tempting to call for their abolition there are circumstances in which I’d want one (eg as a veto mechanism).

  • Peter Martin 27th Apr '24 - 10:11am

    @ Marco,

    “What we need is a written constitution and no country without one should ever hold a referendum.”

    Except we’d need to have one to ensure any written constitution had popular approval in the first place!

    You’ve previous written that no Government should ” have its hands tied by its predecessor.”

    Yet, here you are arguing that all future governments ………..

  • Peter Martin – Yes I want to change the system as I don’t like the fact that a majority govt could have for example left the EU without a referendum and/or supermajority. I would look to the Australian system where a constitutional change requires a ref but ref can only be held if Parliament supports the change. Until then the non-binding principle applies.

  • Martin Gray 28th Apr '24 - 6:54am

    Martin, Marco , Alex…..Any referendum would be on the basis of Joining the EU – that would mean a commitment to Schengen & the Euro …. Anyone who thinks the British public would hand over fiscal control of there economy to what is in effect a bunch of German financiers – has obviously not knocked on enough doors ….All the main political parties would would need to be in agreement …Good luck with all that …

  • Peter Martin 28th Apr '24 - 7:44am

    @ Marco,

    I would say that membership, or otherwise, of the EU is, or would be if we had one, a constitutional issue. Therefore nothing that has happened re the 2016 referendum nor the leaving of the EU in 2021 goes against the principles you would like to see introduced.

    The point about not binding future governments is perfectly valid but you don’t seem to recognise that the signing of EU treaties does just that. It is handing over powers to the EU which were previously in the hands on an elected government. If we’d had referendums on the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties I doubt that any government would have been able to agree to them.

    Just what would have happened hadn’t gone along with all “the ever closer union” nonsense is a matter of speculation. However we would have been making it clear that it was an expanded EU, rather than the EEC or even Europe, which was the subject of our concern.

  • Martin Gray – Schengen and the Euro arent requirements of joining the EEA so to start with we could go into that and rejoin the single market and customs union.

    Peter Martin – Parliament could have revoked the European Communities Act at any time so it did not have its hands tied. However I would like to make it harder to bring about constitutional change hence why I want a written constitution.

  • Peter Martin 1st May '24 - 7:11am

    @ Marco,

    Presumably you’d like to see the UK be part of the EU with both having their own separate constitutions. This would be like the state of Texas and the USA also having their own separate constitutions. It would probably work fine as long as there were no clashes and providing Texas didn’t want to leave.

    We know from history what did happen when there were clashes and when several states did decide to leave. We know from our own history what happened when Ireland wanted to leave the UK.

    You’ll think that should a conflict couldn’t happen in “Europe”. But why take the risk? Who knows what will happen as the EU tries to become a single country with a single government, a common Parliament and a single currency etc? The most likely scenario is that it will fail to do that and it will break up with possibly violent recriminations and disputes about who owes who what.

    At the moment Italy owes Germany hundreds of billions of euros which it can never realistically repay. If the EU becomes the single state of “Europa” then it won’t matter in the slightest but German voters may well not go along with that.

  • Peter Martin – Texas does have its own written constitution as do many EU states. All countries including the UK have a constitution even if not codified in one document.

    For EU member states, joining the EU might have required a constitutional amendment but subsequent treaties have not required further amendments. The sole exception is Ireland who have to ratify every new treaty by referendum.

  • The position of Texas however is not comparable to an EU member state as the latter are sovereign states and that is not affected by EU member status. They can choose to invoke article 50 in accordance with their internal processes at any time whereas US states cannot secede without permission. The EU “constitution” is in reality a treaty rather than a constitution.

  • Peter Martin 2nd May '24 - 11:22am

    @ Marco,

    What you suggest is plausibly true for those countries who haven’t yet given up their national currencies. It’s not true for those countries which are in the eurozone.

    The complexities of leaving would be horrendous. As Yanis Varoufakis puts it: The eurozone is like the Hotel California. You can check out but you can never leave!

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